Wills & Trusts: Delaware County Estate Planning Attorney
The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania offers a definition of a will: a legal document that sets forth how an individual wants his/her property disposed of when he/she dies. However, wills are much more complex than this simple definition makes them seem to be and should be drawn up by an experienced trust attorney specializing in estate planning and the complexities of creating a legally recognized will.
Requirements for Creating a Legal Will
Wills can only be “owned”, i.e., legally drafted, by people of “sound mind” and of the age of majority.
Testators must identify themselves as the creator of the will. Legally termed “publication” of a will, this action is generally satisfied by placing “last will and testament” on the document.
Testators much declare revocation of all previous codicils and wills (any will or wills existing prior to a current will that does not revoke all other wills is considered the “true” will).
The signature of the testator must be placed at the very end of the will. If it isn’t located in the correct position, the will could be invalidated.
Wills created in Pennsylvania are considered valid when they are in compliance with Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, § 2504.1
The Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Wills
Scrawling a few sentences on a piece of paper, signing it and declaring it as a last will and testament does not mean that document will be considered automatically valid upon the death of the person creating and signing it.Moreover, websites offering online “last will and testament packages” will use underhanded sales tactics involving fake customer testimonials claiming the will gave them “peace of mind”. Unfortunately, that peace of mind never really exists because information provided by these websites are usually not correct or up-to-date.
Many things can go wrong with a do-it-yourself will, such as how the will is worded, signature formalities involving appropriate witnesses and the true state of mind of the person taking out such a will. An example of what could go horribly wrong with amateur or online-created wills concerns long-time CBS newsman Charles Kuralt and the handwritten will he made saying he wanted his girlfriend to have a piece of property upon his death. His family contested this “will” where it remained in probate court for six years.
What is the Difference Between a Will and a Living Trust?
Wills and living trusts are both useful estate planning tools that serve divergent purposes yet are able to work together seamlessly to develop an comprehensive estate plan. One primary difference is that wills only go into effect after someone dies but trusts can take effect as soon as it is created and signed.
Trusts provide for the allocation of property before or after death. They involve a person or entity (bank, law firm, etc.) that is deemed the trustee legally holding title to property for a beneficiary (another person, not the individual who created the trust). Typically, a trust has two beneficiaries–a living person who receives monies as described by the trust and another person who receives any remaining funds after the first beneficiary passes away.
While wills pass through probate courts, trusts do not require probate courts to oversee their validation, which saves money and time for those choosing trusts over wills. In addition, trusts stay private; wills eventually become part of public record and can be accessed online.
Trusts and wills have their advantages and disadvantages. Trusts do not allow the naming of guardians for children or establish special funeral arrangements like wills do. Alternately, trusts can be implemented to plan for possible future disability or to arrange for tax savings. A Delaware County estate planning lawyer can provide the best advice for whether a trust or will is beneficial for all types of situations.