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The Importance of Wills and Advance Directives

Your will gives you the chance to specify how your assets will be distributed, and to whom, following your death. But wills aren’t the only important element in a comprehensive estate plan. Advance directives such as living wills and powers of attorney can also give you control over medical and financial decisions during your lifetime in the event you become unable to state them. Understanding what each of these instruments does can help you create a plan that accomplishes your goals while giving you peace of mind about the future.

Wills allow you to state your wishes and protect your loved ones

Your Last Will and Testament is your final statement — a legally valid document that specifies how your property is to be distributed after your death. A will is considered valid in the state of Pennsylvania if it is written and signed by the testator. It does not need to be witnessed, although witnesses may be required in probate. While people can create their own wills, online templates often carry unclear instructions that frustrate executors and heirs and may cause problems for both. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an experienced will and probate attorney draft your will, to ensure it is as detailed and specific as you want it to be, allowing you to:

  • Designate beneficiaries, such as family, friends and charitable organizations, to leave your property and assets to
  • Name an executor who is charged with distributing your estate according to the terms of the will
  • Name a guardian to care for minor children in the event both parents die before their children

The importance of having a will cannot be overstated. If you die without one, Pennsylvania’s laws of intestacy will decide how your estate is to be distributed, which may not conform to your wishes.

Advance directives give you peace of mind about the future

Advance directives such as living wills allow your decisions for healthcare to be followed if you become unable to state them. A living will is a written declaration of the medical treatment you wish — or don’t wish — to receive in the event you become incapacitated. It can direct your end-of-life care and state your wishes for organ donation. Your living will becomes effective if your doctor has a copy of it and has concluded that you are incompetent, terminal or in a state of permanent unconsciousness.

Powers of attorney are written documents that give the person of your choice, the agent, the authority to act for you, the principal, in certain matters. A power of attorney’s authority can be as limited as paying your bills or as broad as making financial and healthcare decisions on your behalf. With a durable power of attorney, you can give someone you trust the legal authority to handle your healthcare and financial affairs even when you become incapacitated. A power of attorney can end if you apply to have it revoked, but in all cases, it ends with your death.

Matthew R. Zatko believes that everyone over the age of 18 should have a legal will to protect their assets and establish advance directives to specify their wishes for healthcare. With more than 15 years of estate planning experience to draw on, I am ready to help. Call my Somerset office at 814-483-7075 or contact me online to schedule a free consultation.