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Estate Planning

June 21, 2024 in News

By: Keyla A. Robles, 3L Penn State Law

       Heather C. Kirson, Esq.

Are You in Charge of Your Future?

The Importance of Planning Your Estate

Do you own a home, car, pet, or even just a bank account? If you have any of these items, inevitably, you or your loved ones will be sitting across from an estate planning attorney. While it seems that planning your estate is years away, life passes by so quickly, and we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. That’s why estate planning isn’t just a matter of who gets your collection of beanie babies or the couch you bought last Tuesday, it’s about making sure that your loved ones are taken care of, and your wishes are respected when you’re unable to advocate for them.

What Is an Estate

To start with the basics, your estate is comprised of your assets. It includes your real property, such as your home or land, and personal property, like your vehicle, jewelry, and even your bank account. At its core, estate planning is an assortment of documents outlining your wishes regarding your assets, healthcare decisions, and guardianship preferences. These documents include wills, trusts, healthcare directives, powers of attorney, and declaration naming pre-need guardian.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Plan Your Estate

By taking a proactive approach and planning your estate, you will have the peace of mind that you have designated trusted individuals to manage your affairs. With documents such as powers of attorney or healthcare directives, you retain control over who makes decisions on your behalf, including serious financial and medical decisions. The following are just a few reasons why you shouldn’t wait to plan your estate:

  1. Protecting Your Loved Ones

Whether it’s a furry companion or your children, there are ways to better ensure that they are taken care of in the event of a tragedy. This includes making arrangements for the care of your pets through the establishment of a pet trust or designating caregivers for your children in the event of your absence.

  1. Avoiding Family Disputes

By clearly outlining property distribution and specifying beneficiaries, you can prevent conflicts and guarantee that your assets are distributed according to your plan and not someone else’s. This can help minimize the likelihood of disagreements amongst your family members.

  1. Planning for Incapacity

None of us like to think about it, but accidents or illnesses could lead us to lose capacity. These events are usually sudden and unpredictable, and if you have not planned for this possibility, you may experience an option you likely would never have willingly elected—a court-appointed guardian. Guardianship is costly and may be a financial burden on you, your loved ones, and your estate.

Understanding Guardianships

Guardianships are typically established when an individual, later referred to in this article as the ward, becomes incapacitated due to age, illness, or disability, and does not have estate planning documents in place. If this situation applies, the court will appoint a guardian to make decisions on their behalf, which may not be a person’s preferred choice. While guardians have a legal responsibility to care for the ward they are appointed to, they are required to act under the two primary decision-making standards: substituted-judgment or best interest. The substituted-judgment standard is the default standard and should guide the guardian’s decisions. This standard requires the guardian to choose the alternative that the ward would have chosen if they were still able to make decisions. This standard is generally applicable to health care decisions.

The best interest standard, on the other hand, may only be used in situations when the ward has either never had capacity, their preferences were never known by anyone, or when the ward’s wishes would cause significant impairment to their health or property. In a best interest standard, the guardian acts in a manner they believe is in your best interest, even if it is not what you may have believed is in your best interest. For this reason, it is imperative to have documents in place that state your wishes if you ever lose capacity.

To avoid the guardianship process, documents like a declaration naming pre-need guardian allows you to choose your guardian or durable power of attorney would state who you choose to handle your affairs in the event of incapacity. Alternatively, a health care directive would allow you to choose a trusted friend or relative to make only medical decisions for you. Additionally, establishing a trust prevents the need for guardianship and ensures a seamless transfer of assets to your chosen beneficiary, bypassing the need for probate court involvement.

How to Plan Your Estate Today

Our experienced estate planning attorneys can help you navigate through the process of planning your estate with sincerity and care so that if you ever question whether you are in charge of your future, you can confidently say yes. Schedule an appointment today at (407) 422-3017 to meet with one of our skilled attorneys.


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