Kaplin Stewart

Is it time to take the “estate” out of estate planning?

Think about the word “estate.” Does that word conjure up images of a stately home atop rolling hills, perhaps with a few horses grazing and a massive iron gate? Many people in Pennsylvania have their own version of what an estate entails, and very few consider the word in its proper definition. An estate is nothing more than the body of assets that an individual has acquired at the time of his or her death. No two estates are ever exactly alike, just as no two people share the same set of estate planning needs.  

An individual’s estate might include a home, as well as all of the contents within. Some people have retirement savings that will be included in their estates. Others have life insurance policies, investments or valuable collections that would make up part of their estates. The contents of one’s bank account, the contents of one’s computer files, even the contents of one’s wallet are all part of one’s estate.

In order to pass those assets down to loved ones, it is necessary to create an estate plan. This is nothing more than the set of instructions provided to the individual(s) who will be tasked with distributing those assets when the time comes. Some people will require a very complex estate plan, while others can get by with a simple will and a few incapacitation documents. No matter how simple or involved one’s estate, it is imperative to make plans for those assets.

Without an estate planning package, Pennsylvania law will dictate how assets are distributed. Those decisions are unlikely to fall in line with what the individual would have wanted. However, it is very difficult to fight for a different outcome, which can leave certain loved ones excluded while others receive an unexpected windfall. To put it plainly, individuals should remove their ideas of what an “estate” is comprised of and refocus on how they want their hard-earned wealth to be passed down when the time comes.

Source: washingtonblade.com, “7 myths of estate planning“, Lawrence S. Jacobs, March 18, 2016