Making a Will and deciding how to distribute a lifetime of accumulated assets is a great way to take stock of your values and priorities. The first step is usually to ensure that your loved ones are provided for. You then have the opportunity to consider whether you might leave a legacy to your favorite charity or charities. Remember, whether you are a volunteer, an occasional donor or an annual contributor, your charities will miss you when you are gone, and your death will leave a gap that will need to be filled. There are a multitude of tax advantaged ways in which charitable gifts can be accomplished upon your passing.
What will my Will do?
Your Last Will and Testament takes effect upon your death. By your Will, you can make provisions for a specific “bequest” of cash or other assets, the disposition of the remainder of your assets, create a trust, appoint a guardian for any of your children under 18 years of age, and name someone to administer your estate (your Executor). In the absence of a Will, your property will pass very mechanically by the state’s “intestate” statute, in a manner that may not be in accord with your wishes.
What will my Will not do?
In other words, does my Will dispose of all my assets when I die? Not necessarily, and in fact, it may dispose of very little. Any jointly held property, with right of survivorship, will pass to the surviving joint owner or owners. Another example of assets not passing in accordance with your Will is any beneficiary designated property, such as a life insurance policy or a retirement plan, payable upon death to a beneficiary other than your estate.
A sound estate plan requires that you make sure that the effects of having assets jointly owned, or having assets pass to a beneficiary under a document other than your Will, are in conformity with your wishes and coordinated with your Will. Also, it necessitates that you and your professional advisors carefully prepare any beneficiary designation documents, after considering income tax, Pennsylvania inheritance tax and federal estate tax, and other consequences.
All estate plans are different, and the manner in which your own particular estate plan should be structured depends upon your personal circumstances, such as the size and composition of your estate, your family situation, and your age.