Berks County Estate Planning Services
Giving Pennsylvania Clients the Tools to Plan for Their Futures
Families face many questions after a loved one passes away, many of which
can be difficult and uncomfortable to address.
Some of these questions may include the following:
- What should be done about the deceased’s bills and debts?
- What will happen to their home and other property?
- If they have a great deal of assets, how will they be distributed?
- Will the rest of the family agree with how it is done?
With a comprehensive estate plan, you can spare your loved ones from answering
these questions on their own. An estate plan prepares your assets for
the future and can ensure your final wishes are honored when you pass away.
At Dorko Wealth & Estate Planning,
attorney Jeffrey F. Dorko understands that this can be a difficult topic to approach. As an estate
planning lawyer in Wyomissing, Jeff is here to make the process as clear
and simple as possible. He has over 30 years of experience helping people
prepare plans that protect their loved ones’ futures.
Our team can assess the scope of your estate and your personal goals before
advising on what steps you should take to protect you and your family.
Never wait to start planning for your future. Call
(610) 957-0018 or
contact us online to learn more about how we can help.
Estate Planning Services We Offer
Attorney Jeff Dorko can assist you with many areas of estate planning that
can achieve your goals. We can assess your situation and recommend which
steps you should consider taking to safeguard you and your loved ones’ futures.
Dorko Wealth & Estate Planning can help you explore:
Drafting Wills - Your will is the cornerstone of your estate plan. We can help you create
a will that is clear, valid, and protective.
Living Trusts - For powerful asset protection and the potential to avoid the probate process,
look no further than a living trust.
Special Needs Trusts -This specialized category of trusts is designed specifically to meet the
financial and practical needs of a loved one with special needs. Placing
assets in a special needs trust can ensure your loved one is taken care
of once you are gone while also protecting their eligibility for crucial
Living Wills - Also known as an advanced healthcare directive, this is a legal document
that specifies your personal choices for end-of-life care should you become
unable to communicate. This can be critical in situations where you are
incapacitated as a result of an injury or serious illness.
Healthcare Powers of Attorney - Often working in concert with a living will, this enables you to designate
a "Healthcare Agent" with authority to make medical decisions
on your behalf should you become unable to advocate for yourself.
Financial Powers of Attorney - This allows you to name a trusted individual to manage your financial and/or
business affairs should you become incapacitated. You can define the scope
of the individual’s abilities, ranging from the ability to keep
up with basic bills and payments all the way to making decisions stemming
from your stake in a business.
Why You Need a Will in Pennsylvania
A last will and testament, or will, is a document that allows you to make
important decisions that go into effect after you pass away. These decisions
are often related to your personal property and guardianship of minor
children or special needs adults in your care.
Even if you place a majority of your property in a living trust (discussed
avoid probate, you should have a will. This will allow you to account for any details
or property that your trust cannot cover.
A properly formalized will in Pennsylvania allows you to:
- Name beneficiaries to your property
- Name a guardian for your minor children or special needs adults in your care
- Appoint an executor to manage the contents of your will and the probate process
Making a Valid Will
In order for a will to be considered valid, you will need to have it properly
formalized. Unlike some states, Pennsylvania does not recognize nuncupative
wills (those dictated orally) or holographic wills (those entirely handwritten
but lacking witness signatures).
To be considered valid and “self-proving,” a will in Pennsylvania must be:
- Composed by a legal adult (18 years of age or older) who is of sound mind
- Written or typed
- Signed and dated by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, with
the testator declaring the document is their will and that they presently
of sound mind
- Signed and dated by the two witnesses
A notary is not necessarily required in Pennsylvania as long as the other
requirements are met.
You should select your witnesses carefully. Once you pass away, the witnesses
may be called upon by the probate court to attest to the legitimacy of
your will, especially if an heir disputes its validity. Should the court
be unable to reach one or more of your witnesses, your will could be ruled invalid.
What Happens When You Pass Away Without a Will in Pennsylvania
Should you pass away without a valid will in place, your estate will be
subject to Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws.
Because you will not have named an executor, one of your surviving immediate
family members will be forced to step up and serve as your administrator.
A great deal of your estate will likely become “intestate property”
when you die without a will. This means these assets will be divided in
accordance with state law.
The following assets are shielded from intestacy:
- Those placed in a living trust
- Jointly owned property
- Life insurance benefits
- Certain financial accounts with payable-on-death clauses
Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws favor distribution of assets amongst
immediate family members. In other words, your property will only be distributed
among your spouse, children, siblings, or parents. Because there is no
legally valid document to confirm your wishes, the state will ignore any
preferences you may have had and default to the most immediately available
Chances are you would not choose to divide your property as intestacy laws
mandate. This is why it’s crucial you take the time to formulate
and formalize a valid will. Our Berks County estate planning attorney,
Jeffrey Dorko, can help assess the role a will should play as part of
your larger estate plan, including how it should coordinate with a living
trust and other documents.