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Timely Preparation of Wills

Helps Ease The Pain Of The Inevitable

By Maureen Kroll, RN, MN, JD

It is never too early to start planning for the inevitable, that is one’s death, or prior to that one’s mental or physical incapacity. Unless you have been asked to administer an estate, it is impossible to know the problems that may occur when a loved one does not do some careful planning. Families have feuded with each other over the simplest matters when their loved one did not put any of his or her wishes into writing.

The first step that everyone must take, regardless of age but certainly as you get older, is to begin the process of planning by “housecleaning” your files. So often when a loved one passes away, their son or daughter brings into the lawyer’s office boxes and boxes of papers that are still in envelopes. Take a look at what you have and organize it into one or two files. The papers should be put into a fire proof box and kept in a safe place in your home. A safety deposit box is not necessary.

Let the person who is going to be your designated power of attorney or executor know the location of your important papers and review the paperwork with that person.

Second, it is important to establish someone as your power of attorney and to prepare that document now. If you become incapacitated and unable to handle your legal affairs and you have the power of attorney prepared, your family will avoid court intervention to have a guardian appointed. Unlike a power of attorney, which must be set up before the individual becomes incapacitated, guardianship for an adult cannot be in effect until after a clear need arises. Guardianship requires proving that a person is incapacitated. At a minimum, a court hearing with a physician declaring the person to be incapacitated is mandatory. Once the guardian is appointed, that person must report to the Court at least annually with a report, or anytime that the guardian needs to make a major financial or medical decision. Guardianship can be an expensive process and can lead to dissention among family members. A power of attorney is inexpensive, survives one’s incapacity, and is the simple alternative to more complicated court proceedings.

Third, one should prepare a Living Will. A Living Will is the document that sets forth what you would like to have or not have done if you should become totally incapacitated or unconscious with no hope of recovering. Along with a Living Will, a Health Care Power of Attorney should be signed. This special Power of Attorney gives your surrogate decision maker the ability to speak with the physician and make medical decisions on your behalf based upon those advance directives in your Living Will. This eliminates arguments among family members and provides clear and convincing evidence as to your plan for future medical decisions. 

Finally, the fourth part of estate planning requires the preparation of a Last Will and Testament. This document sets forth a blueprint for the distribution of assets at the time of death. Without a will, the estate will eventually be settled, but your heirs or beneficiaries may not be those you would have chosen. Also, by planning ahead, you can name the executor of your will and if necessary, name the guardian for your children. Even a trust can be established that would protect a minor child’s inheritance.

Do these things now. Do not wait. If you love your family, you can ease the burden on your loved ones by taking some early precautions and by being prepared for the inevitable.

Service Area

Attorney Maureen Kroll provides services in Westmoreland County, PA, including the communities of Greensburg, Irwin, Jeannette, Ligonier, Mt. Pleasant, North Huntingdon, Latrobe, and Scottdale.


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