Most people in Lancaster County have preferences about what should be done with their property after they die. This is why the process of estate planning exists - it allows people to make a broad range of decisions related to this issue.
You will typically need to seek the help of a professional with legal and/or financial expertise when in the process of estate planning. Simple mistakes in an estate plan can cause severe problems, including legal and personal conflicts between your survivors.
In addition to post-death decisions, estate planning also concerns matters that might affect you during your life, such as granting power of attorney to a family member or trusted friend in case you become unable to make your own decisions regarding your finances or medical care. Furthermore, effective estate planning can minimize the impact that estate taxes and court fees will have on your final disposition to your loved ones.
The last thing a person wants to think about is the possibility that, after their death, their survivors are fighting over some part of their estate plan that's ambiguous or otherwise contentious. If you want to prevent this, or at least make it far less likely, you should have the help of a Lancaster County attorney every step of the way.
Common Features of Lancaster County Estates
Will: This is a legal document which transfers ownership of the testator's (the person making the will) property to named beneficiaries after the testator's death. The beneficiaries can be just about anyone the testator chooses, but smaller estates, usually only include family members, and maybe very close friends. If you want, you can place conditions on gifts (say, leaving a certain amount of money to your son, but only if he graduates college before he turns 25 - this is just an example). However, a will can't actually compel anyone to do anything, and some conditional gifts won't be enforced, typically because they involve an illegal act, or require a person to marry or refrain from marrying a specific person.
Living Will: Unlike ordinary wills, a living will contains instructions concerning a person's medical care. Some recent high-profile controversies have illustrated the importance of making a living will, even for younger people. In a living will, you can give your family members and doctors instructions about your desired medical care, in case you become incapacitated (comatose or brain-dead, for example) and can't tell them yourself. Some people say that they would not want to be kept alive by artificial means if they are in a vegetative state, and there's no chance of recovery. If this is you, that's definitely something to include in a living will. Of course, if you would prefer the opposite, being kept alive as long as is medically allowed, you can put that in your living will, as well.
Power of Attorney: Power of attorney is the power to make binding decisions for another person, when that person becomes unable to make or express their own decisions. You can grant power of attorney to anyone you want, but, for obvious reasons, you should only grant it to somebody you trust, and discuss your exact wishes with them, in case they actually have to make a decision for you.
Funeral Arrangements: Some people, for religious and other reasons, have very specific wishes concerning the disposal of their remains after they die. Some want to be buried. Others, cremated. No matter what your preferences on this matter are, it's crucial that you inform your family of them far in advance. These instructions should be included in a document that is likely to be read before your death (such as a living will), or very shortly thereafter. This excludes a will, because it's often weeks after a person dies until their will is read.
Do I Need a Lancaster County Estates Lawyer?
A flawed estate plan in Lancaster County can result in those affected by it being confused as to your intent, which can then lead to disputes between them. A good attorney can often avoid this confusion by ensuring that there is as little ambiguity as possible in your will and other related documents.