It is astounding just how many possessions and assets an individual may amass over the course of his lifetime. Even a relatively young Warrendale resident may find himself the owner of a home and a car, some bank accounts and a retirement plan, life insurance, securities, and other items of value that may or may not take up physical space in his residence. If he is married and has children he may wonder just what will happen to those items and assets in the event that he passes away.
Pennsylvania, like other American jurisdictions, has a system of intestacy laws in place if such an individual dies without a will or estate plan. Intestacy dictates who will inherit from a decedent, which is another term for a person who has died. Intestacy generally provides for the decedent's closest relatives first and then provides for more distant relatives if no close relatives are alive.
While some individuals may feel that allowing the state's intestacy laws to manage their estates is acceptable, they may not like how their estates will be reduced in size by the probate process. Probate is a legal mechanism for collecting all of the assets in a person's estate and them distributing them as directed by the individual's estate plan or intestacy protocols.
A person's will may go into probate; however, a carefully crafted estate plan may utilize a number of other tools to keep the bulk of the decedent's estate out of probate. For example, the use of trusts may allow a person to pass assets to a loved one without those items of value being subject to taxes in probate.
As every person's asset situation is different it is not possible to outline how a general estate plan should appear. However, those individuals who wish to avoid probate and reduce their tax burdens may wish to speak with estate planning attorneys about ways to provide for loved ones after their deaths.