Berman & Asbel, LLP

Pennsylvania estate planning techniques

Pennsylvania residents may not be aware of the various considerations that go into the estate planning process. A will is not the only option available and may not be the best for everyone. Beneficiary designations and retirement plans make it possible to designate assets without going through the arduous process of probate. Automobiles and residential properties are often easy to distribute, but assets that are held in the name of one person often go through probate by default if no other arrangements are made.

The grantor trust is another tool that can prevent certain assets from going into probate. In a revocable grantor trust, the grantor conveys assets to the trust and becomes its trustee. The grantor/trustee then controls the assets within the trust during his or her lifetime, with a successor trustee distributing them to named beneficiaries after the grantor's death. Investments placed into a trust allow for more control and structure without going through probate, which is another reason why trusts are often part of a comprehensive estate plan.

As the federal estate tax exemption has increased significantly over the past several years, many estate plans are out of date with respect to tax planning issues. With the enactment of portability, which allows the unused portion of a decedent's exemption to pass to the surviving spouse, it is recommended that older plans be revisited and updated.

Although the distribution of a person's assets to beneficiaries is often the primary consideration of an estate plan, there are other objectives as well that can be included. People may want to meet with an attorney to discuss the preparation of advance health care directives that could determine the type of medical treatment they would want in the event of their subsequent incapacity.

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