Frequently Asked Questions
Pittsburgh & Western PA Estate Planning Attorney
1. Does everyone need an estate plan?
You have spent a lifetime accumulating your wealth. If you fail to plan
your estate, your hard work may be for nothing as a properly executed
estate plan will put a protective covering around your assets. A well thought out
estate plan based on your needs, goals, and objectives will ensure that
your hard-earned wealth will pass intact to your loved ones (those you
intend to be your beneficiaries), rather than being depleted in unnecessary
court expenses, legal fees, and
inheritance taxes and federal estate taxes.
2. What happens if I die without a will or a trust?
You will still have an estate plan; however, it will be one not drafted
by you - it will be drafted by the courts; this is called dying intestate.
Dying intestate guarantees government interference in the disposition
of your estate. A petition must be filed with the court who will then
decide how your bills and debts will be paid, how your inheritance taxes
will be paid, and what family members will receive what percentage of
your estate. Although your assets will go to your family members, they
just may go to family members you would not want to have the assets. If
you fail to plan your estate, you lose the opportunity to protect your
family from an impersonal, complex governmental process that is a burden
at best and can be a nightmare. Bottom line, if you fail to plan, then
you should plan on failing.
3. What's the difference between having a last will and testament and
a living trust?
will is a legal document that describes how you want your assets distributed
at death. The actual distribution; however, is controlled by a legal process called
probate. Upon your death, the will is recorded with the Register of Wills Office
in the County in which you resided at the time of your death and it becomes
a public document available for inspection by any third party. And, once
your will enters the probate process, it's no longer controlled by
your family, but by the court and probate attorneys.
Probate can be cumbersome, time-consuming, expensive, and an emotional
trauma in a family's time of grief and vulnerability. Third parties
have been known to check the obituaries and then look up the deceased
party's will at the courthouse. Many insurance agents, real estate
agents, car salesmen, etc. look at the inventory of the estate, gather
the names and addresses of the beneficiaries and then contact them with
the premise of "assisting them in their time of grief." The
sales people are not truly assisting the beneficiary with the purchase
of a new house or the investment of their inheritance, rather they have
one motive in mind - how to make a big commission.
A living trust avoids probate because your property is owned by the trust,
so technically there's nothing for the probate courts to administer.
Whomever you name as your "successor trustee" gains control
of your assets and distributes them exactly according to your instructions.
Since a living trust does not have to be filed and recorded in Pennsylvania,
there is no inventory and the names and addresses of the beneficiaries
are not made public, thus keeping predators away.
4. What would happen if I become incapacitated and had no estate plan or
just a will?
Unfortunately, you would be subject to "living probate," also
known as a conservatorship or
guardianship proceeding. If you become mentally disabled before you die, the probate
court will appoint someone to take control of your assets and personal
affairs. These "court-appointed agents" must file a strict accounting
of your finances with the court. The process is often expensive, time-consuming
and humiliating. This may be avoided by having a General Durable
Power of Attorney.
5. If I set up a living trust, can I be my own trustee?
YES. In fact, most living trusts have the people who created them acting
as their own trustees. If you are married, you and your spouse can act
as co-trustees. And you will have absolute and complete control over all
of the assets in your trust. In the event of a mentally disabling condition,
your hand-picked successor trustee assumes control over your affairs,
not the court's appointee.
6. Will a living trust avoid income taxes?
NO. The purpose of creating a living trust is to avoid living probate,
death probate, and reduce or even eliminate federal estate taxes. It's
not a vehicle for reducing income taxes. In fact, if you're the trustee
of your living trust, you will file your income tax returns exactly as
you filed them before the trust existed. There are no new returns to file
and no new liabilities are created.
7. Can I transfer real estate into a living trust?
YES. In fact, all real estate should be transferred into your living trust.
Otherwise, upon your death, depending upon how you hold title, the real
estate will be subject to the probate process. In fact, you will have
to file probate in every state in which you hold real property. When your
real property is owned by your living trust, there is no probate anywhere.
8. Is there a chance the government will do away with living trusts?
More than likely not. The living trust has been authorized by the law
for centuries. The government really has no interest in making you or
your family go through a probate that will only further clog up the legal
system. A living trust avoids probate so that your estate is settled exactly
according to your wishes.
9. Is a living trust only for the rich?
NO. A living trust can help anyone protect his or her family from unnecessary
probate fees, attorney's fees, court costs and federal estate taxes.
Most likely, if you own a house and have even a small amount of savings,
you'll find a living trust offers substantial benefits for you and
10. What makes up my estate?
Your estate consists of all assets that you possess at the time of your
death. These assets include:
- Real estate
- Interest in a business
- Personal property
- Retirement plans and IRAs
- Life insurance death benefits - dependent on who the beneficiary is
11. What makes up a well-designed estate plan?
A well-designed plan:
- Preserves the value of your assets
- Avoids the unnecessary costs, time, and publicity of probate
- Reduces unnecessary taxes and expenses
- Ensures that your heirs receive what you intended them to receive
- Manages your assets for you and your heirs in the event of disability or
To learn more about the benefits of estate planning and how you can take
advantage of the various estate planning tools available to you, contact a
Pittsburgh estate planning attorney from
D'Onofrio Law Office, P.C. today!
Contact my law office today
to discuss your future plans with a
free initial case evaluation!
Moon Township, Allegheny County, Beaver County, Washington County, Butler County, Westmoreland
County and all of Western Pennsylvania.
Contact my law office today
get peace of mind.