Essential Estate Planning Documents in Pennsylvania

An estate plan is beneficial to both you and your loved ones because it allows you to declare your choices for the distribution of your estate. In Pennsylvania, there are a few essential estate planning documents that you should consider.  Speaking with an estate planning attorney in your area can help you identify your goals and objectives.  The attorney can prepare the estate planning documents that are necessary to accomplish your objectives.


A Last Will and Testament generally sets forth your intentions for distribution of your estate after your passing.  Your Will should include, at a minimum, certain provisions including the following:

  • Provisions for distributing specific property to certain individuals
  • Provisions for distributing your residuary estate to certain individuals
  • Trusts provisions for minor children
  • Appointment of a Personal Representative (aka executor or executrix)
  • Appointment of a Guardian for minor children
  • Appointment of a Trustee for the minor’s trusts
  • Tax provisions
  • Naming of successor Beneficiaries,
  • Naming of Personal Representatives, Guardians and Trustees
  • Provisions for access to online or digital accounts

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The Durable Power of Attorney (POA) allows a principle (you) to designate an agent to make legal decisions for you and carry out those decisions on your behalf.  Pennsylvania law provides for a “durable” power which means that the powers given to your agent will still be effective even if you subsequently become incapacitated.  Therefore, the principal can create a POA that gives an agent the power to act now or the principal can give a “springing” power which means the power is effectively only when the principal becomes incapacitated or disabled.  If the principal creates a springing power, the agent will usually need a certification from one or more physicians in order for the POA to be legally enforceable.   Typically, the POA will give the agent powers related to banking, real estate, tax matters, litigation, and other financial/business matters.   


An Advance Health Care Directive also known as a Living Will is a legal document that allows you to state whether you want to be given life sustaining treatment in the event of two very specific scenarios.  The first scenario is if you are suffering from an “end stage medical condition”.  This means that you have a terminal illness, death is imminent, and the only thing keeping you alive is artificial treatment such as mechanical ventilation (ventilator), dialysis, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, hydration, etc.  The second scenario is when you are suffering from a state of “permanent unconsciousness”.  Only these two scenarios trigger the provisions of your Living Will.  You can decide now whether you will want to remain on the life support or be removed from the life support.  The Living Will should not be confused with a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) instruction.


A Medical Power of Attorney allows you as the principal to designate an “attorney in fact” to medical decisions for you if you cannot make the decisions yourself.   Even though you might not be suffering from an end stage medical condition or you may not be in a state of permanent unconsciousness, you may have a condition that can be defined as temporary unconsciousness, incapacity or disability.  The person you designate as your attorney in fact is usually a close family member or trusted friend who will make decisions for your medical care and treatment such as surgical decisions, treatments, medications, and the like. 


Sometimes, in addition to the Will, POA Living Will, and Medical Power of Attorney, a person’s objectives require the use of trusts.  Common trusts include the revocable living trust or the irrevocable life insurance trust.  The use of these trusts is often not necessary; however, an estate planning attorney can make a recommendation for the use of trusts when the situation requires it.


If you wish to create an estate plan or would like to know more about the essential estate planning documents in Pennsylvania, contact the Martin Law Firm today to discuss your legal options.  Our standard process is to discuss your objectives with you and then suggest solutions for you.  We prepare the necessary documents, review them with you to make sure they are in line with your goals, and then we assist you with signatures and notary.  We offer telephone or virtual consultations too.  Call us today at 215-646-3980.

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