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A Will is the cornerstone of your estate plan. It is the way that you can direct how your property will be distributed upon your death and who will be responsible for handling your affairs. A Will is not just about money. If you have young children, selecting who will raise them or manage assets you have left for them if something should happen to you is often far more important than money. A Will allows you to set forth your intentions with respect to these important decisions. If you die without a Will, you have no control over who will serve these important roles.

Pennsylvania law provides how property owned by a person who dies without a Will is to be distributed. For example, if you are married and own assets in your own name, you presumably want your spouse to receive all of your assets if something happens to you. But if you die without a Will, your spouse might have to split your assets with your children or parents. Without a Will, your minor children will receive all assets distributable to them as soon as they turn 18 years of age (instead of postponing distribution until they are more mature). A Will is the only way to leave money or assets to a church, a charity, or a friend.

A Will allows you to set forth specific intentions regarding all of these things. A Will can be modified or revoked at any time in the event that you change your mind or your circumstances change. But just as a Will is subject to a number of technical requirements, so, too, is any modification. The last Will you execute is the one that will control upon your death.

The thought of estate planning is uncomfortable to many of us. However, consulting an attorney about estate planning allows you to review your assets and financial situation and address any special concerns you might have. It is an opportunity for you to ask questions and get answers, to learn how a Will and other things, like beneficiary designations, relate with one another and to decide how best to carry out your intentions.

Once the process is complete, you will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your specific intentions and desires will control at the time of your death, instead of the general presumptions contained in Pennsylvania law and/or directed by a court.  2/11

If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on wills, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.