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What to know about creating a will in Pennsylvania

  • Scott LaMar
A blue ballpoint pen rests on top of trust documents.  Photographed with a very shallow depth of field.

A blue ballpoint pen rests on top of trust documents. Photographed with a very shallow depth of field.

Airdate: July 27th, 2023


Soul singer and legend Aretha Franklin made headlines after her death in 2018, when a handwritten will was discovered in a couch cushion. This began the domino effect of questions being asked about how her estate would be handled. It went on for years. Earlier this month, a jury from Michigan declared that the will that was found in the couch cushion is valid, according to Michigan law.

But how do you know what wills are or aren’t legitimate? Where do you even begin? How do you even create a will?

Attorney Marielle Hazen, founder of Hazen Law Group, was on The Spark Thursday and said the handwritten will in a cushion is not ideal,”It’s not the way you want to have your estate handled. And it’s not good for anybody involved. That family. It’s been a long journey for them and it’s not good for those family relationships going forward. So certainly not the legacy that you want to leave for your family. And it also means that you have a court working to interpret what your intentions were instead of you making those intentions clear yourself.”

Hazen described what’s unique about Pennsylvania and wills,”The probate process is a little bit different in each state. And and also one of the big differences is what the taxes are. So Pennsylvania does have an inheritance tax. And so a lot of people think that they’re familiar with the federal estate tax and they’re vaguely aware that it’s a big level. Right now it’s close to 13 million that you have is an exclusion. So if you unless you exceed that, you’re not exposed to federal estate tax. But a lot of people think that is the only death tax. But Pennsylvania does have an inheritance tax. It’s a 0% tax for what you leave to a spouse for lineal descendants. It’s four and a half percent. For your siblings, it’s 12. And for everybody else, it’s 15. Charities also are zero.”

Hazen was asked the basics about creating a will,”You have to be 18 or older. You have to have put it down in writing and you have to have signed it. The things I think you need to think about in that will the obvious thing — how do you want your assets distributed when you die? Who are the beneficiaries and how do you want it to be distributed? And I think it’s important to think about contingent beneficiaries. So if one of those beneficiaries that you’ve named predeceased you, what should happen? Where does that share go? Also important to think about. Do you have any beneficiaries who may have special considerations? Are there minor beneficiaries that we don’t want to leave money outright to? And do you want to take control over at what age they get it, how it’s used for them until they get to that age, who’s responsible for it, Who’s the trustee? Is the name for that over that money, while they are under the age before the distribution age, thinking about any beneficiaries you have that may have special needs. So if you have a beneficiary that qualifies for or may in the future need to qualify for means tested benefits like SSI or Medicaid, then you want to be careful how you leave money for them. Special needs trusts can be an excellent tool to make sure you are providing financial security for them in a way that will not interfere with their eligibility for essential public benefit programs.”



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