DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Reach out to an attorney for legal advice. The purpose of this blog is to describe my personal experience serving as an intern and what I am learning through the process.
The Law Offices of Samantha K. Wolfe Clientele,
I’m here for an exciting second week at The Law Offices of Samantha K. Wolfe! I have been learning so much in my short time here, and I continue to learn more and more aspects of Elder Law each day! Continuing to see everyone who works at the office has been fun, as we have all gotten along very well and have enjoyed working together! I’m very glad to have such a great team of coworkers who have shown me support as a newcomer.
As I have interacted with clients during these two weeks, I have learned just how many people were unaware of legal concepts central to Elder Law prior to a life situation which forced them to address them directly. This type of situation can surely be intimidating for anyone due to the many phrases and documents involved that most people have never interacted with before. Witnessing this firsthand has motivated me to continue my project of writing these “Letter From The Intern” blog posts and producing these “An Intern’s Crash Course On Elder Law” videos. I hope that these weekly guides can continue to benefit the clients of The Law Offices of Samantha K. Wolfe so that they may have the best possible experience and find closure in whatever affairs may bring them to the office. All the while, I will be learning these legal concepts myself to utilize in my own future.
Throughout this week, I sat in on a number of meetings that Attorney Wolfe had with various clients regarding them planning out their final affairs. While this process can be scary, due to the thought of passing on, what I have witnessed is Attorney Wolfe’s clients walking away from their meetings with confidence that their material affairs were in order. As a result, these clients found the ability to focus on the things that truly matter in their lives. As such, I felt that the topic for this week’s blog should be Last Will and Testaments as they are critical documents which everyone ought to create, yet one that many have trouble understanding.
Last Will and Testament
The end of one’s life is an important time for family, friends, and loved ones. As such, many people would like their legal affairs to be in order beforehand so that they may focus on what matters when the time comes. Others want to feel comfort in the certainty that when they are gone, that their children and loved ones will be taken care of. One common means by which many individuals use to attain this comfort is a Last Will and Testament.
A Last Will and Testament is a document which outlines which individuals, organizations, or accounts will receive assets once the signer of the Last Will and Testament passes away. The signer of the Last Will and Testament is called the testator, if male, or the testatrix, if female. The allocation of these assets is called a bequest. The recipient of the assets listed in the Last Will and Testament is called the beneficiary. The right given to the beneficiary to the assets in the Last Will and Testament is called their inheritance.
This document is not to be confused with a Living Will, which is a document previously mentioned in my first “Letter From The Intern,” which pertains to specifically the situation where an individual is still alive yet has a terminal diagnosis and is unable to make their own decisions. The Last Will and Testament is able to distribute assets upon death, while the Living Will is a document effective during life to address end-of-life decisions. Assets are generally categorized into two different categories. A liquid asset is explicitly financial in nature, and as such is generally used to refer to a collection of money. A nonliquid asset is any object of value that is not specifically money, such as real estate. In a Last Will and Testament, it can be outlined by the testator or testatrix which particular assets are to be bequeathed to which beneficiaries. The individual given the authority to transfer assets to the beneficiaries is called the executor. If there are assets leftover that are not specifically outlined to be given to beneficiaries, residual beneficiaries who are designated in the Last Will and Testament are evenly given these assets. An executor must go through a process through the court called probate in order to gain the authority as an executor.
Assets that can be transferred without court approval are called non-probate assets. One common method that avoids probate is joint ownership. Joint ownership is typically utilized before a Last Will and Testament, as this document is applicable when one of two spouses passes away. Joint ownership can be for real estate assets through a deed or non-real estate assets through joint ownership of the asset. At death, the joint asset passes to the surviving owner, which typically is the surviving spouse. Another non-probate document that is commonly used is a beneficiary designation. This document is a contract signed by the account owner that allocates certain assets to the beneficiaries upon the account owner’s death and is only applicable at death like a Last Will and Testament, however the process of probate is not necessary. Generally non-probate documents are typically preferred over probate documents for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: the hassle of the probate process, attorneys charging more when probate is involved with estate administration, and the risk of creditors claiming assets at the death of the decedent. Creditors are individuals or organizations who claim the decedent owns them debts, with the most common example being nursing homes.
If the testator or testatrix includes minors in their Last Will and Testament, they have the option to select individuals as caregivers for these minors. Someone who is designated as a guardian physically takes care of the minors from day-to-day, including housing and food. A guardianship can last until the minor turns 18. Someone who is designated as a custodian handles specifically the finances of the minor. The custodial duties can last all the way until the minor turns 25.
If you feel that you need to prepare a Last Will and Testament or any of the other mentioned documents above, our team at The Law Offices of Samantha K. Wolfe can help you find the best option for you given your circumstances. You can reach out to our office for a free consultation at 717-655-2676or at https://www.skwlawoffice.com/contact-us.html. I am looking forward to returning for next week’s letter, and I hope you all have an enjoyable week!
Noah Hazlett, The Intern