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Estate Planning

Aretha Franklin’s Handwritten Wills Show Benefit Of Formal Wills

Aretha Franklin’s Handwritten Wills Show Benefit Of Formal Wills

When Aretha Franklin died last August, lawyers said she did not have a will. But in early May, the singer’s family found three handwritten wills in her Detroit home. A hearing is now scheduled in probate court in mid-June.

Dischell Bartle Dooley partner Jack Dooley says handwritten wills are considered valid. A holographic will, as a handwritten will is called, must be in the handwriting of the testator, the person making the will, and must be signed at the end. Evidence that the person writing the will lacked capacity is permitted to be entered as part of a challenge to the will, Dooley said.  

Although Pennsylvania is liberal in providing for heirs in the event of a death without a will, Dooley says a formal will can help avoid challenges while establishing who is in charge of your estate and how your property is to be distributed.

“Developing a will does not have to be a complicated process,” says Dooley. “It is time well spent and can often save your heirs further stress after a family member’s passing.”

Understanding Prenuptial Agreements

Understanding Prenuptial Agreements

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

When we hear the words “prenuptial agreement” or “prenup,” most of us think of wealth, celebrities, or even unreasonable demands we’ve seen in the movies. Prenuptial Agreements have had the misfortune of being seen as unromantic, fatalist, and unseemly. However, a prenuptial agreement – or a contract entered into before marriage that outlines the rights and obligations of both spouses in the event of divorce – can prove to be useful for individuals in a variety of financial circumstances.

Many clients wonder, “Why do I need to know about a prenuptial agreement now that I’m going through a divorce?” The answer is simple: A prenuptial agreement can help you reduce conflict in a future relationship and can serve as valuable financial planning tool.

You may be aware that Pennsylvania’s Divorce Code provides for a process, called equitable distribution, by which marital property is divided. In addition, our divorce and support laws provide for support remedies such as alimony pendente lite and alimony in the event of divorce. In the absence of a prenuptial agreement, these laws largely govern what happens to your finances in the event of divorce. Unsurprisingly, many of us are not too keen about how these laws are applied to our lives. A prenuptial agreement can help you predetermine how your financial circumstances will be resolved in the event of divorce.

A prenuptial agreement can assist you with:

  • Financial Planning – A prenuptial agreement is a vehicle by which you and your future spouse can determine for yourselves what kind of property is and will remain separate, and what kind of property, if any, will be marital. It also permits the spouses to designate whether income earned during the marriage remains the separate property of the person who earned it, whether and to what extent retirement accounts may be marital, and who gets what in the event of divorce. By clearly establishing these understandings prior to the marriage, you may be able to better gauge what your financial picture may look like upon divorce.
  • Estate Planning – A prenuptial agreement can be a critical estate planning tool, particularly if you have children from a previous relationship. Designating your spouse’s ability to inherit from your estate, and to what extent, can help you provide for your spouse, children from a previous relationship, and/or other family in your desired manner.
  • Debt Allocation – In a divorce action, the court will distribute and divide marital debts in addition to marital property. Many clients are frustrated by the idea that they must assume a portion of marital debts that may have been incurred solely by the other spouse. A prenuptial agreement can be an effective way of shielding you from debts incurred by the other spouse during marriage.
  • Support – Our support law provides for alimony during and after the pendency of a divorce, with factors and guidelines that often prescribe how income and support are calculated. A prenuptial agreement allows individuals the freedom to determine some of these support issues for themselves. However, it should be noted that issues of child support and child custody are not binding and are always modifiable.

Before You Tie the Knot, Ask Yourself...

Before You Tie the Knot, Ask Yourself...

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

There are few other times in a couple's life together as gleeful, romantic, and exciting as getting engaged and married. However, while it's not exactly the stuff of romance novels, discussing certain legal and logistical matters before tying the knot may protect your marriage from unraveling in the future. Before you say "I do" consider the following:

1. Do we need a prenuptial agreement? Most of us have some preconceived notions about prenuptial agreements. These agreements - meant to specify in advance each spouse's rights in the event that the marriage breaks down - are not just for the rich and famous. If you or your spouse own a family business, family real estate or property, or other interests you'd like to preserve, you may want to consider putting your intent to paper to ensure that those interests are protected in the event of death or divorce. Likewise, couples who anticipate a certain lifestyle (such as one spouse becoming a stay-at-home parent) may want to predetermine how either spouse will be maintained in the event of separation or divorce. Lastly, couples who are marrying for the second time and may have children from a previous marriage may want to preserve certain property or income for their children of the first marriage. 

2. Will we purchase a home and/or how will we maintain a home? If you and your partner intend to buy a home together, consider the source of the funds for the purchase. Discussing how such a large purchase will be made ahead of time can stave off issues down the road. Consider whether you and your partner intend to title the property in joint names and how you intend the property to be passed down upon your death. If either you or your partner intend to move into a home owned by the other, you should discuss how each of you will contribute to the maintenance or improvement of the home and who would receive the proceeds from the same of that home in the event that you choose to sell it down the road. 

3. What is Pennsylvania's law regarding assets and marital property? Knowing your rights and obligations pursuant to Pennsylvania's divorce and estate laws may not be the most romantic way to enter a marriage. However, being mindful of your rights and obligation to your spouse can help both of you determine the best way to plan your financial life together. Some couples choose to maintain joint accounts and pool their finances, while other prefer to maintain separate finances while contributing to joint expenses. Furthermore, you and your partner may have different ideas about how you want your property and assets to pass in the event of your death. Before you tie the knot, it is important to learn how Pennsylvania's law would handle your finances so you can prepare wills or other estate documents if you'd like your property to pass in a different manner. 

4. If we have children, how will we raise them financially? Discussions regarding future children and parenting styles can be thorny. Not only can you and your partner have different ideas about prefered parenting styles, but you may also have different ideas about what kind of life you'd like your children to lead. Do you or your spouse intend for your children to attend private school? What kind of activities or expenses do you anticipate for your children? Do you wish to help your children pay for higher education? Discussing the kind of obligations and expenses you foresee for your children and how you, as a couple, intend to handle those expenses can help keep you on the same page.  

How the LA Lakers Became a Lesson in Estate Planning

How the LA Lakers Became a Lesson in Estate Planning

By John T. Dooley | Esquire

Us attorneys often preach the importance of making your intentions known through careful and thorough estate planning. While it is thrilling to us, it is not often that Wills and Trusts capture the attention of the general public. However, recently Jerry Buss and his intentions for his beloved LA Lakers have become national news for that very reason.

Jerry Buss was a very successful business owner who loved all six of his children equally. Thus, like many, his primary goal in estate planning was to assure, as best he could, the continued health and comfort of his family. But he also wished for his business, The Los Angeles Lakers, to continue to thrive after his death. Jerry was an excellent manager and strategist who built the Lakers to a $3 billion dollar asset during his time as sole owner and he realized that passing equal control to each of his six children would be no way to run a business. Deadlocks, competing interests, various level of involvement are all foreseeable consequences of attempted equality and can lead to destruction of any ongoing enterprise.

Jerry, thankfully, sought and received outstanding professional estate planning advice which resulted in the Lakers being placed in a Trust under the control of his daughter, Jeanie, the child who he thought would be most capable of continuing the operation and who had been the most involved during Jerry’s life. The Trust exists for the benefit of all of the children but Jeanie is clearly vested with the power to run the team in the manner she deems best.

The importance of this clarity in the Trust language became very obvious over the last couple of weeks when two of Jeanie’s brothers attempted to wrest control of the team from her through the election of new directors who would presumably support the brothers’ points of view. There was suggested testimony of what Jerry “really wanted” and various conversations Jerry had had with the brothers, friends and Laker employees. The fight proceeded to court where the judge, relying upon well settled law, refused to listen to this offered testimony because the Trust itself clearly supported Jeanie. It has been suggested that the brothers wanted control so that they could “cash out” through the sale of the team or, at least, of their interests. This is not a result which Jerry ever wanted to see and the Trust which was prepared for him will prevent it from happening.

Read more about Jerry's trust here and here

Before You Tie the Knot, Ask Yourself....

Before You Tie the Knot, Ask Yourself....

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

There are few other times in a couple's life together as gleeful, romantic, and exciting as getting engaged and married. However, while it's not exactly the stuff of romance novels, discussing certain legal and logistical matters before tying the knot may protect your marriage from unraveling in the future. Before you say "I do" consider the following:

1. Do we need a prenuptial agreement? Most of us have some preconceived notions about prenuptial agreements. These agreements - meant to specify in advance each spouse's rights in the event that the marriage breaks down - are not just for the rich and famous. If you or your spouse own a family business, family real estate or property, or other interests you'd like to preserve, you may want to consider putting your intent to paper to ensure that those interests are protected in the event of death or divorce. Likewise, couples who anticipate a certain lifestyle (such as one spouse becoming a stay-at-home parent) may want to predetermine how either spouse will be maintained in the event of separation or divorce. Lastly, couples who are marrying for the second time and may have children from a previous marriage may want to preserve certain property or income for their children of the first marriage. 

2. Will we purchase a home and/or how will we maintain a home? If you and your partner intend to buy a home together, consider the source of the funds for the purchase. Discussing how such a large purchase will be made ahead of time can stave off issues down the road. Consider whether you and your partner intend to title the property in joint names and how you intend the property to be passed down upon your death. If either you or your partner intend to move into a home owned by the other, you should discuss how each of you will contribute to the maintenance or improvement of the home and who would receive the proceeds from the same of that home in the event that you choose to sell it down the road. 

3. What is Pennsylvania's law regarding assets and marital property? Knowing your rights and obligations pursuant to Pennsylvania's divorce and estate laws may not be the most romantic way to enter a marriage. However, being mindful of your rights and obligation to your spouse can help both of you determine the best way to plan your financial life together. Some couples choose to maintain joint accounts and pool their finances, while other prefer to maintain separate finances while contributing to joint expenses. Furthermore, you and your partner may have different ideas about how you want your property and assets to pass in the event of your death. Before you tie the knot, it is important to learn how Pennsylvania's law would handle your finances so you can prepare wills or other estate documents if you'd like your property to pass in a different manner. 

4. If we have children, how will we raise them financially? Discussions regarding future children and parenting styles can be thorny. Not only can you and your partner have different ideas about prefered parenting styles, but you may also have different ideas about what kind of life you'd like your children to lead. Do you or your spouse intend for your children to attend private school? What kind of activities or expenses do you anticipate for your children? Do you wish to help your children pay for higher education? Discussing the kind of obligations and expenses you foresee for your children and how you, as a couple, intend to handle those expenses can help keep you on the same page.  

Prince is Not a Probate Role-model

Prince is Not a Probate Role-model

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

The world was shocked when Prince passed away in 2016 from what appears to be an accidental overdose. Even more shocking? The internationally-renowned (and very wealthy) artist died without a Will or other estate planning documents. The result? A legal battle is raging amongst his relatives over an estate worth between $100 to $300 million.

While it seems unimaginable that an individual with such financial and professional resources would not have taken the steps to put an estate plan to paper, many of us overlook the need to do so every day. Maybe it’s time to make 2017 the year you get your affairs in order?