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Estate Planning

Planning for the Inevitable

It is critical that you have an effective plan in place to guide your loved ones when you are no longer able to make your own decisions, whether because you are incapacitated or because you have passed away. Without specific directives from you, your loved ones will be faced with difficult choices--

  • Who will make financial and legal decisions on your behalf?
  • Who will determine what medical care you will receive?
  • Should your loved ones sustain your life by any means?
  • Who will collect your assets and pay your debts after you die?

We will help you provide answers to those tough questions, whether you are a recent college graduate, a newlywed, a married or unmarried couple, or a senior citizens. We help younger clients ensure that minor children will receive appropriate care. For elder clients, we work to protect assets and establish plans for end-of-life care. We go the extra mile to ensure that unmarried couples are as well protected as possible.

The Estate Planning Process

At our initial meeting, we will gather information from you regarding your personal and financial status and describe the various estate planning tools that are available to help you meet your objectives. You undoubtedly want to minimize the tax burden on your estate and prevent unnecessary delays. Perhaps there are disabled or minor children to protect; perhaps yours is a second marriage with children from the previous marriage. Perhaps you are concerned about paying for long-term care and preserving your assets through Medicaid planning. Whatever your situation, we will identify short- and long-term goals and decide on the documents that will best protect you and your loved ones.

Providing for Minor Children

It is important that your estate plan address issues regarding minor children. Where will your children live if both parents are deceased? Who will handle their money? What if the children have special needs? If you are a grandparent, do you want to protect your grandchildren's inheritance?

At what age do you want the children to get their money? Who is available to serve as a guardian or trustee? What qualities should such a person have? 

Creating the Plan

Once you have determined how you want to proceed, we will prepare all the documents required to create and implement your estate plan, including wills, special needs trusts, revocable living trusts, trusts for minors, powers of attorney, and health care directives (living wills).

We offer flexible appointments upon request and will meet with clients and their families in the hospital, home, or in a facility. We are also available to make emergency calls in end-of-life situations.

Planning for Incapacity

Some clients think that their spouse or adult children can automatically take over for them if they become incapacitated. Without the necessary documents, though, your family may have to petition for a guardianship, and a judge will determine who will serve as your guardian. It is an expensive, lengthy, and stressful process. Even if the court appoints the person you would have chosen, the individual will have to come back to the court every year and show how he or she is spending and investing each and every dollar.

If you someone to be able to take over for you immediately in a time of crisis, it is essential that you appoint that person in writing so that he or she will have the authority to access your accounts, pay bills, take distributions from your IRAs, sell stocks, and so on. We will help you draw up a general power of attorney that names the person who should handle your legal and financial affairs when you can't do it yourself.

Planning for Medical Decision Making

In addition to planning for your financial affairs during incapacity, it is critical that you establish a plan for your medical care. The law allows you to choose who will make health care decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. In addition to executing a power of attorney for health care, together we will develop a personalized living will that informs others of your wishes should you become permanently unconscious or terminally ill.

Avoiding Probate

There is a lot of misunderstanding about probate. In Pennsylvania it is a relatively simple, inexpensive process. Oversight by what used to be called the Register of Wills gives your heirs a level of protection that isn't otherwise available.

Nevertheless, there are many situations where avoiding probate is exactly the right thing to do. This is accomplished through what are called "will substitutes." A will substitute is a way to pass assets automatically at your death. This can happen through a beneficiary named on your life insurance, your IRA, or your 401(k). It can happen through joint ownership of property, when ownership passes by right of survivorship. It can happen with a "transfer on death" or "in trust for" designation. And, in its own way, the revocable living trust is a will substitute. These are excellent devices to make funds and property immediately available to your heirs.

Revocable Living Trusts

A frequently recommended tool for avoiding probate is the revocable living trust. What is a revocable living trust?

Think of the trust as creating a bucket, and into the bucket you will put all of your assets. Your house and all of your accounts will be retitled into the name of the trust ("the Revocable Living Trust of John Smith and Jane Smith"). Everything that is in the "bucket" will continue to be managed by you until you die or can no longer manage your affairs. The document that creates the trust will name the person who takes over in that event. You (and your spouse) will be the Grantor and Original Trustee, and your appointee will be the Successor Trustee. The document will also spell out what happens to your assets when you die.

It is important to know that the revocable living trust is more expensive to create (more than twice the cost of using just a Will), it will not save on taxes, there are still requirements to be met at your death (such as advertising your death to alert potential creditors), inheritance tax will still be owed, and if not handled perfectly probate will still be required. So why do it?

First, your successor trustee can take over your affairs seamlessly, and continue after you die without any interruption.

Second, it is less likely (but not impossible) that curious individuals will be able to find out what was in your estate.

Third, it is much more difficult for dissatisfied heirs or not-heirs to contest what you have done.

Fourth, the fee for an attorney to handle your estate will most likely be reduced when a trust is in place.

Fifth, if you own real estate in another state, such as a vacation home, titling the property in the name of the trust can avoid having to go through probate in that state.

Creating a revocable living trust is not something to do with a form that you get off the Internet. There are pitfalls, and it is important to weigh the positives and negatives before you proceed.

Will Substitutes

You must be extremely careful that your will substitutes are handled correctly. The consequence of making mistakes can be tragic for your family. Any lawyer can tell you a dozen stories of will substitutes gone wrong. When you come in for an estate planning consultation, we will review all such designations and tools.

Estate Planning Fees

Unless your estate plan requires multiple planning meetings or elaborate documents, we will tell you the fee at the first meeting, and it will be payable when the documents are completed. Contact us to get a general idea of what the fees will be.


Olds Russ & Associates, LLC is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the North Hills section of Allegheny County. The firm provides representation to clients in nearby communities such as Etna, Shaler, Allison Park, Westview, Glenshaw, Gibsonia, and Wexford, as well as clients throughout Western Pennsylvania.

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1007 Mount Royal Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15223
| Phone: 412-492-8975

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