When people in Pennsylvania have children, it often inspires them to create an estate plan if they had neglected the task in the past. However, individuals without children may find it just as important to plan for the distribution of their assets. For people without close relatives, the need to make these decisions can be particularly overwhelming. One of the key documents that every adult needs is an advance directive for health care. It allows people to name another person to make medical decisions in case they are incapacitated and incapable of making their own decisions about their treatment.

Even a spouse cannot necessarily make key decisions without these documents in place. If people have clear ideas about their end-of-life plans, resuscitation, life support and other medical issues, they can benefit from ensuring they discuss these issues with someone close to them and provide the advance directive needed. In addition, a durable power of attorney for legal and financial matters is also critical in case of incapacity. This document allows a trusted person to make sure that a person’s financial affairs are being managed if he or she is unable to do so him or herself. Without making these documents, long and even contentious court proceedings may be necessary to put a guardianship in place.

A trust can also be an important choice for many people who are distributing their assets beyond their relatives. Since trusts pass property outside of the traditional probate system, they are less open to challenge from relatives who may be distant or estranged.

People who are thinking about how to manage their estates in the future could benefit from consulting with an attorney who is familiar with estate planning. A lawyer can draft key documents like wills, trusts and powers of attorney and help people craft a complete plan for their assets.