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Wills and Advance Planning

Face the future with confidence

Advance planning documents, like wills and powers of attorney, can help prevent family disputes, protect your property from scams, and let you make thoughtful decisions about your medical care and who will own your home when you die.

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What is advance planning?

Wills, powers of attorney, and living wills are legal documents that help you and your family prepare for the end of your life. If you are a homeowner, it is very important that you have a will. Powers of attorney and living wills can help you make known what you want to happen if you become very sick.

What is a will?

A will is a document that allows you to decide who should get your property, including your home, possessions, and accounts, when you die.

If you do not have a will, Pennsylvania law determines who will own your property. For this reason, if you want a specific person or people to get your property, you must have a will. 

A will also allows you to choose the executor of your estate. After you die, your executor is the person who has the authority and responsibility to manage your property, including your debts. Your executor will follow the instructions in your will and give your property to the people named in your will.

A will goes into effect after your death and once it is probated. Probate is the legal process of proving a will is valid and “activating” it.

What is a financial power of attorney?

A durable financial power of attorney (POA) lets you choose another person to act as your agent.

Your agent has the legal authority to act on your behalf or “step into your shoes” to handle all of the financial matters you include in your POA. For example, a financial POA can give your agent the power to sell your home or withdraw money from your bank account.

You should have complete trust in the person you name as your agent, because it goes into effect as soon as it is signed and remains effective even when you cannot make decisions for yourself (for example, if you are sick or unconscious). The agent’s authority only ends when you die, or when you decide to revoke the POA.

What is a healthcare power of attorney?

A healthcare power of attorney (POA) lets you choose another person to act as your agent.

Your agent under a healthcare POA can make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event that you cannot make decisions or communicate. Your agent will have the authority to make decisions about your treatment plans, including end-of-life treatment decisions.

A healthcare POA document has no legal authority after you die.

What is a living will?

A living will is a written statement outlining your treatment preferences for end-of-life care in the event that you cannot make decisions or communicate.

You can indicate whether you want aggressive, life-prolonging treatments or comfort care.

A living will is an effective way to let your doctors, caregivers, and/or agent under a healthcare POA know your preferences.

If you are looking for legal help with an issue unrelated to estate planning, please see this page to find the right resource for you.

This work is made possible with funding from the City of Philadelphia’s Division of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).