Aretha Franklin, other celebs died without an estate plan. Will you?

Erin Arvedlund, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

Add a "digital-asset" clause and recommend an inventory of digital assets, including those with value, such as frequent flier miles, PayPal and other accounts, and even cryptocurrency.

Remember, if you don't make out a will, the state where you live decides for you. And each state has different statutes specifying who gets your property if you have no will, according to Mary Lew Kehm, an Allentown CPA and liaison for the Pennsylvania Society of Tax and Accounting Professionals.

"I always tell my clients that you do have a will. The state wrote it for you, and if you don't like it, you need to write your own," she noted.

Here's a neat website ( that she uses, where you can see who would receive your property if you die without a will. This site and calculators were created by Pennsylvania estate planning attorney Kurt R. Nilson, she said.


Life insurance policies and IRAs are handled separately from your will.

These have their own beneficiary designations, and forms must be on file with your insurer and retirement account companies. These beneficiary designations bypass anything indicated in a will, said David Zalles, a certified public accountant based in Blue Bell.

"This is especially important for the unmarried millennials and Gen Xers, divorcees, widows and widowers," he added, since many may not have specified a beneficiary as single people.

Don't forget about Fido.

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You can include your pets in your will -- and you should. Your heirs may not want your animals otherwise and your furry friends may be euthanized without any plan for them in your will.

To address the need, the Pennsylvania SPCA set up a program in 2015 called Guardian Surrender. If you're worried about who will take care of your animals after you die, visit the PSPCA's website to learn about the program.

The PSPCA's Guardian Surrender Future Care Program allows you to give money for your pet in your estate plans in exchange for finding your animal a home after you pass away.

Or you can sign a "pet protection agreement" with or without a lawyer. Such agreements are valid both during the pet owner's lifetime as well as after death. Legal Zoom website has online samples.

Some pet owners with substantial assets (think Leona Helmsley) have set up prefunded trusts. Formal pet trusts are not common, but they do exist. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have statutes providing for care of animals.

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