Last Will and Testament Estate Planning
A Last Will and Testament (“will”) is a written document, signed and witnessed according to state law, that controls the disposition of assets that remain in the decedent’s name at death. Many assets do not pass under a will, but instead, pass by beneficiary designation, survivorship or by contract. If you are a New York resident and die without making a will, New York law provides for how your assets will be distributed.
Most people in New York do not wish their assets to pass the way New York State would direct. For example, if you die and are survived by a spouse and children, New York’s law provides that $50,000 plus one half (1/2) of the residue passes to your spouse and the balance equally to your children. A common myth is that if you have no will, your assets escheat to the state.
- A properly drafted will not only controls who will receive your assets at death, but also the timing of the distribution of those assets.
- A will is a flexible tool that allows for the protection of assets and for the establishment of trusts for minors, the disabled, a spouse, charities or other beneficiaries. This will be important where a beneficiary is not mature or competent enough to manage his or her own financial affairs.
- A will provides for the appointment of a guardian of a minor or disabled person.
- Wills are routinely designed to eliminate or substantially reduce state and federal estate taxes.
- Drafting wills can be simple or complex depending upon the goals to be achieved, and should be well coordinated with the terms of beneficiary designations and ownership structures of other assets that pass outside the estate, such as IRAs, 401(k)s and life insurance, to name a few. The will should also be integrated and work together with any agreements governing certain assets, such as shareholder and operating agreements, and various buy-sell agreements with respect to business and real estate interests.
- In your will you select the executor, trustee and other fiduciaries who will take charge of the estate administration process and manage your affairs until completion. See the estate administration section of our website for more information and insight into what is involved in the administration.
- The will should also provide for various contingencies and grant various options that will give your executor and other fiduciaries the flexibility to make decisions that will effectuate your intentions in the face of changes in tax laws, changes in the values and nature of your assets and changes in family and beneficiary circumstances.
The will (or the revocable trust, if you decide to use this vehicle) is the primary organizing document of your estate plan in providing for your loved ones. Designing this document with care and attention can provide a long term legacy and tremendous benefit to those you have worked so hard for during your lifetime.