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Estate Planning FAQs

Estate Planning FAQs

What is the purpose of estate planning?+
Estate planning seeks to ensure that if you die or become disabled, your personal and financial matters are handled according to your objectives, while minimizing the financial and emotional cost.
Why do I need a Will?+
Your Last Will and Testament allows you to appoint an Executor and Trustees, designate how and to whom your assets are distributed upon your death, whether to family members, non-relatives or charities, and also allows you to establish trusts for minor or disabled beneficiaries. Your Will is also important for estate tax planning purposes and also allows you to appoint a Guardian for a minor child, and Trustees to handle trust assets for a minor or a disabled beneficiary.
Why is a durable Power of Attorney necessary?+
Because if you become incapacitated or incompetent, it allows your designated agent to act in your place to handle your affairs, such as paying your bills. Further, a properly drafted Power of Attorney allows your agent to implement strategies to protect your assets from the cost of long-term care or make gifts of your assets to minimize potential estate or income taxes.
What happens if I have not executed a durable Power of Attorney and I become incapacitated?+
Your family must undertake an expensive guardianship proceeding in court to get someone appointed to act as your guardian, who will have authority to handle your affairs.
Why is it important to execute a Health Care Proxy?+
Because you can choose the person to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.
What is a Living Will?+
A Living Will is an expression of your intentions regarding medical care should you have a terminal or incurable condition. In the event this occurs, you can direct that medical care should be withheld, unless it will alleviate pain or suffering.
What happens if I die without executing a Will? Is it true that New York State will take my assets if I die without a Will?+
New York State imposes a default estate plan for you; it is called the law of intestacy and the statutes dictate that your closest relatives will inherit your assets.
Why should I pay a lawyer to prepare a Will instead of preparing my own Will that I can download off the Internet?+
You get what you pay for. Often those forms are not specific to New York State. You will end up with a signed Will form which, if not properly executed, may not be legally valid. A one-size-fits all form does not capture the legal expertise that goes into estate planning; that includes reviewing your assets (probate and non-probate) and coordinating your Will, trusts, beneficiary designations, and proper titling of your accounts, and taking estate and income tax issues into consideration, working with you, your accountant and your financial advisor to achieve a comprehensive estate plan.

You will also have access to periodic review of your estate planning when tax laws change or when documents need to be updated due to statutory revisions. Finally, the cost of probating your “form Will” could be very costly if a judge has to resolve issues or the Will or its execution is contested.
Someone told me that if I change all my accounts to Transfer on Death, I will avoid the cost of probate fees and the cost of estate planning. Is this true?+
That depends on what other assets you own and if there is any estate tax owed. Your beneficiaries could be required to pay taxes with no orderly process to do so. If your Will sets up trusts for minor children or disabled beneficiaries, there may be nothing available to fund the trusts if all accounts are Transfer on Death. This is why planning to comprehensively coordinate all aspects of your estate plan for your loved ones is cost effective and beneficial.
Why are beneficiary designations important?+
Certain assets, such as life insurance, retirement plan and annuities, pass outside of your Will directly to beneficiaries on file with the company holding the asset. Coordinating beneficiary designations with your Will is a key component of an effective estate plan. Otherwise, assets may not pass as intended or may not fund trusts established by your Will. For retirement plans subject to income tax, properly designating beneficiaries is critical; opportunities to defer income tax on retirement assets may be lost and reduce the long-term growth potential for the retirement assets.
If I have a disabled child, should I leave them out of my Will, or leave their share of my estate to a sibling to “hold” for them?+
There are trusts, called Special Needs Trusts, which can be established in your Will for a beneficiary who is disabled. A Special Needs Trust allows the beneficiary to keep receiving public benefits like SSI or Medicaid. Having a sibling or other person “hold” assets for a disabled person can present significant risk, as that person may die, become disabled, get divorced, or file for bankruptcy, exposing the assets intended for the disabled beneficiary.
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