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Long Island Estate Planning Attorney
Estate planning is important for every adult, regardless of age or wealth. Contrary to popular belief, estate planning is not only for when you die, it also addresses who would be able to help you and how you would manage if you became incapacitated. If you were to get into an accident, and be unable to handle your own affairs, an estate plan previously prepared would enable the people that you have chosen to help you which third parties, such as the bank and hospital, would have to respect and honor. And certainly after you die, an estate plan will make sure that your assets go to the people you choose in the manner you want, controlled by the people you have chosen, and that your children are taken care of in the way you would wish.
While we are a nation of multi-taskers, many American adults put off planning for the future, using “not enough time” as one of the primary reasons for avoiding this particular task. Some people simply don’t want to think about dying, while others avoid estate planning because they aren’t sure they fully understand what they need to do. Others do not plan for the future because they do not feel they actually have an “estate” to plan for.
Many people do not think they need estate planning services because they are under the mistaken belief that only the very rich have estates. It is very important to get past these excuses for not planning for the future. Although we all want to believe we will be around for a very long time, accidents and tragedies unfortunately, occur every day.
It’s true that estate planning can make you think about the answers to some very uncomfortable questions, but try to imagine what would happen to your children—as well as your assets—if you were to die without making your wishes known. If you die without a will, New York State laws determine how and to whom your assets and property are distributed. This may be contrary to your wishes.
Finally, if you think estate planning is only for the wealthy, think again. If you own anything, even a car or a home, then you have an estate. As a nod to an old adage, when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. When you engage in comprehensive estate planning, you are ensuring that everything you have worked for in your life goes to those you choose.
View Our Guide: Estate Planning Through Life Stages
Esther Schwartz Zelmanovitz, PLLC, understands that having an estate plan prepared can be a daunting task that you would rather put off as long as possible. We also understand the chaos that can be left behind for your loved ones to deal with when you do not have an estate plan. Our attorneys are highly skilled and extremely experienced in helping New Yorkers prepare an estate plan which most closely meets their individual needs. We believe we can help you create an estate plan in the same way we have helped hundreds of satisfied clients across the state.
Estate Planning is Not Just For When You Die
When we think of estate planning at all, we think of it as planning for after we die; too few people recognize the importance of estate planning during their lifetime, in the event of illness or incapacity. Who will manage your affairs if an unexpected tragedy or incapacity befalls you?
While New York has laws regarding who can make health care decisions for you in the event you cannot express your wishes on your own, there is no default law that authorizes your loved ones to access your bank account to pay your bills if you are incapacitated, pay your children’s college tuition, sell investments that may not be doing well or to pay for your care, or deal with your insurance company. What if you need long-term care? How will that be paid for?
Without a properly prepared Durable Power of Attorney prepared by an Elder Law attorney, your spouse and immediate relatives will be limited and unable to help you with your legal and financial matters in the event of incapacity. A Power of Attorney is a legal document used to delegate legal authority to another.
The person signing the Power of Attorney is known as the Principal, and is granting this legal authority to another person, known as an Agent, or an Attorney-in-Fact. A Power of Attorney can be used to give this person the legal power to make financial, property, healthcare, or other legal decisions. A Power of Attorney with elder law provisions is an extremely critical document to have in place in the event of a Principal’s illness or disability, allowing the Agent to make crucial healthcare decisions on his or her behalf, or to conduct other legal transactions on behalf of the Principal.
What happens if someone dies without an estate plan in place?
Estate Planning is not a “One Size Fits All”
Because every person and every situation is unique, there is no “one size fits all” document. An experienced New York estate planning attorney can assist you in determining which document will be the most beneficial for your particular situation. In addition to a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy, an attorney will review with you the benefits of having a will and possibly a trust. A will is a written document that tells others how you want your property distributed at the time of your death. A will also lets you appoint a guardian for your minor children. A living trust has some similarities to a will in that it directs the distribution of assets after your death, however, it has certain advantages, such as:
- Probate can be avoided;
- You can plan for your own incapacity;
- A trust helps protect your assets from the high cost of long-term care,
- Trust planning can help you minimize estate taxes; and
- Your financial affairs will not become public record.
Although there are significant advantages to a trust when appropriate, some drawbacks of a living trust include it may be more expensive to set up than a will, and a trust must be actively managed once established. Assets that have not been placed into the living trust may remain subject to probate, which may be reason alone to overcome any drawbacks. It is important for each person’s unique goals and circumstances to be reviewed by an experienced attorney to identify his or her individual options and determine the appropriate estate plan.
Asking Essential Estate Planning Questions
In addition to establishing a will, power of attorney, health care directives, and perhaps a trust, you will want to discuss other estate planning documents applicable to your particular situation with your New York estate planning attorney. You should consider asking your attorney about the following:
- How do I manage and limit estate, trust, and gift taxation?
- How does charitable giving fit into my estate planning?
- How do I incorporate pre-marital or post-marital agreements into my estate planning?
- What about retirement and long-term care planning?
- Who should be the trustee of my trust and agent under power of attorney?
- What responsibilities would my trustees and agents have? How soon after my death would my loved ones have access to my assets?
- How will my funeral and burial arrangements be paid?
What Should You Expect from Your New York Estate Planning Attorney?
Your New York estate planning attorney will set up an initial consultation with you in order to determine what you want to accomplish and will offer suggestions and information to help you make those decisions. Once you decide to retain the attorney for your estate planning, your wishes will be clarified, and the necessary documents will be drafted and reviewed with you.
Revisions will be made, if necessary, and the documents will be properly signed under the supervision of the attorney. If at any time, you want to make beneficiary changes or other changes to your estate planning documents, your New York estate planning attorney can help you do so. You might be amazed at the level of peace of mind you get knowing your loved ones are protected, and your assets are taken care of.
Do I Need An Estate Planning Attorney?
It would be foolish to attempt preparing an estate plan without an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning attorney. An estate plan addresses what will happen to you, your assets, and your minor children, in the event of incapacity and death. At that point, if your plan has holes and was not done correctly, it will likely be too late to fix then. An estate planning attorney will listen and learn about your particular family, health and financial situation and create an estate plan that will work specifically for your situation. A plan for one person can be very different than a plan for another person. A plan is more than just a set of papers. An estate planning attorney will be experienced in the legal nuances required to meet your needs and will prepare documents appropriate for you, determining the provisions that should be included or excluded, will make sure that the documents meet with strict execution requirements, and that your assets are titled correctly.
How Do I Choose an Estate Planning Attorney?
In order to have peace of mind, knowing that you have a proper plan in place that addresses your particular situation, you need a good estate planning attorney that truly understands how to help you. Of course, experience, knowledge, and cost should be factors that you consider. But when looking for an estate planning attorney, some important qualifications that are sometimes overlooked are as follows:
Is this a general practice attorney or does this attorney focus specifically on estate planning? You will want to find an attorney whose practice focuses primarily in this area as they would be most familiar with the laws and strategies available to you and how to best set up your plan specific for your needs.
Is this attorney also familiar with the probate and administration process? You want an attorney that not only prepares the documents, but also administers the process on the other side. An attorney that only drafts documents, but doesn’t do the probate and administration, may not be as familiar with issues that are important to address on the front end to avoid potential problems later on.
Is this attorney compassionate and will he or she have time to address my specific needs? The estate planning process is exactly that, a process. It is important that you feel comfortable with the attorney you are working with and can discuss your personal family, health and financial details so that the plan can be tailored to address your specific situation. Further, the process is truly an ongoing relationship. While a good attorney can prepare a plan that won’t have to be changed frequently, and hopefully not until a client’s next big stage in life, laws can change, a person’s health, family or financial circumstances can warrant change, so you want to feel comfortable with the attorney you are working with and know that your personal concerns are being addressed respectfully and timely.
How Esther Schwartz Zelmanovitz, PLLC, Can Help You Plan Your Estate
Planning for what will happen when you are gone or in the event of your incapacitation can involve difficult decisions. It is also something many people put off, sometimes until it is too late. When it comes to protecting yourself, your property, your legacy, and your loved ones, it is vital to create a solid estate plan, which can include advance directives, wills, trusts, and much more.
When these documents are not in place, your wishes may not be able to be carried out and your loved ones may be left with additional financial and emotional hardship that could have otherwise been avoided. For example, if you were incapacitated without having prepared a Durable Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy, your loved ones may be required to petition the court for guardianship should an issue arise, asking the court to appoint an individual to make financial and/or healthcare decisions. Such a process could be both financially and emotionally draining, especially when it could have been avoided by proper advance planning.
Esther Schwartz Zelmanovitz, PLLC, is “serving your legal needs in Long Island, all five boroughs of New York City and statewide.” To allow our firm to better serve you, our top-rated law firm offers home visits and evening appointments when necessary, or you can schedule an appointment to visit our office, located in Great Neck, NY. To learn more about estate planning, read the published article below.