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.
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.
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.