Estate Planning FAQ
March 1, 2023
Putting a comprehensive estate plan in place can help you provide various instructions and mitigate challenges when distributing your assets or settling your final affairs when you're gone. Whether you have a small or large estate, you can protect your assets, loved ones, and interests, and prepare for life's uncertainties by drafting an estate plan. A trusted attorney can answer some of your frequently asked questions about estate planning.
With nearly five decades of practice experience, I have the knowledge to advise and guide individuals and families in estate planning-related matters. As your estate planning attorney, I will work to understand your situation, explore your various estate planning options, and help you decide the best choice that suits your unique needs. My firm — Lawrence M. Gordon, Attorney at Law, PC — proudly serves clients across Long Island, Bellmore, Suffolk County, and Nassau County, New York.
Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Planning
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning involves providing detailed instructions in advance about how you want your assets managed or distributed, and any final affairs to be settled upon your death or sudden incapacitation.
Why Is an Estate Plan Important?
Having an estate plan is important because it allows you to achieve the following:
Protect your assets, property, investments, business, and interests
Prepare for future uncertainties
Choose a dependable and trustworthy person as your personal representative
Give you complete control over who will inherit your property and assets
Make adequate provisions for your surviving loved ones, spouses, close relatives, and dependents.
Protect assets and investments from frivolous lawsuits and unreasonable creditor claims.
Protect minor children and make sure they're adequately cared for.
Help beneficiaries and heirs avoid or minimize gift, estate, and inheritance taxes
Avoid possible disputes and disagreements between family members over asset distribution
Bypass the time-consuming and expensive probate proceedings.
Ensure that you do not die intestate (without a will)
What Should I Consider Before I Start?
However, before you start creating your estate plan, you should have a sense of direction. This involves identifying your estate planning goals and making a detailed inventory of your assets. In addition, you should consider who can help manage your personal, legal, health, and financial affairs, who will inherit your property, and how to repay your debts.
What's the Difference Between a Will and a Trust?
A will is a legal document that allows you to outline how you (the testator) want your assets to be distributed or disposed of when you're gone. In contrast, a trust is a fiduciary relationship that allows you (the trustor) to appoint another person (the trustee) who will hold the trust property on behalf of the beneficiaries. Here are some differences between a will and a trust:
Creating a will is cost-effective. In contrast, creating a trust requires a more expensive upfront cost.
A will is a public record. A trust will help keep your affairs private.
A will must pass through probate to determine its validity. Your trust can bypass probate.
A will allows you to choose a guardian for minor children. With a trust, you can store away assets for minor children and future generations until a future date.
If you create a will, your estate and assets will be subject to inheritance and estate taxes. Establishing a trust can help you avoid or reduce inheritance and estate taxes.
What Happens If I Die Without a Will?
Dying without a will is often referred to as dying "intestate." If your die in New York State without a will, the local probate court will determine how your estate will be administered – using the state's intestate succession laws.
Is a Handwritten Will Valid?
A handwritten or holographic will is a last will and testament that was drawn up by hand. In New York State, holographic wills are not valid unless it was created by a member of the United States armed forces on active duty.
How Does Probate Work?
Probate is a court-supervised process that often occurs when a person dies. During probate, the court will determine the validity of the will and appoint the named executor or administrator. Once appointed, the executor will:
Gather and evaluate the deceased person's assets.
Notify creditors and other interested parties.
Collect rents and money owed to the decedent.
Pay debts and taxes.
File the final income tax return.
Distribute the remaining assets to rightful beneficiaries and heirs.
What Do I Do After the Death of a Family Member?
When a loved one dies in New York, here are some important post-death tasks you need to handle:
Get a legal pronouncement of death and a death certificate.
Inform the decedent's loved ones, friends, close relatives, employers, coworkers, banks, insurance providers, social security services, and other concerned parties.
Arrange for their burial, funeral, or deposition of remains.
Make suitable provisions for their surviving family members, minor children, and pets.
Locate and execute the decedent's estate plan, including their will and trust.
Start the probate process.
What Is a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney (POA) is a written document that allows a person (the principal) to choose or authorize someone else (the attorney-in-fact or agent) who can act on their behalf in certain financial, property, legal, tax, or health matters should they become unavailable or unable to handle such matters.
How Often Should I Update My Estate Plan?
It’s in your best interest to review and update your estate plan regularly – usually every three to five years, or whenever a major life event occurs. This way, you can ensure that the provisions and instructions of your will and estate plan are consistent with your current wishes.
Do I Need an Attorney to Create My Estate Plan?
Essentially, you can draft your estate plan without an attorney. However, you may not understand your available options or make irrevocable mistakes without reliable advocacy and guidance. An experienced lawyer can fully explain how estate planning works, what to consider before starting, and advise you about your available legal options. Also, your attorney can help draft a personalized estate plan that best fits your unique needs.
Experienced Guidance When You Need it Most
When drafting your estate plan, getting experienced guidance and advocacy is imperative. Contact me at Lawrence M. Gordon, Attorney at Law, PC, today to schedule an initial consultation. I can offer you the personalized legal counsel and advocacy you need to make informed decisions for your legacy’s future and achieve peace of mind. My firm proudly serves clients across Long Island, Bellmore, Suffolk County, and Nassau County, New York.