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Bellmore, NY Estate Planning & Complex Litigation Blog

Friday, June 20, 2014

6 Events Which May Require a Change in Your Estate Plan

Creating a Will is not a one-time event. You should review your will periodically, to ensure it is up to date, and make necessary changes if your personal situation, or that of your executor or beneficiaries, has changed. There are a number of life-changing events that require your Will to be revised, including:

Change in Marital Status: If you have gotten married or divorced, it is imperative that you review and modify your Will. With a new marriage, you must determine which assets you want to pass to your new spouse or step-children, and how that may relate to the beneficiary interest of your own children. Following a divorce it is a good practice to revise your Will, to formally remove the ex-spouse as a beneficiary. While you’re at it, you should also change your beneficiary on any life insurance policies, pensions, or retirement accounts. Estate planning is complicated when there are children from multiple marriages, and an attorney can help you ensure everyone is protected, which may include establishing a trust in addition to the revised Will.

Depending on jurisdiction, this may also apply to couples who have established or revoked a registered domestic partnership.

If one of your Will’s beneficiaries experiences a change in marital status, that may also trigger a need to revise your Will.

Births: Upon the birth of a new child, the parents should amend their Wills immediately, to include the names of the guardians who will care for the child if both parents die. Also, parents or grandparents may wish to modify the distribution of assets provided in their Wills, to include the new addition to the family.

Deaths or Incapacitation: If any of the named executors or beneficiaries of a Will, or the named guardians for your children, pass away or become incapacitated, your Will should be revised accordingly.

Change in Assets: Your Will may need to be changed if the value of your assets has significantly increased or decreased, or if you dispose of an asset. You may want to modify the distribution of other assets in your estate, to account for the changed value or disposition of the asset.

Change in Employment: A change in the amount and/or source of income means your Will should be examined to see if any changes must be made to that document. Retirement or changing jobs could entail moving to another state, thus subjecting your estate to the laws of that state when you die. If the change in income modifies your investing, saving or spending habits, it may be time to review your Will and make sure the distribution to your beneficiaries will be as you intended.

Changes in Probate or Tax Laws: Wills should be drafted to maximize tax benefits, and to ensure the decedent’s wishes are carried out. If the laws regarding taxation of the estate, distribution of assets, or provisions for minor children have changed, you should have your Will reviewed by an estate planning attorney to ensure your family is fully protected and your wishes will be fully carried out.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

“We Don’t Get Paid Unless We Win” – What does it all mean?

Each day, thousands of advertisements for personal injury lawyers can be found in local newspapers, on television stations and even on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Most of these ads explain that the firm doesn’t collect any fees unless they win. Of course, there’s usually a catch with this statement and it centers around what the advertising firm means by “fees” and what other costs you might be expected to pay regardless of whether or not you win your case.

Attorney fees usually involve the time and labor of the attorneys and their staff. These fees do not include the out-of-pocket case costs that are inevitable in any court proceeding. So while you may not be required to pay any attorney fees upfront or at all (unless you win), you may be required to pay all related case costs. Case costs are usually expenses charged by third parties for work on your case. These may include court filing fees, expert witness fees, cost of obtaining medical records, court reporter fees, etc. Depending on the scope of your case and the duration of these proceedings, these fees can easily be thousands of dollars.

While some firms will require you to pay case costs as they are incurred, others won’t require upfront payment (especially, if you have a very strong case) and will instead deduct these expenses from the final settlement. Combined with legal fees, these costs may add up to 50% or even more of the settlement. In selecting an attorney for your personal injury matter, it’s important that you take time to understand what expenses, in addition to attorney fees, you will incur.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Protecting Your Vacation Home with a Cabin Trust

Many people own a family vacation home--a lakeside cabin, a beachfront condo--a place where parents, children and grandchildren can gather for vacations, holidays and a bit of relaxation. It is important that the treasured family vacation home be considered as part of a thorough estate plan. In many cases, the owner wants to ensure that the vacation home remains within the family after his or her death, and not be sold as part of an estate liquidation.

There are generally two ways to do this: Within a revocable living trust, a popular option is to create a separate sub-trust called a "Cabin Trust" that will come into existence upon the death of the original owner(s). The vacation home would then be transferred into this Trust, along with a specific amount of money that will cover the cost of upkeep for the vacation home for a certain period of time. The Trust should also designate who may use the vacation home (usually the children or grandchildren). Usually, when a child dies, his/her right to use the property would pass to his/her children.

The Cabin Trust should also name a Trustee, who would be responsible for the general management of the property and the funds retained for upkeep of the vacation home. The Trust can specify what will happen when the Cabin Trust money runs out, and the circumstances under which the vacation property can be sold. Often the Trust will allow the children the first option to buy the property.

Another method of preserving the family vacation home is the creation of a Limited Liability Partnership to hold the house. The parents can assign shares to their children, and provide for a mechanism to determine how to pay for the vacation home taxes and upkeep. An LLP provides protection from liability, in case someone is injured on the property.

It is always wise to consult with an estate planning attorney about how to best protect and preserve a vacation home for future generations.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Wrongful Death

If you watch the evening news or read the local paper, you’ve probably come across the term “Wrongful death.”  Legally speaking, wrongful death is a term used for a type of action that can be filed by the heirs and beneficiaries of a person who was killed because of the wrongful conduct of another person. Wrongful death laws are intended to provide compensation to help support the dependents of the deceased.

Conduct that can result in a wrongful death claim include negligence, such as reckless driving, or intentional crimes such as assault or murder. In most states, the standard of proof for wrongful death cases is a preponderance of the evidence meaning that the injured party has to prove to the jury that there is a greater than 50% chance that the defendant’s negligent or criminal actions were the cause of death. This differs from criminal cases where the prosecutor must show proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a much higher standard. Therefore, it’s often easier for survivors to prove a wrongful death case than it is for prosecutors to prove a criminal case. One well-known example is the O.J. Simpson case where the survivors of Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson chose to sue for wrongful death and won after O.J Simpson was acquitted in the criminal case.  

Wrongful death laws are different from state to state, and they govern who can sue for wrongful death and whether there are any limits that should be applied to damage awards. In general, a surviving spouse, children, or next of kin can recover for wrongful death. However, in some states, only minor children, not adult children, can sue for the death of a parent.

There are some exceptions to who can be sued for wrongful death. In order to promote strong family relationships, some states don’t allow a person to sue another member of his or her family for wrongful death, However, many states have dropped this rule, because it has at times prevented families from collecting insurance proceeds. It can also be hard to sue states or local governments, or the federal government for wrongful death – the rules vary among jurisdictions.

In order to sue for wrongful death, it must be shown that the defendant’s actions (or failure to act when he should have) were the immediate and foreseeable cause of the deceased’s death. In wrongful death cases, state laws govern what amount of damages can be recovered. Usually, wrongful death cases include compensatory damages, which provide an amount of restitution for lost income, medical and funeral expenses, and economic support in an amount the plaintiffs would have received if the deceased had not died. In some cases, the survivors can also recover for loss of companionship and sexual relations. Calculating the exact amount of damages requires the  consideration of a number of a variables, such as the amount of time the deceased would have continued working and the deceased’s salary, and the deceased’s life expectancy, including physical and mental health.

In some wrongful death cases, punitive damages (which are intended to punish the defendant) can be awarded if the defendant’s actions were extremely reckless. The jury decides whether there should be an award of punitive damages. Any punitive damages that are recovered are generally divided among the survivors by statute.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When will I receive my inheritance?

If you’ve been named a beneficiary in a loved one’s estate plan, you’ve likely wondered how long it will take to receive your share of the inheritance after his or her passing.  Unfortunately, there’s no hard or and fast rule that allows an estate planning attorney to answer this question. The length of time it takes to distribute assets in an estate can vary widely depending upon the particular situation.

Some of the factors that will be involved in determining how long it takes to fully administer an estate include whether the estate must be probated with the court, whether assets are difficult to value, whether the decedent had an ownership interest in real estate located in a state other than the state they resided in, whether your state has a state estate (or inheritance) tax, whether the estate must file a federal estate tax return, whether there are a number of creditors that must be dealt with, and of course, whether there are any disputes about the will or trust and if there may be disagreements among the beneficiaries about how things are being handled by the executor or trustee.

Before the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, the executor and trustee must also make certain to identify any creditors because they have an obligation to pay any legally enforceable debts of the decedent with those assets. If there must be a court filed probate action there may be certain waiting periods, or creditor periods, prescribed by state law that may delay things as well and which are out of the control of the executor of the estate.

In some cases, the executor or trustee may make a partial distribution to the beneficiaries during the pending administration but still hold back sufficient assets to cover any income or estate taxes and other administrative fees. That way the beneficiaries can get some benefit but the executor is assured there are assets still in his or her control to pay those final taxes and expenses. Then, once those are fully paid, a final distribution can be made. It is not unusual for the entire process to take 9 months to 18 months (sometime more) to fully complete.

If you’ve been named a beneficiary and are dealing with a trustee or executor who is not properly handling the estate and you have yet to receive your inheritance, you should contact a qualified estate planning attorney for knowledgeable legal counsel.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Family Business: Preserving Your Legacy for Generations to Come

Your family-owned business is not just one of your most significant assets, it is also your legacy. Both must be protected by implementing a transition plan to arrange for transfer to your children or other loved ones upon your retirement or death.


More than 70 percent of family businesses do not survive the transition to the next generation. Ensuring your family does not fall victim to the same fate requires a unique combination of proper estate and tax planning, business acumen and common-sense communication with those closest to you. Below are some steps you can take today to make sure your family business continues from generation to generation.

  • Meet with an estate planning attorney to develop a comprehensive plan that includes a will and/or living trust. Your estate plan should account for issues related to both the transfer of your assets, including the family business and estate taxes.
  • Communicate with all family members about their wishes concerning the business. Enlist their involvement in establishing a business succession plan to transfer ownership and control to the younger generation. Include in-laws or other non-blood relatives in these discussions. They offer a fresh perspective and may have talents and skills that will help the company.
  • Make sure your succession plan includes:  preserving and enhancing “institutional memory”, who will own the company, advisors who can aid the transition team and ensure continuity, who will oversee day-to-day operations, provisions for heirs who are not directly involved in the business, tax saving strategies, education and training of family members who will take over the company and key employees.
  • Discuss your estate plan and business succession plan with your family members and key employees. Make sure everyone shares the same basic understanding.
  • Plan for liquidity. Establish measures to ensure the business has enough cash flow to pay taxes or buy out a deceased owner’s share of the company. Estate taxes are based on the full value of your estate. If your estate is asset-rich and cash-poor, your heirs may be forced to liquidate assets in order to cover the taxes, thus removing your “family” from the business.
  • Implement a family employment plan to establish policies and procedures regarding when and how family members will be hired, who will supervise them, and how compensation will be determined.
  • Have a buy-sell agreement in place to govern the future sale or transfer of shares of stock held by employees or family members.
  • Add independent professionals to your board of directors.

You’ve worked very hard over your lifetime to build your family-owned enterprise. However, you should resist the temptation to retain total control of your business well into your golden years. There comes a time to retire and focus your priorities on ensuring a smooth transition that preserves your legacy – and your investment – for generations to come.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

5 Tire Safety Hazards

Proper maintenance of your vehicle is an important step toward ensuring your safety on the road. Tire failures at high speeds can result in vehicle rollovers, serious injuries and death. Below are five safety hazards to watch out for; the presence of any of these conditions can indicate that your tires should be repaired or replaced – before it is too late.

Tires Not Inflated to the Proper Air Pressure: Incorrect tire pressure compromises both the comfort and safety of your ride. Improper pressure affects braking, cornering, stability, mileage and tire life. Furthermore, tires that are not inflated to the proper pressure face a higher risk of catastrophic failure resulting in a serious accident. Low tire pressure causes increased friction and can overheat the tire, causing tread separation. The recommended tire pressure is always less than the maximum allowable pressure stated on the tire itself. Your vehicle’s recommended tire pressure can be found in the owner’s manual, or the label on the car’s driver’s side door, glove compartment or gas tank door.

Worn Tread: If the tread on your tires has worn down, you are at an increased risk of a blowout or hydroplaning accident.  Additionally, worn tread may indicate a more serious problem, such as improper balance, suspension or alignment. Finally, tires with worn tread are more likely to be underinflated, affecting steering, braking and mileage, and causing further safety risks due to improper air pressure.

Tire Repeatedly Loses Air Pressure: If you often notice that one of your tires seems low, despite the fact that you have inflated the tires to the proper pressure, this could indicate a leak. There may be a small puncture in the tire’s tread, perhaps caused by driving over a nail, or it may be caused by a poor seal between the tire and rim or a damaged valve. These problems can often be repaired, rather than having to replace the tire. Ignoring the problem can lead to a sudden drop in tire pressure while on the road, which can result in a blowout or loss of control.

Bulge in the Sidewall: Any budge, regardless of size, indicates that the tire’s integrity has been compromised and the tire should be replaced immediately. This could be due to an impact with a curb or pothole. When such a bulge occurs, the steel belts inside the tire have weakened and can no longer ensure safe operation of the vehicle. Care should also be taken to ensure that the impact that caused the tire bulge did not also cause damage to the wheel itself.

Old Tires/Vehicles in Storage: If your tires are old or the vehicle has been immobile for a lengthy period of time, the tires may be affected by a form of “dry rot.” Regardless of how climate-controlled the storage environment is, tires that sit for extended periods will weaken over time until they are unsafe for travel. Similarly, old tires will show signs of degradation. You can identify this problem by examining the tire for small cracks in the tire’s sidewall. If any cracks are present, the tire should be replaced.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Planning Pitfall: Probate vs. Non-Probate Property

Transfer of property at death can be rather complex.  Many are under the impression that instructions provided in a valid will are sufficient to transfer their assets to the individuals named in the will.   However, there are a myriad of rules that affect how different types of assets transfer to heirs and beneficiaries, often in direct contradiction of what may be clearly stated in one’s will.

The legal process of administering property owned by someone who has passed away with a will is called probate.  Prior to his passing, a deceased person, or decedent, usually names an executor to oversee the process by which his wishes, outlined in his Will, are to be carried out. Probate property, generally consists of everything in a decedent’s estate that was directly in his name. For example, a house, vehicle, monies, stocks or any other asset in the decedent’s name is probate property. Any real or personal property that was in the decedent’s name can be defined as probate property.  

The difference between non-probate property and probate centers around whose name is listed as owner. Non-probate property consists of property that lists both the decedent and another as the joint owner (with right of survivorship) or where someone else has already been designated as a beneficiary, such as life insurance or a retirement account.  In these cases, the joint owners and designated beneficiaries supersede conflicting instructions in one’s will. Other examples of non-probate property include property owned by trusts, which also have beneficiaries designated. At the decedent’s passing, the non-probate items pass automatically to whoever is the joint owner or designated beneficiary.

Why do you need to know the difference? Simply put, the categories of probate and non-probate property will have a serious effect on how plan your estate.  If you own property jointly with right of survivorship with another individual, that individual will inherit your share, regardless of what it states in your will.  Estate and probate law can be different from state-to-state, so it’s best to have an attorney handle your estate plan and property ownership records to ensure that your assets go to the intended beneficiaries.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Borrowing from your retirement accounts: Issues to consider

So you have credit card debt, overdue mortgage payments, or suddenly need to buy a new car. We’ve all been there. You need money now, and your retirement accounts continue to climb. Fortunately, many employers allow you to take out loans on these accounts, but should you really begin spending that money before you retire?

On one hand, there are benefits to borrowing from your retirement accounts. You are essentially borrowing your own money, so the payments you make, plus interest, go back into your account. Since it’s your own money, these payments do not affect your credit score, and most 401(k) loans have relatively low interest rates.

However, there are many risks associated with taking money from accounts like your 401(k). It is recommended that you see a financial advisor before making this decision to address the cost and potential ramifications of the loan.

First consider the reason for taking out a loan, and the multiple options that you face. A dire emergency is the only recommended cause for borrowing from these accounts; some plans even require it. If you’re looking to spend the money on something more frivolous, like a family vacation or a new entertainment system, however, you should consider alternate financing options.

The downside to these loans comes in handling the repayment plan. Interest paid to your own account sounds easy enough, but these payments are subject to taxes. Furthermore, once money is borrowed from your retirement account, it is no longer eligible for tax-deferred growth. Payments you make on the loan come from after-tax assets, so the money you repay into your account can end up getting taxed for a second time once you withdraw after retirement.  

A standard 401(k) loan allows you to borrow up to half of your balance, with a maximum of $50,000. Normally, you have up to five years to repay the loan. Failure to do so within the five-year period means your loan will be deemed an early withdrawal, and will be subject to taxes as well as a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

If you are looking to borrow money from your retirement accounts, carefully consider your repayment plan in advance. It’s especially important to make certainthat you are secure in your employment; if you leave or lose your job, your loan payments will be due within 90 days. Consider borrowing only if interest on a loan from your retirement plan would be less than that of another loan alternative. A final tip: Continue contributing to your 401(k) while you pay off the loan to lessen the impact on your savings.

 


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Avoid Family Feuds through Proper Estate Planning

Avoid Family Feuds through Proper Estate Planning

A family feud over an inheritance is not a game and there is no prize package at the end of the show. Rather, disputes over who gets your property after your death can drag on for years and deplete your entire estate. When most people are preparing their estate plans, they execute wills and living trusts that focus on minimizing taxes or avoiding probate. However, this process should also involve laying the groundwork for your estate to be settled amicably and according to your wishes. Communication with your loved ones is key to accomplishing this goal.

Feuds can erupt when parents fail to plan, or make assumptions that prove to be untrue. Such disputes may evolve out of a long-standing sibling rivalry; however, even the most agreeable family members can turn into green-eyed monsters when it comes time to divide up the family china or decide who gets the vacation home at the lake.

Avoid assumptions. Do not presume that any of your children will look out for the interests of your other children. To ensure your property is distributed to the heirs you select, and to protect the integrity of the family unit, you must establish a clear estate plan and communicate that plan – and the rationale behind certain decisions – to your loved ones.

In formulating your estate plan, you should have a conversation with your children to discuss who will be the executor of your estate, or who wants to inherit a specific personal item. Ask them who wants to be the executor, or consider the abilities of each child in selecting who will settle your estate, rather than just defaulting to the eldest child. This discussion should also include provisions for your potential incapacity, and address who has the power of attorney.

Do not assume any of your children want to inherit specific items. Many heirs fight as much over sentimental value as they do monetary items. Cash and investments are easily divided, but how do you split up Mom’s engagement ring or the table Dad built in his woodshop? By establishing a will or trust that clearly states who is to receive such special items, you avoid the risk that your estate will be depleted through costly legal proceedings as your children fight over who is entitled to such items.

Take the following steps to ensure your wishes are carried out:

  • Discuss your estate planning with your family. Ask for their input and explain anything “unusual,” such as special gifts of property or if the heirs are not inheriting an equal amount.
     
  • Name guardians for your minor children.
     
  • Write a letter, outside of your will or trust, that shares your thoughts, values, stories, love, dreams and hopes for your loved ones.
     
  • Select a special, tangible gift for each heir that is meaningful to the recipient.
     
  • Explain to your children why you have appointed a particular person to serve as your trustee, executor, agent or guardian of your children.
     
  • If you are in a second marriage, make sure your children from a prior marriage and your current spouse know that you have established an estate plan that protects their interests.
     

Monday, January 6, 2014

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Can you be sued for hurting someone's feelings?

In a civilized society, citizens are expected to conduct themselves with at least a small amount of regard for the feelings of others.  To prevent behavior that can cause severe anguish, the law has created a tort called “intentional infliction of emotional distress”. An intentional infliction of emotional distress claim allows those who are emotionally injured by another person to recover for emotional injuries as well as any physical injuries that result from distress induced by the bad behavior, such as migraines, ulcers or a miscarriage. 

In order to prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, four elements must be shown. First, the defendant must act either intentionally or recklessly. The defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous. Third, the plaintiff must have suffered extreme emotional distress.  And lastly, the plaintiff’s conduct must be the cause of that distress. In addition, some states require that the incident that caused the emotional distress must have taken place in public. 

Some examples of behavior that may constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress include a person telling a parent their child has died, while knowing it wasn’t true; a medical professional telling a patient he or she is HIV positive as a joke; or a person threatening to shoot another person if he or she does not meet certain demands. Some behavior that may seem like intentional infliction of emotional distress but probably is not would include a person having an affair with a friend’s spouse; a landlord evicting a dying person who hasn’t paid rent for a few months; or an action that was intended as a harmless prank, such as toilet papering someone’s house. 

When determining whether intentional infliction of emotional distress has occurred, a judge or jury must take into account the emotional state of the victim and whether the plaintiff knew of that emotional state. For example, a person locking another person who is scared of roaches in a closet filled with roaches could be intentional infliction of emotional distress in that instance, while it may not be to a person who isn’t afraid of roaches. 

Intentional infliction of emotional distress can be hard to prove. The hardest element to show is that the defendant’s conduct was so extreme or outrageous to be completely intolerable in a normal society. It is not enough for the defendant to simply have behaved badly or even very badly – the behavior must be atrocious and harmful to one’s mental health. 


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Lawrence M. Gordon, Attorney at Law, P.C. has offices in Bellmore, NY and assists clients throughout Long Island, including: the north shore of Long Island, The Town Of Oyster Bay, The Town Of North Hempstead, The Town Of Hempstead, The Town Of Huntington, Nassau & Suffolk Counties & throughout the Five Boroughs of The City Of New York.



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