• What should I know about letters testamentary?

    You might wonder how an executor gains the legal authority in New York to take direct charge of the finances and property of a person who has died. It is actually quite simple. The legal authority to start managing an estate comes when a probate court issues letters testamentary. Whether you are preparing to become an executor yourself or are just a beneficiary, it is important to know what part letters testamentary play in probate matters.

    As Bankrate explains, after an individual has passed away, a probate court will determine the validity of the decedent’s last will and testament. Assuming that the decedent had named a person in the will to take on the duties of the executor, the court will authorize that person to act as the executor if the court rules that the will can go into effect. This authorization occurs when the court issues letters testamentary.

    Letters testamentary allow a person to perform all the necessary duties of an executor. The executor is allowed to open a bank account in the estate’s name and gather the money of the estate into the account for the purposes of closing out the various matters of the estate. These can include paying off bills and taxes the decedent had still owed before passing away. Additionally, the executor is empowered to take inventory of the assets of the estate, file the final tax return for the estate, and distribute the assets of the estate.

    In the event that someone dies without a will, a court will not authorize letters testamentary. Since the decedent did not make a will and did not name an executor for the estate, the decedent’s estate is deemed intestate. It will be up to the court to appoint someone to be the executor. To authorize the executor to carry out the duties of the position, the court will issue letters of administration.

    Keep in mind that this article is written to educate New York residents on probate topics. Since issues with probate take many forms, this article should not be read as legal advice.

  • Reasons you may be able to challenge a will

    Your loved one passes away and you get a copy of the will. Right away, you can tell that something isn’t right. You don’t think this will should stand. You want to contest it and fight for your rights as an heir.

    But can you do so? Do you actually have the proper legal grounds to go to court? Or do you just have to abide by the will, even when you do not think that it accurately portrays your loved one’s wishes? This is already an emotional time for you and your family, and now this legal confusion makes it that much more difficult to move forward.

    You may be able to challenge the will. Here are a few potential reasons why:

    1. Undue influence impacted your loved one’s decisions

    In other words, their decisions were not really their own. The will does not reflect what they wanted, only what someone else influenced them to write down.

    For example, perhaps you have an older copy of the will in which you received far more of the estate. Right before their passing, your parent changed the will to give more of the estate to a step-sibling, whom you never got along with but who lived closer to your parent. You think that they convinced them to make the change by manipulating them in the fragile time near the end of their life.

    2. Your loved one drafted the will without testamentary capacity

    This is often a problem for people with dementia and other mental disorders. They may no longer have the mental capacity to understand what the will means, what assets they control or even what papers they are signing.

    This could be related to the manipulation discussed above. Perhaps your step-sibling waited until your parent no longer understood the legal process and then convinced them to move assets out of your name. They never wanted to do this and didn’t even understand that they did.

    3. Your loved one only signed through fraud

    The extreme end of the example noted above is when someone uses fraud to get an elderly person to take an action they don’t know they’re taking. They can do this by lying directly.

    For instance, maybe your step-sibling altered the will and then brought it to your parent. They told them it was a simple medical form they needed to sign for the hospital. They did it, trusting that person. However, they got tricked into signing an altered will that they’d never seen.

    Now what?

    As you can see, you may have a case. Make sure you understand what legal steps you can take to defend yourself and your loved one’s real wishes .

  • Why millennials need estate planning

     

     

    It is not uncommon for a person in their 20s or 30s to think that a will or a trust is only something that people in their parents’ or even their grandparents’ generations need. The truth, however, is far from this. While most people die later in life, accidents can happen at any time and a person may become disabled at a young age and unable to take care of their obligations or affairs even if they are still alive. An estate plan is simply smart insurance in a way.

    NerdWallet notes that as more millennials become parents, the need for them to  engage in estate planning grows. A clearly identified plan including named guardians for what will happen to their children should they die is something every parent should have. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. Simply saying that a grandparent will raise a child is not enough. A plan should also identify financial support for the to-be guardian.

    ThinkAdvisor encourages millennials to give consideration to what might happen if they were to be involved in a tragic accident. Who would be able to  make medical decisions on their behalf if they could not do it for themselves? This is another thing that can be identified in a good estate plan.

    Documenting online identity and login information should also be done so that the appropriate person or persons would have access to these accounts in the event of a death. Beneficiaries for work-sponsored 401K plans and life insurance policies should also be updated and reviewed regularly.

     

     

     

  • Estate planning and health issues

    When it comes to setting up an estate plan, health issues may play a role in various ways. For example, someone may be prompted to set up an estate plan specifically because of health challenges they are going through, which have made them realize that it is important to be prepared for unexpected problems that may be life-threatening. Moreover, other people may want to prepare for health issues that leave them unable to take care of themselves.

    There are a number of options for those who want to ensure that they are cared for in the event they become incapacitated, and many people have benefit from setting up a health care proxy, also known as a durable power of attorney for healthcare. By doing so, you can appoint someone who you trust to make key medical decisions for you in the event that you are no longer able to make these decisions yourself. There may be other ways you can prepare for these potential challenges as well, such as making revisions to your will.

    Ultimately,  health issues can be incredibly overwhelming and disruptive, so it is imperative to be prepared. When it comes to estate planning, you should not only be taking into consideration your finances and those you love, but other important aspects of your life as well, such as your health. By preparing yourself for issues that could arise in the future, you may be able to rest easier at night knowing that you are ready for unexpected problems.

  • What New York law says about no contest clauses

    The possibility of a nasty court battle over a last will and testament motivates some people to stick a “no contest” clause into their wills. If anyone is going to step forward to contest the will, the no contest clause will specify that the contesting individual will be cut out of the will’s provisions. While this seems like a good way to dissuade beneficiaries from going to court over a will, New York law might not uphold such clauses in all cases. 

    No contest clauses might seem unfair at first glance since they present an all or nothing proposition, and if a person finds fault with the will, that person could lose out completely on the benefits of the will by contesting it. FindLaw states that for these reasons, many states will not enforce such clauses and will allow people with standing to contest wills if valid reasons exist to do so.

    New York law, however, is quite specific, stating that no contest clauses are valid in the state. A testor does not need to provide a beneficiary with any alternative benefits if the beneficiary contests the will. Also, it does not matter if a beneficiary has a probable cause to contest the will. The no contest clause can still take effect and disinherit the person for contesting. However, this is not true for all cases.

    State law does provide specific exceptions that bar a person from being disinherited. For instance, the contesting individual may only be claiming that the will is not being offered in the correct jurisdiction and is not challenging the provisions of the will. A challenger may also not be competent under the law to make the challenge in the first place and thus cannot be held responsible. State law provides this exception to infants as well.

    People may also suspect that there is something wrong with the will itself, perhaps believing that the will is not even legitimate. State law permits residents to challenge wills if they are forgeries. A will might also have been superseded by a later will but the earlier will was wrongly put into effect, which can also form the basis for a legitimate challenge.

    Additionally, a no contest clause cannot be used to coerce people to not engage in legitimate probate actions. A beneficiary may have documents or information that are relevant to a probate proceeding but the testor of the will might not want to come to light. Regardless of the testor’s wishes, a person cannot be disinherited for bringing these documents forward. A person also cannot be disinherited for not participating in a petition to put a document through probate as a last will.

  • Taking time to grieve after the death of a relative

    The immediate period after the passing of a relative is not easy and can mix heartbreak and confusion. You might feel you have to start quickly on all of your plans to handle the estate of your loved one. However, you should not feel pressured to swiftly carry out your New York estate plan. There is only one step to worry about off the bat.

    The first step you should take as soon as possible is to secure the tangible property of your loved one. You want to make sure that the tangible assets your relative owned will not go missing before it is time to distribute them to whoever is listed in your relative’s will, or, if there is no will, through whatever means your relative planned. There are times when assets may vanish if someone else has access to them.

    Agingcare.com explains that after this step, you can take the time to grieve . The financial matters of your relative’s estate will not require immediate attention. However, if your loved one was issued a Social Security check after passing away, you will have to go through the proper procedures listed on the Social Security Administration’s website to return it.

    Also make sure that, if your relative made a will, you file the will for probate as soon as you can. This will help prevent delays with the probate process and keep you from feeling stressed out. On top of your grief, you do not need to worry about your estate plan taking longer to carry out than it has to.

    You should also plan on seeing an attorney, but you do not have to make an immediate visit. An article on Caring.com points out that the period following the death of a loved one is very emotional and you may  carry those feelings with you into the attorney’s office. Waiting a while can help clear your mind and let you address estate issues with your attorney in a calmer manner.

  • Is there a problem if executors are slow to communicate?

    It is a scenario that some people face. A family member has passed, yet the executor of their deceased loved one’s New York estate has barely reached out with news about the estate and its assets, if the executor has communicated at all. You might think something is up and are exploring legal action against the executor. However, slow communication may not be a sign that you should worry, at least not yet.

    As ThinkAdvisor points out, estate administration is not a quick process . It may take months or perhaps even years to complete because of the various legal hurdles that the executor must get over, including sending the estate through probate and dealing with creditors who are claiming some of your loved one’s assets due to old debts. There might also be tax problems that could take years to resolve. All of these duties may hamper an executor from making regular communications to beneficiaries.

    The range of responsibilities can feel overwhelming for some executors. In addition to the ordinarily slow process of administrating an estate, an executor may lag in talking to you due to trying to figure out how to handle the duties of the office. Some executors may be occupied seeking out help from outside parties, such as an attorney, to figure out legal and financial matters.

    Nevertheless, beneficiaries of an estate will want to know that assets promised to them are in good hands. An executor, even if not ready to dispense the assets, should still let the beneficiaries know that the estate is secure. Shortly thereafter, an executor should convey a description of how the estate will be administrated and copies of the important estate planning papers. Regular communication from the executor to the beneficiaries should follow.

    Since it is possible an executor’s lack of communication is not due to malice, it could be a smarter move to reach out to the executor or discuss the matter with fellow beneficiaries to decide on how to approach the executor. However, if an executor continues to remain silent or is too vague or infrequent in talking to you, you might want to see if the estate is having any problems that the executor could be covering up. Consultation with an attorney would also be appropriate.

    Probate litigation can take many forms. For that reason, do not consider this article as offering any legal advice, and read it only for educational benefit.

  • What happens to overseas assets in estates?

    Whether your will could pass through probate without your overseas assets diminished by U.S. tax depends on a variety of factors. It also is possible that you could avoid putting some of these assets in your will by establishing a trust, thereby avoiding the probate process in most cases. 

    For assets you do not wish to place in trust ownership or move to the United States, you would probably want to consider a number of key points for each. It is often helpful to keep in mind that the court will likely have a different set of rules for nearly every gift you intend to bestow.

    The most common concern for wills in terms of United States taxes and foreign assets is often the gift tax. Real estate, securities and other forms of wealth you intend to transfer from outside of the country may be subject to this tax if they come from certain non-treaty nations and exceed a specified dollar value. 

    Only a few foreign countries hold gift tax treaties with the United States. As stated on the IRS website, these select nations include some of the USA’s most dedicated  business and trading partners :

    • The United Kingdom
    • Japan
    • Denmark
    • Australia

    However, it is not always safe to assume that a court would your assets as foreign. It would be in your best interests to look at each line item in your will individually to determine the exact IRS definition under which it might fall.

    Knowing the details of these treaties could be an important first step in developing a strategy for your foreign assets in an estate plan. however, laws change all the time and this should not be considered specific advice. It is only meant to inform and educate.

  • The financial responsibilities of serving as an estate executor

    Losing someone you love is difficult, especially if you were close with that person. The situation can become even more complicated if the deceased party asked you to serve as the executor of their estate or the trustee for their trust.

    That means that not only do you have to deal with grief, but you also have to handle the complex financial and legal responsibilities of administering an estate. The first step toward fulfilling your obligations to your deceased loved one is familiarizing yourself with your responsibilities as the trustee or executor .

    It is your job to tie up loose ends after someone dies

    An executor helps address all outstanding issues in someone’s legal and financial life after their physical life is over. You will handle the financial and legal details related to their passing and the liquidation of their assets.

    Typically, you will have some financial and legal obligations to fulfill prior to disbursing the assets from the estate. Often, these responsibilities include:

    • paying bills
    • paying taxes
    • closing accounts
    • assessing liabilities and debts
    • locating assets
    • locating beneficiaries and heirs
    • serving notice
    • handling any probate proceedings

    Obviously, there are many complicated steps involved in estate administration. As soon as you assume your mantle of authority, you should review the last will. Whether you go over it with your own attorney or the attorney who drafted it, it’s important to understand the request and obligations outlined in the last will or estate plan. From there, you will want to secure all important financial documentation related to the estate, ranging from outstanding bills to text documents.

    You must pay debts before you disperse anything to other people

    No matter the emotional significance of a valuable asset, you do not have the right to disperse anything from the estate until all outstanding debts and obligations of the deceased get paid in full. That is why reviewing financial documentation is critical.

    Once you understand what obligations the testator left to you, you can quickly handle them and move on to locating and organizing assets for heirs and beneficiaries. Anytime you disburse funds, whether it is to a child of the deceased or a creditor, make sure that you have accurate records and receipts. If someone chooses to challenge your role in the future, that documentation can prove that you performed your fiduciary duty with care and diligence.

    If you are uncertain about the right steps to take, it is best to refer to the advice of an experienced estate administration attorney in Jamaica. In some cases, you could be held legally or financially responsible for mistakes you make in good faith while dealing with an estate. The best way to avoid any such liability is to carefully comply with the terms of the will and with the law.

  • Understanding “undue influence”

    While creating an estate plan is a wise move for any adult living in New York, many people fail to take important steps to plan for their futures and get their affairs in order until they are old or in particularly poor health. This can prove problematic, however, because in some cases, other people take advantage of older Americans who they believe they can easily influence, and they may exploit the trust of an aging American if they think doing so would be to their benefit. At Joseph A. Ledwidge, P.C., we understand that undue influence is a common reason courts may deem a will invalid, and we have considerable experience helping others with similar concerns pursue solutions that meet their needs.

    According to the American Bar Association, undue influence, although somewhat difficult to define, refers to someone’s efforts to  manipulate someone else for his or her own personal gain. While undue influence can affect virtually anyone, those with memory loss and related issues are particularly vulnerable to this type of treatment. Older Americans, for example, may find that others exploit them for their own financial gain, and those responsible for doing so may try to isolate the victim in an effort to better protect themselves from detection.

    Deciphering between undue influence and simple persuasion can prove difficult, however, so many judges and juries consider certain factors when determining whether  undue influence is at play. For example, a judge or jury will likely consider the vulnerability of the victim and the degree of authority the influencer has over this person when determining whether someone experienced undue influence.

    Judges and juries may also consider the tactics used by the influencer, and the results of the influencer’s behavior, before making final determinations about undue influence. You can find out more about this and other common reasons for contesting wills by visiting our webpage.