Estate planning issues that could result in legal battles

New York residents may have spent time thinking about creating an estate plan. When doing so, there are certain issues to consider that may make a plan easier to execute. For instance, it is important who is named the executor of the estate. This person should be fair and objective about carrying out the wishes of the deceased individual.

However, this could be a moot point if there is no valid will in place prior to an individual passing away. In this scenario, the state may decide who gets an individual’s assets. If a will does exist, it should clearly state who gets an item and why. Forcing family members to figure it out on their own could result in frayed relationships and legal battles between family members.

In the event that minors are to be gifted money, it may be better if there are rules attached to how that money is to be given. Furthermore, all valuable possessions should be inventoried prior to creating a will regardless of who is getting an item. Doing so may make it easier to ensure that the beneficiaries get what they want. Doing so might also help a grantor to fully evaluate the size of their estate , which can help limit excess taxation when the items transfer ownership upon death. In cases where this is not done properly, family members may have to sell items to pay the taxes on their value.

To increase the odds that an estate plan meets an individual’s needs, it may be a good idea to review that plan every whenever a major event takes place. This may be done with the help of an estate planning attorney. An attorney may also be able to draft the necessary documents for passing on assets if a client is in the beginning stages of creating an estate plan.

Source : Forbes, ” Family Feud! 6 Stories Of Problematic Estate Planning ,” Feb. 19, 2015

Spouses’ inheritance rights in New York

New York residents who have survived their spouses often have questions about their rights to inherit part of their spouses’ estates. Although New York is a common law state, a surviving spouse still has rights that entitle them to part of their deceased spouse’s estate.

Because of the rules of property ownership in New York, the spouse of a deceased person is not necessarily entitled to half of that person’s estate. The person whose name is on the title of a piece of property is its legal owner, even if that person’s spouse actually paid for it. For property that is not associated with a title, the person who paid for the item is its owner. This means that each spouse in a marriage does not necessarily own half of the property acquired during the marriage.

Although it is a common law state, New York law disallows people from completely excluding their spouses from their wills. Residents of New York are entitled to one-third of their deceased spouses’ estates. This mandate is even applicable in cases where a deceased person left less than one-third of their estate to their spouse. A spouse who was excluded from a will or who received less than one-third of the estate may take the case to court to claim their share. If the spouse does not make a claim with the court or if they consented in writing to receive less than one-third of the estate, the deceased person’s property will be distributed as indicated in their will.

People whose spouses are deceased often have difficulty maintaining their standard of living without their full share of their spouses’ estates. Attorneys may be able to advise surviving spouses on how to make a claim to an estate even if their spouse excluded them from their wills.

Source: FindLaw, “Inheritance Law and Your Rights” , accessed on Feb. 16, 2015

Fight over Robin Williams estate offers valuable lessons

When comedian and actor Robin Williams passed away, it seemed like his affairs were in order. He had prepared a will and specific trust agreements. He also had a prenuptial agreement in place. By most measures, it seemed as if he had done everything necessary to ensure that his estate would be distributed without conflicts or legal disputes. Despite his planning, though, his heirs still find themselves at odds with each other over Mr. Williams’s assets. The battles surrounding his estate provides valuable lessons for New York residents who are in the process of considering how their assets will be distributed when they die.

In many testamentary battles, the assets in dispute are big ticket items like homes, cars and money. That’s not the case with the current battle over the actor’s estate . Instead, his three children are fighting with Mr. Williams’s widow and third wife over personal items like memorabilia, bicycles, action figures, and more. Estate planning experts say that it’s not uncommon for families to fight over items that hold primarily sentimental value.

Individuals can avoid these disputes by making their will and trust documents as specific as possible. While it’s unlikely that people could specifically list every possession that they may own, they can address those items that may hold sentimental value. This is especially important in blended families where there may strained or complex relationships. Making the documents specific with regard to these items gives heirs little room to wage a battle.

It can also be helpful to have conversations with heirs before preparing documents, as a testator may be surprised to learn which items a child or spouse holds dear. An estate planning attorney can help facilitate these conversations by hosting a family meeting and then help to create documents that minimize the chance of subsequent family disputes.

Source: Time Magazine, “3 Things We Can Learn From Robin Williams’ Estate Battle” , Kerri Anne Renzulli, Feb. 4, 2015

Trust administration in New York

When you are preparing your estate plan, you may want to consider utilizing trusts to help you meet a variety of different types of financial and family goals. If you plan and set up trusts appropriately, you can use them to directly pass your assets to your heirs while bypassing the expense and litigation that can be involved with the probate process.

If your estate is fairly large, you may want to establish a trust that may help your heirs avoid certain tax liabilities they might otherwise incur. You can establish trusts to meet most any need or goal, including trusts set up to benefit a disabled relative, trusts established for charitable purposes, revocable or irrevocable trusts and bypass trusts.

The type of trust you choose should be tailored to meet your individual estate needs and goals. If the trust is set up correctly, your family can avoid public scrutiny that can come along with the openness of probate court proceedings. You may have a disabled child that will need to continue meeting eligibility requirements for disability benefits, and with a trust, you can ensure his or her expenses are paid without affecting eligibility for government benefits.

Our firm has experience with skillfully setting up trusts for our clients in the manner most appropriate to meet their estate planning needs and goals. We often help clients understand the potential tax ramifications of different trusts and help them set up those that are most beneficial. The estate planning process and trust planning process can be extremely complicated, and we understand that most people have many questions about trusts and avoiding probate court. If you are interested in more information about establishing trusts, you are invited to review our trust administration page.