Planning a Destination Wedding? How to Make Sure Your Marriage Is Legal in the U.S.

It’s not hard to see why destination weddings are so popular. Getting married abroad is romantic and adventurous. It’s a chance to live out your wedding fantasy—whether it’s getting married like royalty in a medieval castle or barefoot on a white sand beach.

A destination wedding is a vacation and a wedding rolled into one, with your most cherished friends and family members present.

Wedding couple holding hands on a beach.

There’s a lot more to planning a destination wedding than booking a venue and making travel arrangements, though. If you plan to tie the knot in another country, you need to make sure you understand and comply with the rules and requirements of that country and your own. A family law attorney can help.

Here are some important things to know about getting married overseas.

The U.S. doesn’t recognize all marriages performed abroad.

Marriage is a declaration of love, but it’s also a legally binding agreement. Laws vary by country.

In general, marriages that abide by the laws of the country where you get married are considered legally valid in the U.S.—but not always. You’ll need to check with the attorney general’s office in the state where you live to determine whether your marriage abroad will be recognized. The attorney general’s office will tell you which steps you’ll need to take to make your marriage valid.

Some countries have a residency requirement.

Some countries require you to establish legal residence for a specific number of days or months in order to get married there. Let’s look at France as an example.

French law requires that you 1) reside in the country for at least 40 days in order to have a legal marriage ceremony or 2) have family ties in France that you can prove, such as a parent(s) who lives in the country. In either case, you must provide documentation, including:

  • Passport
  • Recently issued birth certificate (must have been issued less than six months prior to marriage date in the U.S. or less than three months prior to marriage date in France)
  • Proof of address (e.g., rental agreement, utility bill)
  • Proof of nationality
  • Proof of divorce/death certificate if previously married
  • Information about witnesses (of a civil marriage ceremony)
  • Certificat de Coutume from U.S. embassy

To get married in France you must have a civil ceremony in a town hall (mairie), after which you can have your own secular or religious ceremony.

If you don’t want to become a resident and don’t have a parent living in France, you’ll need a special dispensation (exception) to get married in the country, but these are rarely issued.

Another option is to get married in the U.S. (at your local city hall, for example), and then have a symbolic ceremony in France with all the bells and whistles.

There’s more to it than this, but you get the idea—there’s a lot to figure out when planning a wedding abroad.

Wedded couple in front of large mansion.

Some countries require an affidavit proving you’re eligible to get married.

This document attests that previous legal relationships (e.g., marriages) have ended, either through divorce or death. Divorce and death certificates must be translated into the local language and authenticated.

No agency or organization in the U.S. issues this kind of document, so you must obtain it at an American embassy or at your regional consulate office (the diplomatic office for the country where you want to get married).

An embassy or consulate office will not attest to your marital status, but they will notarize the document with your statement of eligibility to get married; most countries will accept a notarized document from an embassy or consulate office.

Some countries require blood tests.

Premarital blood tests check for things like venereal disease, genetic diseases, and rubella. Some countries, including Mexico and Haiti, require both partners to get premarital blood tests. It’s possible to be denied a marriage license if you or your partner test positive for certain diseases, depending on where you want to get married. Or, you may be required to disclose the test results to your partner.

Blood tests are also required in a few places in the U.S., including Montana, New York, and the District of Columbia. 

Bride and groom kneeling in front of priest at church.

Laws vary by country for religious ceremonies.

In most countries, a local official (civil or religious) performs marriage ceremonies. If you plan to have a religious marriage in another country, you may have to obtain specific documents to get married there.  

For example, in Spain, nonresidents are eligible to be married in a Catholic church only if they obtain a nihil obstat. It’s basically a clearance document stating that the bishop of the couple’s home church gives the okay for the couple to marry at a Catholic church overseas.

You may need parental consent.

The legal age to get married varies by country. As a general rule, most people under age 18 must have a written statement of consent signed by a parent(s) before a notary public. Some countries also require that you get the statement authenticated at a consular office for the country where you want to get married.

There’s more than meets the eye when planning a destination wedding. Marriage is a contract of sorts, and each country has different requirements. If you have your heart set on a wedding abroad, make sure you understand the rules and requirements for obtaining a marriage license in the country where you plan to have your wedding. It’s a good idea to have a plan B (and C) in case the red tape becomes too cumbersome in your first country of choice.

Get Legal Help Planning Your Marriage Abroad

Your wedding is too important to leave to chance. The last thing you want is to discover your marriage isn’t legally valid once you return from your honeymoon. The experienced family law attorneys at Joseph A. Ledwidge P.C. can help you understand the legalities of getting married abroad.

We can guide you through the process to ensure your paperwork is filed accurately and documents are properly translated. Most importantly, we can give you peace of mind during the already stressful process of planning the perfect destination wedding.

Contact us online or by phone at 718-276-6656 to arrange a no-obligation consultation with an experienced New York family law attorney. We serve clients throughout the New York metro area including Queens, NY, Jamaica, NY, and Brooklyn, NY.

Are Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance Part of Probate, and Do I Need a Will or Trust?

Listing a beneficiary(s) on retirement and life insurance accounts is not only smart, but many financial institutions require it. It’s common to ask: If I’ve named beneficiaries, do I really need to go to the trouble of creating a will or trust to avoid probate and the possibility of needing a New York probate attorney?

The answer is: In most cases, yes. Read on to learn why.

Two men negotiating over a will

Why You Need a Will

Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s estate assets are distributed to beneficiaries and heirs. Designating a beneficiary(s) on your retirement accounts and life insurance policy can help you avoid probate since beneficiary designations are legally binding and supersede your will (if you have one).

Your beneficiaries will only need to provide a death certificate to the administrator of the IRA/401(k) or insurance policy in order to have the account/assets transferred.

There’s a lot more to consider than whether assets from retirement accounts or insurance policies will easily pass to your beneficiaries without the need for probate after you die.

Who will sign your tax return? Who will pay your bills and deal with your creditors?

If you’re married, you may think the obvious answer is your spouse. The reality, though, is that your spouse can’t automatically take legal steps on behalf of your estate. You need to designate them or someone else as your executor, and creating a will is the way to do that. Your executor effectively becomes your estate’s legal representative.

Here are other reasons to create a will and not rely on beneficiary designations alone:

  • Financial institutions are not infallible; they may lose/misplace records listing your beneficiaries.
  • You may forget to update beneficiaries after major life changes, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child.
  • Your attorney loses all power once you die; only an executor/estate trustee can manage your estate after you die.
  • What if you and your spouse die at the same time (in an accident, for example) and your spouse is the beneficiary on your accounts? A will allows you to list backup beneficiaries.

In short, everyone needs a will. Relying on beneficiary designations is not enough.

Last will and testament papers with pen and glasses

Why You Also Need a Living Trust

A will is an important document for indicating who should get what when you die, but creating a will doesn’t guarantee your estate won’t go to probate. In fact, a large percentage of estates go to probate even with a will. That’s why you need a living trust.

In New York, creating a living trust can help you avoid probate for virtually any asset you own, including real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, vehicles, household goods, and other assets.

You’ll need to transfer ownership of your property to yourself as the trustee of the trust and name someone as your successor trustee after your death; your successor trustee will have the authority to transfer your assets to beneficiaries named in your trust without the need for probate court proceedings. An estate attorney can help you create a living trust.

What if I Don’t Want to Create a Will or Trust?

If you don’t create a will or trust, there are still ways to avoid probate for most of your assets. Assets that don’t need to go through probate include:

  • Retirement accounts—for example, IRAs and 401(k)s—for which a beneficiary was named
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Funds in payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts
  • U.S. savings bonds with a payable-on-death designation
  • Pension plan distributions
  • Wages/salaries/commissions owed to the deceased person
  • Vehicles and household goods that are passed on to immediate family members under state law
  • Property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
  • Real estate held in tenancy by the entirety—a form of joint ownership allowed only for married couples in New York
  • Property held in a living trust

Also, New York offers simplified probate proceedings for “small estates.” If property (excluding real estate and funds that must be set aside for surviving family members) has a gross value of $30,000 or less, you can use the simplified small estate process in New York.

Even if you have significant assets, you may still be able to use the simplified process. For example, suppose an estate consists of a $500,000 house that’s jointly owned with right of survivorship, a $100,000 bank account with a named payable-on-death beneficiary, a $200,000 IRA, and a vehicle owned solely by the deceased that’s worth $15,000. The only asset subject to probate, in this case, is the vehicle; theoretically, then, this estate could use the simplified probate process.

Revocable Trust typed on paper

Why Naming Beneficiaries Is Not Enough

Going back to the original question about whether beneficiary designations are enough for retirement and life insurance accounts … if you’ve designated beneficiaries for these accounts, the assets can be transferred to them without a will or trust.

This doesn’t resolve the issue of not having an executor to sign tax returns and deal with creditors and other issues. If you don’t have a will or trust, the probate court will have to appoint an administrator for your estate. In the state of New York, the law gives spouses priority. You may not want your spouse to act as your executor after you die, or your spouse may not want that role—this is an important consideration.

It’s also important to consider who your beneficiaries are. If your beneficiaries are very young, for example, you might want account proceeds to be held in a trust until they’re older and mature enough to handle an inheritance, especially a large one. When you create a trust, you designate a capable trustee to invest and distribute the assets in the best interests of your beneficiaries.

The bottom line: The best way to ensure the smooth transition of assets after you die is to create a will and revocable (changeable) living trust.

Get Expert Help with Estate Planning and Probate Administration

Navigating trusts and estates law and understanding probate requirements is complicated. We can help.

Joseph A. Ledwidge PC is an expert New York probate attorney representing executors, fiduciaries, heirs, beneficiaries, and other interested parties. He and his associate counsel have 32 years of combined experience and can help you avoid probate through skilled use of trusts and other means.

Call us for a no-obligation consultation today at (718) 276-6656. We serve clients throughout the state, including Jamaica, NY, Queens, NY, and Brooklyn, NY.

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.

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.

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.