• Putting homes in trusts

    Many people in the New York City area rent their primary residence. However, for those who own their homes, these parcels of real estate are often among the largest single-item assets in their portfolios. This, combined with the fact that property values are high in the area, has the potential to cause a considerable amount of loss in the probate process.

    The way most people avoid this loss is by using trusts. As mentioned on CNN, this type of ownership has the potential to avoid the probate process entirely . Trusts are legally distant from the person who establishes them, and many are not dissolved upon that person’s death. Rather, those who use these financial tools typically plan ahead so that certain heirs gain access to the funds and assets held within.

    Trusts seem more complex on paper than they often are in reality. The most commonly used trusts are rather simple in terms of function. They are official stores of wealth that one may transfer assets to, modify the terms of and withdraw from if one has certain prescribed funding, modification and beneficiary privileges. Per FindLaw: People often name themselves as beneficiaries of their trusts, a title they schedule to pass to their children  under certain conditions.

    The FindLaw resource also mentions the fact that those who felt burdened by trust paperwork in the past may find the processes surrounding funding and deed paperwork more streamlined now. Even so, performing these tasks is often not as straightforward as it might be for other types of simple ownership structures, such as brokerage or banking accounts. However, there are many ways that an estate planner might address this complexity, potentially allowing a higher percentage of an estate to weather probate without diminishing. 

  • Is it possible to change an executor?

    New York law allows people who write a will to name an executor. This executor would take care of the estate after the testator passed, but you as a beneficiary or interested party may not always be happy with the way this happens. 

    Your first course of action would probably be to speak with the individual about their performance. Many executors are not experienced in the capacity, so they could see criticism as a way of improving and therefore making the probate process more efficient. If someone did not respond to your polite inquiries, or if you believe they were engaging in some sort of malfeasance or malicious action, you could act on those grounds to dismiss that individual from the executor position.

    Attempting to remove someone who is responsible for administering a will as it goes through the probate process is, as you might imagine, not a simple matter. This is due in part to the court’s general assumption that the testator already assessed and approved the abilities of the individual named as executor.

    Complications may also arise from the specific points in the New York consolidated laws procedural rules that allow for removal of executors. In fact, the New York codes specify 12 specific situations  in which you might have grounds for such a removal.

    Probate is a complex process. Not everyone has the qualifications or the ability to perform the fiduciary and actual duties required of an executor. However, you would probably need to establish evidence of the specific ways in which you found your executor unsuitable for the rigors of his or her position before having any chance of removal. This is not legal advice. It is only general educational information.

  • Understand these things about being the executor of an estate

    Closing out the estate of a loved one after their passing is easier said than done. You may assume that acting as an executor of an estate is straightforward, but you’ll soon come to find that nothing could be further from the truth.

    You should understand what you’re getting into if you agree to be the executor of an estate. Before we go any further, remember this: You don’t have to agree to this. Even if you’d like to help a loved one out, you can always decline their invitation to act as executor.

    Here are some things you need to remember :

    • It takes time: Don’t assume that it only takes a couple weeks to figure everything out. With a complex estate plan, for example, you could find yourself working as an executor for a year or longer. From phone calls to trips to the courthouse, there’s a lot on your plate.
    • You must have the right skills: Almost anyone can act as an executor, but having the right skills will go a long way in making the process easier on you. In addition to organizational skills, you should have a basic understanding of finances.
    • Your temperament is important: As the process unwinds, you’ll find yourself dealing with all sorts of people. Some of them are friendly. Some of them are mean. And some of them are looking to take advantage of you. An even temperament allows you to deal with anyone and everyone you come in contact with.
    • Legal knowledge can help: You don’t need a law degree to act as an executor, but it helps if you have a basic understanding of probate and/or trust administration.

    When you understand these points, it’s easier to decide for or against taking on the responsibility of an executor.

    If you’re going through this process and have questions, take a step back to get an overview of your situation. The last thing you want to do is make a rash decision, as you could be held personally liable for any mistake.

    Acting as an executor is a big responsibility, so treat it as such. If you require any additional information, such as the steps you should take, visit our website for assistance.

  • Important estate planning considerations amid divorce

    As a New York resident who is currently going through a divorce from your significant other, you may find yourself focused on getting your affairs back in order and figuring out your living situation in the days that follow. While working through such matters is an undeniably important aspect of divorce, so, too, is making necessary changes to your estate plan. At the law office of Joseph Ledwidge, P.C., we recognize that your estate planning needs may change in the wake of a divorce. We have helped many people facing similar circumstances make changes to their estate plans that better reflect their new circumstances.

    According to Forbes, many married people give their spouses important roles with regard to their estate plans, which might mean giving the other party in the marriage the power to make health care-related decisions, financial decisions and so on. Once your marriage ends, however, you may not want your one-time spouse having so much power over your situation and affairs, and you may have cause to update various areas of your estate plan .

    For starters, you may have left some of your assets behind to your former spouse in your will, but you may not want him or her to be a beneficiary anymore once your divorce finalizes. Ultimately, you will need to make some important decisions about what to leave behind for your spouse, or you may decide not to leave anything at all in a move he or she may challenge somewhere down the line.

    You may, too, want to  update your health care directives in the wake of a divorce. Often, spouses give one another the power to make medical decisions in the event that one party in the marriage becomes unable to make such decisions for his or herself. For obvious reasons, however, you may not want your former spouse having this power once your marriage ends, in which case you will probably want to consider giving the responsibility to someone else. You can find out more about estate planning by visiting our website.

  • Student loans after death

    As many students pursue their education in New York, they may accumulate debt in the form of student loans. A previous  blog discussed what might happen if someone dies while he or she is still in debt. This week’s blog will focus on student loans after a person’s death. 

    The type of loans a student has determines what happens to this debt after death. According to Federal Student Aid , people usually do not need to repay federal student loans if someone dies. People typically need to submit proof that the person who took out the loan died. This can include either a copy of the death certificate or the original document. Sometimes a parent may take out loans for his or her child’s education. If this parent dies before repaying this debt, these federal student loans are also generally discharged.

    If someone has private student loans, the situation is usually different.  ABC News says that people may still need to repay a private student loan, even after the student’s death. Some lenders may take the money they are owed from the estate or turn to anyone who might have co-signed this loan. This means that a student’s spouse or parents may sometimes need to pay back student loans even though the student is no longer alive.

    Sometimes, though, people may not need to repay private student loans. Some lenders may have a forgiveness policy to cover situations when a student dies before he or she has repaid this debt. If people have private student loans, it is a good idea for them to look into the fine details so they know whether their lender offers a forgiveness policy. Additionally, it is important to remember that even though a student loan might be discharged, this debt may still affect the taxes of the deceased.

  • Estate planning could avoid will contests

    The aging population of New York is virtually beset upon by messages about how and where to direct estate funds. Sometimes, that persuasion comes from personal acquaintances or family members as well. Here at the office of Joseph A. Ledwidge, P.C., we often see wills that we suspect were directed, at least in part, by this preponderance of over-generalized or unethical advice.

    If you were to lose a loved one while he or she was under the influence of these forces, the condition of the estate could be far from what you expect. You would often have only a few alternatives in these types of situations, such as forming an attempt to contest the will. 

    Uncontested estates often take quite a while to pass through the probate process, but you should expect even further delays if you were to decide to raise questions as to the validity of documents or the capacity of the decedent. Unfortunately, we often see cases in which these delays and frustrations are the best possible recourse to right an unjust will.

    We find that advice columns, such as this article from Forbes, are replete with emphatic language and common-sense reasoning that, while persuasive, does little to address the true challenges  presented by the personal, collaborative nature of the estate planning process. We find that the best results often come from bringing as many of the parties together in a guided, strategic process.

    No estate plan is a perfect solution. After all, these strategies center around one of the most powerful emotional events in anyone’s life: the loss of a loved one. However, we find that getting together and discussing these matters ahead of time to the greatest extent possible often helps prevent disagreements  and disappointments in the future. Please read on to learn more at our main website.

  • What happens to debt when someone dies?

    When you live in New York and someone gives you the responsibility of handling his or her affairs after he or she passes, you will need to take certain steps to do so while you manage your loved one’s estate. This might include paying off debts, making distributions to beneficiaries and so on, but what happens when the person who dies leaves considerable debt behind?

    According to U.S. News & World Report, one out of every five Americans has  credit card debt he or she believes he or she will never be able to pay off, and that means more and more U.S. residents are dying without covering their debts. If your loved one had enough to cover those debts tied up in other assets, it should not be difficult to pay that debt off, but when someone dies with debt he or she cannot cover, what happens next depends on the type of debt accrued.

    If your loved one left behind substantial credit card debt, for example, and he or she does not have other assets to help cover the debt, you should not have to worry about being responsible for it in most cases. There is, however, an exception to this. If you co-signed on the credit card, you may be on the hook for the balance, but otherwise, think twice before letting credit card companies guilt or pressure you into paying.

    If your loved one passed away and left behind, say, automotive debt, you can either take over the payments for the vehicle or let the bank take it back. In the case of mortgage debt, you may be able to hang on to your loved one’s property by taking over the payments yourself. Otherwise, the bank will typically foreclose on the property eventually.

    This information about what happens when someone dies with debt seeks to inform you, but it is not a replacement for legal advice.

  • 5 mistakes estate executors must avoid

    As the executor of an estate, you’re staffed with more responsibilities than you probably realize. By taking a high level overview of the situation early on, you’ll soon understand what you’re up against and how to move through the process in an efficient manner.

    The one thing you never want to do is make a costly mistake. Fortunately, when you protect against these in advance, there’s less chance of running into trouble.

    Here are five mistakes estate executors must avoid :

    • Agreeing to be the executor if you’re not comfortable: When someone asks you to be the executor of their estate, you have the right to say no. You don’t have to agree, even if you’re close with the person. Furthermore, even if you do agree, you can still turn down the responsibility when the time comes.
    • Neglecting to review the trust or will in great detail: You shouldn’t do anything as an executor until you are 100 percent sure of what the trust or will says. If there is any gray area, clear it up before pushing forward.
    • Jumping the gun with distributions: You’re in a hurry to complete the process, so it’s easy to get ahead of yourself by making distributions too soon. For example, if you make distributions before paying all liabilities, you could be held personally responsible.
    • Forgetting to advertise the estate: It’s common to overlook this detail, but it’s your job to advertise the estate so that creditors understand what’s happening and how to take action.
    • Neglecting to close out the estate: You put so much time into the process itself that you forget to close everything down at the end. For instance, you may need to go through the court system so a judge can approve all of the distributions you’ve made.

    Even though these potential mistakes are scary, with the right approach you should be able to hedge them off before they become a problem.

    It’s a big responsibility, as well as a great honor, to act as the executor of an estate . When the time comes to take action, learn more about the process, your responsibilities and your legal rights. The knowledge you gather will help you every step of the way.

  • How guardianships and conservatorships differ

    As a resident of New York who is watching your parents age, you may have firsthand knowledge of just how difficult it can be to do so. Watching your parents grow older can prove even more difficult when one of them starts suffering physical or mental hardships, as some conditions can make it increasingly tough for your parents to make sound decisions and otherwise care for themselves. At the law office of Joseph A. Ledwidge, P.C., we are familiar with the types of circumstances that may lead you to consider a guardianship or conservatorship over an aging parent or other loved one. We have helped many clients facing similar situations find long-term solutions that meet their needs.

    According to the Motley Fool,  guardianships and conservatorships are similar to each other in that they both involve giving someone decision-making power over someone else who is unable to manage their own affairs. There are, however, some key distinctions between the two, and understanding how they differ may help you determine whether a guardianship or conservatorship may better suit you and your family’s unique needs.

    The short answer to what differentiates guardianships from  conservatorships is that guardianships give someone power over another with regard to personal and health care-related affairs, while conservatorships grant someone power over someone else’s financial affairs. For example, a guardianship typically gives you the power to make decisions regarding medical decisions, living arrangements and so on for someone a court considers to be incompetent or incapacitated.

    A conservatorship, meanwhile, allows you to handle the bank accounts, debts and related financial affairs of someone who is incompetent or incapacitated. You can find more on this topic by visiting our webpage.

  • Coordinating a long-term care plan that people understand

    Long-term care planning is not generally a topic that people in New York are itching to discuss with their loved ones. Often, the people who will need it the soonest, may not recognize how critical planning ahead actually is. They may also neglect to clearly define their expectations to those who they want to participate in their care. Likewise, the people listed in another person’s long-term care plan may have an inaccurate understanding of their responsibilities or be unfamiliar with where to find critical documents that disclose vital information. 

    When families have a loved one who is getting close to needing a reliable long-term care plan, it is essential that they work together to coordinate something that is understood by all of the parties involved. According to Money , many children of aging adult parents say they have never had a conversation with their parents about a long-term care plan even though 69 percent of those parents say they have had that discussion with their children. This disconnect can lead to disappointment, confusion and contention if there are misunderstandings when the time comes that the long-term care plan is needing to be put to use. 

    Forbes Magazine  says many people put off long-term care planning because they do not fully understand just how critical such a plan is. People think they have a clear understanding of the costs of a long-term plan when in reality, those costs are much higher. Additionally, in a survey that was conducted, only 33 percent of the people who were surveyed admitted that they would need a long-term care plan. However, in reality, over 65 percent of the people surveyed would end up needing a long-term care plan.