If you have assets, such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts, or real property, you have an estate and need a plan! Your estate is what you have today and what you leave behind after you pass away. Having an estate plan lets you control who gets your assets, in what manner, and when.
People with an estate plan ensure their assets pass on to their loved ones without problems, high legal fees, and time delays. Sometimes, an estate plan is structured to protect a particular person, such as a spouse or a child. Often, an estate plan is created to make sure beneficiaries have enough assets to live on for the rest of their lives. Others look to minimize or eliminate estate taxes or protect vacation property. Whatever the reason, an estate planning attorney at a law firm like ours is your best resource to ensure your wishes are carried out.
Comprehensive Estate Planning in Nassau County, Suffolk County, and New York City, NY
Life has become so complicated and challenging. No matter your situation, you should have a comprehensive estate plan that reflects and responds to your unique circumstances.
The first step is having basic estate planning documents in place in the event that you are unable to manage your financial and/or health care affairs. Also, legal documents, such as a will or revocable living trust, are created to pass your assets to loved ones in the most protective way possible after you’re gone.
If you have a loved one with special needs, you can implement trusts to protect their assets while maximizing government benefits.
If you have a taxable estate, you can take steps to implement estate tax planning strategies to minimize or eliminate estate taxes.
A Basic Estate Plan
Basic estate planning includes a last will and testament (will), a comprehensive durable power of attorney, and health care directives, such as a health care proxy and a living will.
If you are unable to make your own decisions, a durable power of attorney allows you to appoint an agent to manage your financial affairs. Health care directives allow you to name an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf. These advanced directives can help you avoid loss of assets or inappropriate medical treatment. Without these directives, your loved ones may not be able to make decisions on your behalf.
A last will and testament provides for the administration of your estate and the orderly disposition of your assets upon your death. There are three areas to consider in terms of your will:
- Your decisions regarding the distribution of your assets
- Appointment of fiduciaries, such as an executor and trustee
- Estate tax consequences based on the value of your estate
In your will, you document your intentions in writing so that your wishes are carried out upon your passing. You can name guardians for any minor children (under the age of 18 in New York). Court approval will allow the legal guardian to care for your children. A guardian assumes many of the responsibilities of a parent, including basic provisions, such as food and housing.
Under New York law, you can name an individual in charge of your burial arrangements (the “Burial Designation”). You can also provide specific instructions regarding your funeral or burial.
As your estate planning attorney, we’ll work with you to create an estate plan that best meets your needs.
Who Should Have a Living Trust?
Trusts, both irrevocable and revocable, are other tools that an estate planning attorney can use to help you accomplish goals and wishes regarding money, property, and, most importantly, family.
What is a living trust? Most people who set up living trusts want to avoid probate (filing a will in the Surrogate’s Court seeking approval of the will and the appointment of an executor). Is that the right decision for you? In our experience, there are five common situations when it makes sense to have a living trust:
- You would like to make settling your estate easy for your children. Perhaps they live far away or are very busy with jobs and families. Your estate will be settled quicker, probate will be avoided, and assets won’t have to be collected before passing out of the trust.
- You own property in multiple states and want to avoid multiple probates, which entail additional court costs and legal fees.
- You are thinking of appointing someone to handle your assets after you die, and you want to see how they’ll do while you’re still alive, allowing you to make any changes to your final plans.
- You’re planning on disinheriting a child and worried they might contest your will. A living trust makes it much more difficult for the child to successfully challenge the desires you outlined in the trust.
- You want to leave assets to family members who aren’t closely related to you and/or friends. In this case, the probate process typically takes longer and costs more. The living trust can make it easier for everyone involved.
If your situation sounds like one of these five scenarios, a living trust may be the right course of action. Talk with an experienced estate planning lawyer on our legal team about your estate plan. We’ll listen to you and stand ready to provide you with peace of mind. For more information on this topic, please refer to our Probate, and Trusts and Estate Administration pages.
Planning to Protect Loved Ones
Your will may establish a trust for a spouse (a “Supplemental Needs Trust”), which protects assets should your spouse need long-term care.
Your will or living trust can also provide for the special needs of a loved one other than a spouse (such as a family member who collects disability or SSI benefits). All or a portion of your estate can be placed into a Supplemental Needs Trust. The trustee can be given broad discretion to expend income and/or principal for the loved one with special needs without affecting their eligibility for government benefits, such as Medicaid and SSI.
Another option is leaving your assets to a Family Protection Trust(s), which allows your assets to be preserved for your beneficiaries. Outright distributions to beneficiaries may leave assets vulnerable to legal claims or unnecessarily waste them. By establishing a Family Protection Trust, the trust assets are still available for your loved one but also protected from unfavorable circumstances such as a bad marriage, creditors, poor asset management, or estate taxes.
Estate Tax Planning in Nassau County, Suffolk County, and New York City, NY
You may be concerned that your estate is subject to federal and state taxes, payable within nine months of your death. In addition, you may worry your estate will increase in value in the future, creating greater estate taxes.
Many strategies are available to minimize or eliminate estate taxes after you pass. The use of trusts such as Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRTs), Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts (SLATs), and Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (IDGTs) can be extremely useful, especially in coordination with gifting interests in LLCs and Subchapter S Corporations. If you have charitable intentions, then charitable bequests can be arranged, either outright or through Charitable Trusts.
The estate tax planning strategies available today may not be available in the future. With ever-changing tax law, now is the time to review your estate with an experienced estate planning attorney. They can advise you on the tax strategies that make sense for you and the benefits they provide.
If you have questions or concerns about estate planning issues in Long Island and New York City communities, please don’t hesitate to contact the estate planning attorneys at Russo Law Group, P.C. While we have several office locations, we can also visit your home and offer virtual meetings for convenience.