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Estate planning and where to start

Estate planning can make life easier on a person's loved ones by reducing confusion and providing an action plan if the unexpected occurs. An estate plan can reduce worry during an already stressful time and help prevent family from fighting in New York state courts over property.

Creating an estate plan is a good idea even for those who are not wealthy. Most people will be able to create a simple estate plan themselves. However, many may wish to hire an attorney to prepare certain documents.

A health care power of attorney is one document that should be included in an estate plan. It gives a specific person power to make medical decisions on behalf of the grantor in the event of incapacity. A durable power of attorney is another important document in a simple estate plan. It allows a trusted individual to make financial decisions and sign documents on behalf of the person who authorized it under specified conditions.

An up-to-date will can help ensure that property does not pass through what is called intestate succession. This means the property would be distributed according to state law. In some states, a handwritten will signed without witnesses is recognized as being valid. However, in New York, this type of will is only recognized if the person who signed it was a member of the armed forces.

While having these simple documents is a good first step, consulting with an estate planning attorney is a good idea for many people, especially those with larger estates. An attorney may be able to find tax advantages that can be helpful to the ultimate beneficiaries.

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