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Syracuse Elder Law Blog

What to do about assets such as art and other heirlooms

New York residents who are creating an estate plan might find that while passing on certain assets, such as cash and stocks, is relatively straightforward, dealing with some other types can be far more complex. So-called "hard" or "illiquid" assets such as jewelry, art collections or property might present difficulties regarding value as well as who to leave them to and in what manner.

It is important to take into account that the value of an item may have changed over time, and a qualified appraiser should be chosen. There are bodies that accredit appraisers, such as the International Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America, and a professional should be chosen who is certified by one of them.

Use your will to state who should inherit a special item

Perhaps you have a special possession you would like to leave to your youngest grandson. It may be a sentimental object like your high school yearbook or something that will grow in value, like a baseball bat signed by Joe DiMaggio and his Yankee teammates.

Here is an example of an item that should have received a mention in a will, but only turned up through sheer coincidence.

The benefits of a silent trust

New York residents who are beneficiaries of a trust must generally be given information about the trust from the trustee. However, the scope of what must be revealed may be limited in a silent trust. Silent trusts are irrevocable trusts, and they are designed to prevent younger beneficiaries from knowing what is in them. Information about the trust may be withheld from beneficiaries until they reach a certain age or after a certain amount of time has passed.

A silent trust may be ideal for those who wish to prevent their children or grandchildren from talking about family finances. Taking such a step can add a layer of privacy for those who want to stay out of the spotlight. In some cases, parents may want to create a silent trust to avoid any negative consequences for a child's personal or professional lives.

The important components of an estate plan

New York residents should make sure that they have an estate plan consisting of a will and a durable power of attorney. Those who aren't sure of how to create those or other documents should ask for help in doing so. Ideally, individuals who have a complicated estate should create their plan with the help of an attorney. While this may cost more, it will generally mean that a plan is created properly.

Putting assets into a living trust may eliminate the need to go through probate. However, this only happens if the trust is properly funded while a person is still alive. Assets can also be placed in the trust through a pour-over will. Beneficiary designations should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that they are correct. It may be best to review them after significant life events such as a marriage or divorce.

How to ensure a complete estate plan

Even people who are careful during the estate planning process can overlook certain things. For example, New York estate planners should make sure to avoid common errors such as failing to fill out beneficiary designations. Assets such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts generally have such designations

Not correctly placing assets into a trust is another typical error. This process may involve needing to retitle some assets, or there may be other procedures depending on what type of asset it is. If the trust is not correctly funded, the assets will have to pass through probate. Furthermore, it is important to understand what assets can go into the trust. Assets with joint rights of survivorship do not pass using a will or a trust.

Do you have a good reason to update your estate plan?

At the time you created your estate plan, you undoubtedly felt that you had accomplished a great deal. You probably put the documents away in a safe place and went on with your life.

In the years since a lot has happened. You and the members of your family have experienced some significant life changes, any one of which may point you in the direction of updating your estate plan.

Estate planning with an element of philanthropic giving

Some people in New York who are creating an estate plan may want to incorporate philanthropic planning into their estate plan. This can be beneficial to families, can be a good tool for wealth management and can also be a way for a person to create a legacy.

First, people should consider what causes they want to support. People who are uncertain might think about what charities they already contribute to, what issues they are worried about and how they want to be remembered. The choice should be rooted in a person's values.

3 questions you need to ask your aging parents

As you enter middle age, you begin to raise your own family or pursue the pinnacle of your career — or both. Your thoughts are likely quite focused on your goals, not those of your elderly parents. However, it is important to talk about the issues that will affect them as they grow older, especially from a legal and planning perspective.

You probably feel a responsibility to help your parents navigate the challenges of aging, planning for their mortality and distributing their assets after death. The main issue you are likely to face is not knowing how to broach a conversation around these topics. Here are three questions that can help spark a healthy and constructive discussion. This could lead to proper advance planning and peace of mind for your whole family.

Estate planning is for more than tax avoidance

An estate plan can be beneficial in reducing and keeping tax bills to a minimum. However, New York residents and others may benefit from estate planning in other ways as well. For example, it allows a person to organize important documents and other items that may need to be accessed quickly after he or she passes away. These documents may include passwords to digital files, a list of debts or a summary of that person's final wishes.

Creating an estate plan may make it possible for people to have their assets transferred to their beneficiaries without the need for probate. If probate is necessary, with estate planning, an individual may limit the number of assets that are subject to the process. By avoiding probate, individuals may settle their affairs in a manner that protects their family's privacy. If a person creates a trust, it could allow for an inheritance to be distributed in a manner that makes sense for his or her beneficiaries.

Drafting estate planning documents to avoid family disputes

A well-developed estate plan provides peace of mind and reduces the risk of family disputes. Sometimes, only a simple will is needed to dispose of estate assets. In other cases, however, the estate plan might include trusts, powers of attorney, life insurance policies or other planning instruments. People in New York should keep a few things in mind as they approach their estate plans.

Among the most important parts of a will is the naming of the executor. It is not uncommon in family disputes for heirs to believe that the executor is stealing from the estate. That's why it's important to choose someone who is trustworthy and fit to handle the job. When it comes to choosing an executor, consideration of the skills required is better than choosing based on family dynamics, gender, age or relationship specifics.