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Syracuse Elder Law Blog

Estate planning tips for remarried individuals

Numerous documents make up an estate plan. One mistake many New Yorkers make is they assume they only need a will when, in actuality, they need a lot more paperwork to properly pass on assets to loved ones. 

Over a lifetime, someone may marry multiple times. These individuals need to be particularly cautious of their estate plan, so their assets go to the right people. When marrying for the second, third or fourth time, you want to make sure you have the following documents in place to prepare thoroughly for the future. 

Financial power of attorney

Many people living in New York understand the importance of estate planning. These individuals will write and regularly update their wills. They may also regularly review beneficiaries on insurance policies and investment accounts. However, some do not consider the possibility that they may become incapacitated before they die.

Attorneys often recommend that individuals prepare for the possibility that they may lose the ability to make decisions for themselves before they pass away. Living wills, advance directives and powers of attorney can help people ensure that their desires and needs are met even if they fall into mental decline or become so ill that they cannot communicate with others.

How to make settling an estate easier

When an individual dies in New York or any other state, the executor of the estate is called upon to settle the deceased person's affairs. The executor can either be appointed by a court or appointed by the deceased individual in a will or through a trust. Whoever is chosen to serve in this capacity has a variety of responsibilities such as paying off debts, inventorying assets and filing tax returns.

Depending on the complexity of an estate, it may be a good idea for an executor to hire an attorney to help settle it in a timely manner. It may also be worth considering if an individual has trouble with time management or has trouble managing conflict. It is not uncommon for family members to get into arguments over the value of an asset or over other parts of an estate plan.

Key estate lessons to learn from Aretha Franklin

Since the passing of the late great Aretha Franklin, there has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding her estate. Through this situation, a few important estate planning aspects are becoming conversation topics amongst various parties.

Even for those with smaller estates, having a proper estate plan in place is vital. In this regard, there are a few key things to learn from the Queen of Soul.

Choosing between a will and a trust

Estate plans in New York and around the country usually include a last will and testament and, in some cases, at least one trust. The majority of the estate will usually be distributed according to the provisions of one of these documents, and they both have advantages and disadvantages. Trusts are often used for this purpose because the assets placed into them are not subject to probate, which saves both time and money. Avoiding probate also allows estates to be administered more discretely as trust documents are not filed with the court and are thus not available to the public.

However, there are disadvantages to using trusts to distribute an estate's assets. Drafting a trust is more complex than writing a will, which means that the initial costs will be higher. Assets placed into trusts must also be titled in the name of the trust. This adds more paperwork and another layer of complexity for assets with deeds or titles like real estate and motor vehicles. When legal title is not transferred, the trust serves no real purpose.

Mistakes people tend to make when creating an estate plan

When an estate plan isn't put together correctly, it can lead to legal battles, tax bills and other problems for New York residents. One of the biggest mistakes that people tend to make is failing to name a beneficiary to a retirement or other account. In the event that beneficiaries are named, individuals may fail to review those designations after they are made. This can be problematic because a person's needs may change over time.

It is generally not a good idea to sell land or other assets for less than their fair market value. This is because the IRS will characterize the transfer as a gift as opposed to a sale. Furthermore, the person who receives the property will not be able to obtain a step-up in cost basis. Therefore, the recipient may miss out on an opportunity to minimize capital gains taxes if that asset is sold again in the future.

There are some very good reasons to update your will

Many people do not have a will. Therefore, you experienced a well-justified sense of accomplishment when you sat down with your attorney to create yours.

However, that meeting may have taken place a couple of decades ago. Chances are, a lot has happened in your life since then. Here are some good reasons to give your will an update.

Trusts are not just for the wealthy

The mention of trust funds may evoke thoughts of privileged children from wealthy families in the minds of New York residents, but trusts can be extremely useful estate planning tools even for those of more modest means. While the affluent do use trusts to reduce their estate tax exposure and transfer generational wealth, they are most commonly drafted to avoid probate, protect assets from creditors, prevent children from inheriting large sums of money at a young age and to ensure that heirs continue to qualify for federal benefits like Medicaid.

A trust is essentially an agreement under which the trustor gives property to the trustee to hold on behalf of the beneficiary. Beneficiaries are often children or family members, but they do not have to be. Trusts can even be set up to take care of pets. The language of the trust document stipulates when and how the assets placed into the trust will be distributed. These stipulations can be very specific, or they can give the trustee a great deal of discretion.

The fundamentals of estate planning

When New York residents neglect to draft an estate plan, they create a situation where others will be tasked with making important decisions on their behalf. Many people put off estate planning because contemplating end-of-life scenarios can be emotionally difficult, but resolving these matters can put an end to gnawing anxiety and provide peace of mind.

Estate planning deals mostly with how estates will be administered when an individual passes away, but it can also provide loved ones and doctors with instructions should that individual become seriously ill or incapacitated. An estate plan can also prevent bitter disputes between heirs by making the testator's position clear, and incorporating trusts will allow estates to be administered in private and away from the public glare of the probate process.

Why estate planning is important for everyone

Despite the fact that people often know it is important to plan for the future, many adults in New York do not have wills, trusts or other estate documents in place. There are many reasons why people put off making decisions about their estates: They may not want to think about death, there may be complicated family situations to consider, or they may just think they have more time to deal with the issue later. However, in an emergency situation, people may not have the plans in place they need to help their own peace of mind as well as that of their loved ones.

Even younger people with few assets and no children may want to think about key documents like powers of attorney in addition to writing out a will. These can help to ensure that a trusted person can manage health care or financial decisions if a person is incapacitated or passes away. In addition, an advance health care directive or living will can be a way to record important decisions about how a person wants to deal with critical medical developments.