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Reviewing an estate plan

Even though the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has increased the exemptions for GST and individual estate gift taxes, New York residents should still review their estate plans. There are many issues not related to federal estate taxes that should be closely examined.

The manner in which one's assets will be bequeathed to beneficiaries should be assessed. A will is usually the legal device that is used to express one's wishes regarding their assets, even if a revocable trust is part of the estate plan. A will's provisions can specify exactly how the ownership of assets should be transferred whether they are to be given to the beneficiaries outright, placed in an existing trust or placed in a trust that will be created per the directions of the will.

Individuals should designate someone to manage their affairs, including those related to finances, after their death. The executor will have the responsibility of accounting for all of the deceased's liabilities and assets, overseeing the probate process and dispensing with the assets based on the deceased's instructions. An executor is also obligated to handle any remaining tax matters. For trusts that are included in the estate plan, the responsibility for ensuring their provisions are enacted will be left with the trustee.

Individuals with minor or disabled children should also make sure that their estate plan addresses the issue of guardianship in a will. Not only should a guardian be specified, but a successor guardian should be named as well. If possible, some consideration may be given to providing the guardian with a monetary stipend.

An attorney who provides estate planning services may advise clients about which legal devices should be included in their estate plan. The attorney may explain in which situations the use of a trust is appropriate.

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