Same-Sex Marriage Rulings Coming Soon - May Cause More Complications

June 18, 2013,

Anticipation is building among marriage equality supporters (and opponents), as decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court on two major same-sex marriage related cases are set to be released either this week or next. As we have previously discussed, one case relates to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which has direct implications on the rights (and estate planning) of all same-sex couples in New York.

DOMA prohibits even same-sex couples who are legally married in states that allow it (like New York) access to all federal benefits pertaining to marriage. This includes well over a thousand distinct items, like Social Security, preferred tax breaks, immigration privileges, and more.

Many are hoping that the Court strikes down the portion of DOMA which denies those benefits, finally placing all married same-sex couples on the same footing as their opposite sex counterparts. The court may release its ruling on that case, Windsor v. United States, as soon as this Thursday.

Yet, as a recent Towleroad article on the pending decisions explain, depending on the specifics of the ruling, they may lead to even more complications for same-sex couples nationwide. That is because it is unclear exactly how the removal of DOMA will impact all of the intermediary statuses which exists in some states or the requirement for individual states to recognize actions of other states. Some states have civil unions (or domestic partnerships) which are identical to marriage except in name. Others have unions that are substantially similar (though not including all the rights of marriage).

Therefore, there is confusion over how the federal government will treat these interim unions if DOMA is overturned. Federal law is riddled with contradictory terminology, sometimes referring directly to "'marriage" and sometimes not. Many predict that the legal landscape following these ruling will actually be even less clear than before.

All of this may impact New Yorkers, as it remains unclear how the law will treat couples who marry here (and conduct estate planning here) and then move elsewhere--particularly to states that do not allow same-sex couples to marry. There is a chance that in the second case (Hollingsworth v. Perry), the high court could issue a "game over" ruling that effectively legalizes gay marriage nationwide. However, most observers believe that sort of ruling is highly unlikely. In other words, while these pending decisions will undoubtedly be critical pieces in the fight for equal rights, they are unlikely to resolve the matter indefinitely.

U.S. Senate Report on Proposed Tax Changes May Affect Retirement Planning

June 13, 2013,

It is notoriously foolish to take Congressional reports, proposed legislation, and similar matters as anything more than mere possibilities which may change federal law. For every piece of legislation that actually makes it into law, there are a hundred others that end up nowhere. Still, those who have an interest in certain issues, like retirement planning, may find value in examining the different ways that elected officials are considering modifying current rules.

For example, recently staff members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee issued a report that outlines many different tax reform ideas that members of the committee will consider when they debate proposals this cycle. The report introduction explains that "The options described below represent a non-exhaustive list of prominent tax reform options suggested by witnesses at the Committee's 30 hearings on tax reform to date."

A full online copy of the document can be found online here.

What are some of the proposals that relate to retirement or long term financial planning?

At least nine specific tax changes related to retirement are outlined in the report. It is worth reviewing the full list to get an idea of the options on the table. Some examples of what it includes are:

* Minimize retirement saving tax preferences. This would eliminate or reduce tax breaks for things like 401(k)s and Individual Retirement Accounts. As an alternative, some propose expanded mandatory enrollment in Social Security. Other options might minimize "catch up" contributions for those who are over 50, speeding up the timeline for distribution of inherited IRAs, and repealing "non-deductible" IRAs.

* Alternatively, some propose increasing retirement saving incentives. These options might include expanding the "saver's tax credit." In addition, limits on contributions or restrictions on distributions may be eliminated.

* As a middle ground, another set of options would increase the "effect on tax expenditures for retirement savings on retirement security." For example, this might include forcing certain employers to automatically enroll new employees in retirement plans unless they opt out. The goal could also be furthered by using more retirement savings for purchase of life annuities or long-term care insurance.

*Other options may prevent "leakage" of funds from retirement plans. This may be accomplished by tightening up withdrawal options or actually prohibiting withdrawal of a certain portion of funds before retirement altogether.

For advice on planning for retirement, creating an inheritance plan, and otherwise ensuring your long-term future is secure, consider contacting our NY attorneys for assistance.

Luxury Services for the Afterlife

June 10, 2013,

The Sun Sentinel recently published an interesting story on the growth of luxury services for those making funeral and burial decisions. While it may seem strange to some for such focus on high-end items in the afterlife, those familiar with estate planning appreciate the intensely personal nature of these decisions.

For example, the article includes an interview with one man who decided to build a large mausoleum where dozens of his family may one day be buried. The retiree explained: "I was making good money, and I could afford to do that for my family. It was the idea that most of my family preferred to be buried above ground rather than in the ground."

Industry insiders working on these burial details note that there is a significant market for more high end plots and amenities. Some include large indoor mausoleums, granite-walled locations and even entire private burial estates with air conditioning provided for visiting guests.

If you want to get a feel for the range of options out there, you can check out a popular site--www.Mausoleums.com--where everything from the standard choices to the extravagant can be viewed. Some options are very personal, reflecting the preferences or memories of the specific individual. The website offers the example of one family who had a small children's playhouse built in a nearby cemetery after the tragic passing of their 4-year old daughter.

As one might expect, the largest and most complex products are very pricey. The owner of one high-end tomb company notes that a standard mausoleum can begin at $40,000 but quickly rise into the millions--particularly if entire families will be buried together. The largests tombs can fit upwards of twenty individuals, allowing for several generations to rest in one place.

However, these amenity-filled resting spots are not necessarily only for the super wealthy. Some public mausoleums offer the same services (air conditioning, carpeting, elevators, etc) at a fraction of the price. These spaces can be reserved for a couple hundred dollars and a monthly fee. One man looking into this public mausoleum option explained, "Very few people will be able to make a big enough impact on this world to leave a permanent mark on history. But a unique and grand mausoleum will allow me to make my mark and give recognition to those who have contributed to making mine a wonderful life."

While it may seem that these elaborate symbols to recognize a resting place are done for status reasons, most explain that it instead reflects a wish for friends and family to have a comfortable and recognizable place to visit.

For help ensuring all of your long-term wishes will be carried out--from inheritances to funeral and burial arrangements--consider contacting the NY estate planning attorneys at our firm today.

Estate Planning for Spouses: The Basics

June 7, 2013,

This week Forbes published an article that outlines the basics of how to fund an estate plan for spouses. The story is a helpful reiteration of many of the basic issues that are common for all New York couples thinking about their future and trying to create security no matter what the future holds.

Helpfully, the story explains how estate planning is not the creation of a stack of legal documents that are signed and then stored until needed. Instead, the process is far more comprehensive and involves examination of all of one's assets, wishes, legacy interests, elder care goals, and more.

As a general matter, on the estate planning side, one of the main goals is avoiding probate at all costs. That means that something like a last will and testament is inefficient. Instead, for most New York couples it is best to create a series of revocable living trusts which are far superior, allowing property to be protected and passed to others without the need for court intervention. After the trust is created spouses transfer property directly into the trust.

What goes into the trust?

Virtually everything. This includes real property (like a house), bank accounts, mutual fund accounts, stocks and bonds, and even business interests.

But it is not necessarily as simple as moving everything you own into a trust. For example, the article discusses how couples may not want to move rental property into the trusts directly. Instead for liability purposes it is usually best for rental properties or other investment real property assets to first be conveyed to a limited liability business entity. The interest in that entity should then be transferred to the individual couple's trust.

Other items may not be transferred to a trust, like life insurance policies and retirement plan accounts. That is because these items already pass automatically outside of probate. Yet, it is critical that beneficiary designations are properly identified and updated down the road if necessary. Contingency beneficiaries should also be named as an extra precaution in case the primary beneficiary is unable to take the assets.

Depending on the specifics of these assets, there may be some added complexity. For example, figuring out how to divide and transfer business assets may be tricky. In addition, when transfers involving a business different tax implications need to be consider, including those related to valuation discounts.

For help on any number of elder law estate planning issues in New York, please contact our attorneys today.

Estate Planning Becoming Reality Show?

June 5, 2013,

Epic estate planning battles--particularly involving the wealthy and famous--have long been fodder for newspapers. There have even been a few high-profile movies touching on the topic, like the recent George Clooney film, "The Descendants." But now it appears that the sagas may make their way into yet another medium: television.

Reality TV continues to captivate audiences, and now some are looking to cast a new television show based on unique, intense, and interesting inheritance fights. The Trust Advisor recently shared information on the project which, if it becomes popular, is sure to raise awareness of common estate planning issues even more.

The show is still in the early stages of development, but it is clear that a large TV production team is looking for families to be filmed as their inheritance issues and planning details are sorted out. These early reports suggest that the show will center on inheritance and trust disputes among wealthy families. The purpose, one presumes, is to find families with the most unique issues, including family businesses, generations-long dynasties, and large personalities. The filming (and packaging as a television show) will likely highlight both the characters themselves as well as the unique processes involved in settling estate fights. While it may seem common knowledge to those of us working on these affairs, it is easy to forget that for most community matters, estate planning issues are foreign.

The article notes that "the goal is to get everyone to work out their grudges and actually resolve their issues without getting the litigators involved." Considering that this is the same goal shared by many who are beginning the estate planning process when not being filmed, it will be interesting to see if the show mirrors how the process actually works.

The producers explain that while the goal is to find situations where families can work out their disagreement, examples of "clients gone bad" may also be involved. This refers to situations where clear planning advice is ignored or obvious mistakes (perhaps intentional) were made which lead to hurt feeling, arguments, and broken relationships.

Of course, estate planning attorneys, financial advisors, and others working in these area will undoubtedly be a natural audience for this show. But perhaps beyond mere entertainment something like this will spawn into an important, educational tool for all community members. There remains a need for more families to seriously consider their legacies, and watching examples of feuding unfold on their television may be just the spur some need to stop delaying and make a call.

Trying to "Woo" Inclusion Into The Will of Heiress Huguette Clark

June 3, 2013,

The New York Times shared a story late last week on developments in the settling of the estate of copper heiress Huguette Clark. It is a reminder of the sensitive nature of estate planning, particularly for those with wealth, and the lengths that all involved parties may go to influence one's decisions regarding inheritance.

As many know, Ms. Clark was very reclusive, living the final two decades of her life at the Beth Israel Medical Center, even though for most of that time she did not actually need hospital care. According to new reports (and allegations from family members), almost as soon as she arrived the hospital engaged in a complex campaign to receive donations from the heiress. Apparently the facility had administrative officials sent to her frequently to build trust. After some time the officials, including the hospital's CEO allegedly, began talking with her about creating a will. All of this was after officials researched the family history in the hopes of making a more personalized connection with Ms. Clark. It goes without saying that this sort of treatment is not provided to all patients at the facility.

All of this is only recently being made public as part of a high-profile legal challenge filed by some of Clark's relatives angling for a larger share of her $300 million estate. The legal challenges began almost immediately after her death in 2011, and they are still raging. A trial in the matter is scheduled for September.

The crux of the legal case are claims of undue influence. Beyond trying to get into her will, the family claims that the facility used its position to convince Clark to stay in the hospital for decades (and pay millions to do so), even though she didn't need medical care. In addition to medical fees, Clark gave the non-profit hospital $4 million in donations, left them $1 million in her will, and donated a painting that sold at auction for $3.5 million.

Criticism of the facility is not limited to relatives. A Manhattan public administrator previously issued critiques of the handling of the estate by many, including the hospital as well as those closest to Clark in the last years of her life.

Two will were drafted in 2005, and the second will is hotly disputed. The first will includes relatives while the second mostly cuts them out. The family argues that a doctor involved in Clark's care influenced her to made the changes in the second will. Claims about this sort of conduct, particularly with will changes so close together, are not uncommon.

Common Mistakes when Naming Insurance Beneficiaries

May 30, 2013,

Most lists of "common estate planning mistakes" include the frequent error of failure to properly update beneficiary designations. Yet, even that mistake is deceiving, because updating is just one thing to consider with these designations. Even if the names are evaluated on a consistent basis, it is still important to ensure that the person named as the beneficiary fits in with other aspects of an overall estate plan.

Fox Business recently published a story listing ten different ways that life insurance beneficiary designation decisions are made in error. The story is worth browsing to get a feel for some common issues.

For example, it is critical to name someone who can actually receive the funds. Parents may name their minor child as the beneficiary, but the insurance company will not dispense funds directly to a child. Without a trust or similar arrangements, then this designation will cause problems. A guardian must be appointed, leading to costly and timely court proceedings being necessary.

Similarly, if proceeds may go to a relative with special needs, careful consideration must be given to how the benefit will affect government support. While it may seem counter-intuitive, giving money to a child with special needs may cause more harm than good, disqualifying them from support, like Supplemental Security Income. This is a textbook example of why the designation needs to be considered only in light of an entire estate plan.

Besides the effect on government program eligibility, taxes must also be weighed when making designation decisions. Life insurance is usually tax-free, but not always. For example, if the policy owner, insured party, and beneficiary are three different people, then gift taxes may be implicated. This occurs when a parent takes out a policy on another parent with the child named as beneficiary,.

Another common error is failing to be specific. For example, it is one thing to say that you want the policy to pay out to your children. But what happens if one child is not around, should their share go to their own children (grandkids) or be added to the surviving children's share? Also, who would count as a child? Are step-children included? Failing to be as specific as possible in these matters often results in confusion and legal challenges down the road.

Simply updating a designation and naming anyone is not the best way to handle these matters. Be sure that the designation does not cause more issues than it solves by fully integrating it with your other legal estate planning documents. A professional can provide tailored advice on these decisions.

New York City Bar on Planning for Pets

May 28, 2013,

The New York City Bar Association's "Committee on Animal Law" recently released a helpful report on the many different legal issues to consider regarding the care of your pet in an uncertain future. The document offers a comprehensive examination of a wide range of issues which many fail to consider. It is worthwhile to review the whole thing if you are interested in some of the more detailed aspects of estate planning with pets in mind. A free .pdf copy of the report can be viewed online here.

The sad reality is that most pet owners give only cursory thought to what might happen to their furry friend in the event of a death or hospitalization. In most cases the extent of the planning is when an elderly individual or one with a serious illness considers another person to take ownership. Obviously that is a good first step, but it is important to ensure those wishes are actually guaranteed via legal documents. Also, identifying a new owner is just the beginning of effective planning for pets.

For example, many problems arise in the time period between an owner's death and the admission of a Will to probate. Even if a Will includes specifics about new ownership and the providing of provisions, the intermediary time may be left open. This can cause serious problems, which provide immense stress on the animal as well as those working to handle affairs in the aftermath of the passing. Similarly, the provisions of a Will are of little use if an owner is hospitalized and alternative pet care needs to be arranged.

Solving these issues is not necessarily straightforward, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The NYC Bar report, however, provides a helpful list of options to fill these estate planning gaps and ensure your pet's care is not compromised. For example, the journal explores the ways to use shelters or charitable organizations if friends/relatives are not available. It also discusses the need for emergency instructions to provide short-term care in the event of hospitalization or illness.

The bottom line: There is much more to planning for one's pets than talking to a friend casually or even including certain provisions in a Will. A more comprehensive plan may bring more peace of mind to many NY residents.

For assistance with any number of estate planning concerns in New York City or throughout the state, please contact our legal team today.

Family Claims Women Looking to "Fleece" Estate After Man's Murder

May 24, 2013,

Earlier this month we discussed the unique estate issues connected to the murder of a wealthy investor named Raveesh Kumra. Mr. Kumra was murdered during a robbery late last year. It has since been learned that the suspects include several men with connections to alleged prostitutes with whom Kumra apparently was connected. It is a tragic situations all the way around, and the man's family was understandably blindsided by the situation.

Making matters worse, a significant battle over Kumra's estate has been waged by various parties since the death. It is an example of the unique court challenges that often result when comprehensive estate planning is not conducted and all possible issues are not analyzed as part of that plan.

Out-of-Wedlock Children
As discussed in a new Mercury News story, the main estate issue centers on other women whom Mr. Kumra apparently had relationships, including the possibility of various children born from those relationships. Earlier this year a court already ordered that two children alleged to have been fathered by Kumra were entitled to a monthly allowance from the estate. A judge ordered several thousand dollars to be paid to those children per month until the remaining estate issues were decided.

The man's ex-wife (with whom he he still lived at the time of his death) and his two adult children from that marriage have refused to acknowledge that those other children are related. They refused a paternity test, but the court in the case found that paternity existed anyway from other evidence.

Now, the family has voiced concerns that they fear other women may come forward with similar claims. They are challenging the validity of the claims, but suggest that the mere possibility of gaining funds may allow the estate to be "fleeced" by false claims. One family member argued, "We are also hearing that there are other women waiting in the wings so they can claim the same thing. So we're very concerned about the larger plot at hand to defraud the estate."

All of this is on top of the fact that the same judge is still deliberating to determine if the other two children should inherit an equal share of the estate with the children born to his ex-wife.

The lesson: Even if it is impossible prevent all claims on an estate, taking account of the most likely legal challenges is crucial. Also, using more sophisticated tools, like trusts, that pass on assets automatically, outside of the court, ensure that the intended beneficiaries are forced to jump through far fewer hoops before finalizing the property transfers and ending the matter.

May is "Leave a Legacy" Month

May 22, 2013,

Virtually every month now has multiple awareness labels attached to them as advocates for various causes seek to raise public support for different causes. For example, this month is known in some international circles as "Leave a Legacy" month. Considering that many New Yorkers continue to delay estate planning and otherwise put off getting long-term affairs in order, this is certainly an awareness campaign that we can get behind.

In fact, some advocates are using a New York example as a reminder. We discussed the case last week of a man who apparently left his $40 million estate to no one, meaning that the funds will be end up in the state coffers. While most do not leave behind estates of that size, failing to create a will or designate how to allocate assets is far too common.

Estate Planning is About Your Legacy
In a Huffington Post story about "Leave a Legacy" month, one advocate explored various aspects to the idea of "legacy." Far more than merely giving stuff away, one's legacy is shaped by many factors and decisions geared toward the long game.

Of course creating a will, using trusts, ensuring proper alternative beneficiary designations, exploring insurance options, and similar financial details are important. But a legacy is also about giving back. Advocates encourage everyone, no matter how much money one is leaving behind, to consider giving some to a favored charity or cause. Even small gifts can have an oversized impact. Those gifts can be powerfully symbolic, letting those you are leaving behind know the value you place in service and the causes that you valued throughout your life.

Giving Back
The official "Leave a Legacy" website offers a detailed call for considering charities when conducting estate plans. It is noted that while "more than 80 percent of Americans contribute to the nonprofit groups of their choice throughout their lifetimes [...] according to research conducted in 2000, only around eight percent of people chose to continue this support through a charitable bequest."

This discrepancy is often not because individuals suddenly decide that they do not value charitable causes. Instead, many simply forget about this aspect of estate planning and legacy creation. That is particularly true for those who conduct planning without the assistance of a professional. Estate planning attorneys are more likely to at least ask if inclusion of a charity is somethings one wants to consider.

Hopefully more local residents will get serious about their legacies and consider exactly how they want to be remembered and what can be done now to create that lasting impact.

Discriminatory Old University Trust May Be Modified

May 20, 2013,

Upon visiting an estate planning lawyer for the first time and learning about available options, many are surprised at the flexibility of different legal tools involved in the transfer of property. Far from simply doling out assets to specific friends and family members, one has immense control in deciding how those assets are used, when they are received, and what can trigger the loss of those assets. In this way, unique plans can be crafty which account for any number of family dynamics--multiple marriages, concerns about ex-spouses, children with special needs, relatives with poor money management skills, and more.

Similarly, the same flexibility often exists with gifts to charity. Many New Yorkers decide to share part of their assets with favorite non-profit causes. Those gifts can be one-time transfers or they may involve the creation of trusts for use in specific ways. For example, one of the most common charitable trusts involves setting up a scholarship fund to an alma mater to benefit future students. The trust may be funded with various assets, growing over the years and helping countless students.

Those creating these trusts can set many different terms on the gifts. Perhaps you'd like the funds to be used solely for those interested in pursuing nursing or for those who came from a certain disadvantaged background. In most cases, an attorney can help craft the legal arrangement so that your exact wishes are carried out.

The flexibility of trust details is vividly displayed in a story about an old scholarship trust that a university is hoping to modify. As discussed in The Chronicle, Columbia University asked a court to alter the terms of a trust that come with rigid requirements for those who benefit from it. Specifically, students who receive the "Lydia C. Roberts" Graduate Fellowship are required to have been born in Iowa and attended a Iowa undergraduate school. They must also move back to Iowa for at least two years after their graduation. In addition, they cannot pursue law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary surgery, or theology. Most egregiously, the trust--created in 1920--specifies that the recipients of the scholarship must be "from the Caucasian race."

Of course, this is a blatantly discriminatory requirement--a product of its time. That is why the University is seeking to have the race requirement thrown out by the court. While no one can support discrimination in this way, the fact that the university is still forced to seek court approval to modify the terms--nearly 100 years after the trust was created--is a testament to the extreme power of these legal tools. They allow individuals to exert significant control over their assets even a century down the road.

National Enquirer Inheritance Fortune Feud: Adult Son Arrested

May 16, 2013,

The New York Daily News reported this weekend on more developments in an estate feud case that we have previously touched on. It is yet another testament to the lengths that some are willing to go when significant sums of money are involved. It is also a reminder of how even the closest family bonds can be destroyed by fights over an inheritance.

Mother & Son At Odds
Generoso Pope was a highly successful publisher, creating the well-known tabloid still seen in many grocery store check out lines: The National Enquirer. Generoso Pope died many years ago, and the publishing business was sold for several hundred millions dollars. This represents a huge estate that was divided between Generoso's surviving wife and son. Per the terms of the inheritance plan, the man's wife, Louis Pope, received $200 million. The son, Paul Pope, received $20 million. Other siblings also received sizeable inheritances.

For most families, that amount of money would seems sufficient to live off for a lifetime. However, as so often happens with large estates, feuding came immediately, with accusations being hurled on both sides about wasteful spending and withholding of funds.

Over the ten years that the mother and son have been squabbling, multiple civil lawsuits have been filed. From accounts of the family discord, most of the problems stem from Paul's extravagant lifestyle. He reportedly has spent the majority of his inheritance, and has already been given an additional $5 million from his mother. However, that has not stopped him from filing suit against his mother claiming that she is mismanaging her own inheritance which will result in him not receiving as much as he might when she passes away.

All of that culminated this weekend in the arrest of Paul Pope. While the exact charges are unclear, it may stem from an order of protection that Louis Pope previously sought over her son after his money demands became aggressive. In seeking the court order, the mother explained that her son "maliciously and repeatedly harassed (her) with cruel behavior (that) is causing (her) to suffer substantial emotional distress and to genuinely fear for her safety." She went on to note that he lives "an excessive and extravagant lifestyle, but has never had meaningful employment."

While inheritances worth hundreds of millions of dollars are unique--the issue of adult children with questionable financial management skill is not. New York families frequently have questions about how to best arrange an inheritance so that spendthrift children are not cut out but protected from blowing through wealth with poor managements skills. In our area, a NY estate planning attorney can provide tailored advice and explain the range of unique options available to account for your situation.

Siblings Inheritance Feud Turns Criminal

May 14, 2013,

Estate planning attorneys frequently urge residents to be careful about creating long-term plans to avoid family feuding. Careful consideration of inheritances, open communication between families, and prudent use of tools like trusts are usually the best way to ensure that families are not torn apart after a passing.

Some seniors appreciate certain inherent conflicts within the family and work to counter those risks. However, many others assume that such feuding only affects "others" and their family members would never fall into arguments and ruin relationships over property or other end-of-life matters. The reality is that no one knows for sure how things might play out. Reactions to the loss of a relative often spur deep psychological impulses with emotions askew. That can spur problems for even the most stable families.

Estate Planning Murder Plot
The extreme lengths that some go in the heat of an inheritance feud were demonstrated in a sad case reported this week in The Chronicle. The bizarre case involved the Wolf family of two sisters and brother fighting over an inheritance. The feud began in 2006 following the death of the adult-children's parents. An estate valued at about $3 million was at stake.

Reports indicate that fighting broke out immediately as the children sought to maximize their inheritance. The brother, in particular, seemed willing to do anything to increase his share of the family fortune. All told, more than six different criminal charges were filed, several civil lawsuits were pursued, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees were racked up.

All of that peaked in 2010, when one of the sisters was seriously injured when out of nowhere a box of candy blew up in her face as she opened it. The box was filled with pieces of pipe,glass, tacks, and other explosives. The second sister was also targeted for murder. It was only later that the brother was connected to the plot. He apparently tried to hire a ex-convict to kill his sisters to secure as much of the inheritance as possible.

This week he was officially sentenced to life in prison for his actions.

In summarizing the case, an observer noted, "Just a tragic situation coming out of probate. People get so wrapped up in those things, they lose sight of what's important."

Few cases of probate feuding will end with an attempted murder conviction. However, far too many families will find relationships destroyed following disagreement spurred by the process. That is why it is critical for families to use trusts and other planning measure to avoid probate and pass on assets in a seamless process void of opportunity to spur fighting.

Children-Out-of-Wedlock and Inheritance Feuding

May 9, 2013,

The more complex a family arrangement, the more tailored estate plan is likely needed. For local residents this often takes the form of second or third marriages, with children and different step-relatives. The "default" rules may not be good at accounting for these various relationships and balancing the unique needs of wishes of each family member. Yet, even in the most extreme cases, an estate planning attorney is able to craft the best possible arrangements, provided participants are open and honest about their situation.

But, things can get particularly sticky when there are secret relationships or other family dynamics that are not incorporated into a plan.

Mistress & Children Fight for Inheritance
This concern was vividly demonstrated in bizarre and tragic case that is making national headlines. A millionaire businessman, Ravi Kumra, was murdered in late November. A group of men apparently broke into his home, bound the man, and ransacked the home for valuables. Kumra eventually died from asphyxiation as a result of being gagged.

Kumra divorced his wife in 2010. However, his ex-wife still lived with him at the time of the attack--she too was bound and beaten, but survived.

In the aftermath of the murder, much has come out about Kumra unique lifestyle, eventually involving a feud over his inheritance.

Most notably, Kumra apparently was intimately involved with many different prostitutes who often stayed in the home (where the ex-wife still lived). In fact, the group of attackers (who were arrested) were allegedly connected to some of those prostitutes.

Initially Kumra wealth was going to be split between a group of family members, including his two adult daughters from his previous marriage. However, one of the former prostitutes eventually came forward and claimed that she was entitled to a family inheritance because she gave birth to two children (now 9 and 7 years old) who were fathered by Kumra. She sought the inheritance on their behalf as living descendents of the slain millionaire.

The matter was brought to court where, according to a Weekly Times story, a judge recently agreed that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that the children were indeed fathered by Kumra. As a result, the judge awarded the woman and her children $1,800 per child per month for the allowance. According to the mother, Kumra had the children with her intentionally and, since her pregnancy until his death, paid her several thousands dollars every month to be a stay-at-home mother.

This is obviously a unique situation. However, it is a testament to the complexity that can arise in any number of cases when various living arrangements are not handled as part of established estate planning efforts.

NYT on the "Moving Target" of Estate Planning Today

May 7, 2013,

The New York Times published a story last week that reminds residents of the complexity of many estate planning matters. The story reiterates two key principles when it comes to long-term financial and inheritance planning: (1) It is a critical task for families of all income levels; (2) It requires frequent pruning and updating.

Not a Problem for the Wealthy
There remains a misconception that estate planning is a concern only for the wealthy. If one does not have assets over the $5.25 million federal estate tax exemption level, then there is no need to worry about visiting an attorney or otherwise handling this inheritance details, right? As we often point out: this is a huge misconception. The truth is that estate planning deals with a wide-range of issues beyond the estate tax. From ensuring proper designation of life insurance policies and retirement accounts to using trusts to avoid probate and save on expenses, properly planning for transfer of assets is necessary for families of all income levels.

Consider one of the most common problems: a will that contradicts provisions in beneficiary designation forms. Many New York families find themselves in sticky situations when someone creates a will that leaves provisions to one family member, even though the name on a beneficiary designation form for a retirement account or life insurance leaves it to someone else. In those cases, the will is overridden, even if it represents the true desire of the benefactor.

Not a "One Time" Task
Similarly, because of changes in the law and life circumstances, estate planning cannot be viewed as a chore that is finalized once completed. Instead, it must be a frequently updated process, with alterations to those beneficiary designations, will provisions, trust assets, and more. Understanding when a part of the plan needs to be updated is where professionals like an estate planning attorney are vital. These details are complex and serious enough that they should not be left to those unfamiliar with how it all works.

Obviously the birth of new children or grandchildren, a divorce, marriage, acquisition of a new asset, or other change in condition must be folded into an existing plan. In addition, many different legal changes may influence what options are available and when. Those legal changes go well beyond the estate tax, which seems to generate all the media attention. Many different kinds of tax rules can shift at any time, including types of available trusts, extent of charitable deductions, and more.