Articles Posted in Blended Families Estate Planning

As the new year opens it is a good time to review all of your legal estate planning decisions and tweak any previous documents that you think need to be modified. This requires us to get back to the basics of estate planning . For those scenarios that deal with what happens to you in an emergency situation, you have an advanced medical directive, with some level of specificity but not too much. The term advanced medical directive is an umbrella term that encompasses several types of legally significant documents. One of them is a living will. Your living will tells the medical professionals who are treating you, what your wishes are in advance for any number of medical situations.

HEALTH CARE PROXY

Underneath the umbrella term of advanced medical directive, there is also the health care proxy. The health care proxy allows for you to appoint a trusted person to act as a decision maker for those scenarios that are not contemplated in your living will and if you are unable to make any medical decisions by yourself. Medical conditions change, different doctors have varying opinions as to the best course of treatment or even over the correct diagnosis. Having a health care proxy will have someone stand in for you to make the best decision under the circumstances. You can limit the authority that you give to the person or only permit the health care proxy go into effect after certain conditions or triggers occur.

VALUABLE ASSET

        A residential lease in New York City or any desirable locale can provide many benefits.  Some people wait years to get into a rent stabilized apartment.  There is even a Seinfeld episode where Elaine quips that some people scan the obituaries to see if someone in a rent stabilized apartment has passed away.  It is a common occurrence for many people to live decades and raise generations of families in their rent controlled rental unit.  Many cities have their own laws dealing with how to inherit these leases.  New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings §236 law deals permits an estate to inherit the lease of a deceased person and New York Estate Powers and Trusts Laws §13-1.1(a)(1) also holds that a lease is an asset of an estate.  In addition, many local laws housing and regulations also mandate how and when a lease may be inherited.  New York City ended its Rent Control laws in 1971, yet still has approximately 38,000 rental units listed under the old Rent Control laws, as once the lease is under the Rent Control law it remains until it is no longer.  Going forward New York leases are generally covered by Rent Stabilization laws, also covered by the same laws dealing with succession of a residential lease.  Rental units under the rent stabilization laws are the most common type of residential lease.  These leases will remain for so time due to the right to succeed these leases by other family members or even friends.  Most particularly, New York Code, Rules and Regulations §2532.5(b) allows for family members to succeed the lease.  Landlords have been known to fight like the devil to regain possession of these rentals, sometimes offering cold hard cash, from $40,000 on the low end to $17,000,000 on the high end.

HOW TO INHERIT OR SUCCEED – COHABITATION

INHERITANCE RIGHTS  AND OTHER RIGHTS

There are many reason why people decide to adopt an adult, but there is essentially only one legal effect: the adopted child is legally treated as if they were a biological child.  Most people would be right to think that the primary legal result is a creation of inheritance rights in the newly adopted adult.  There are, however, more rights attendant to being a child of some.  Some veterans have the right to have their children attend a military academy without concern for the state quota or be eligible for certain scholarships as well as other benefits.  A parent can add a child to their health insurance the age of 26, even if they are married.  

REASONS FOR ADULT ADOPTION

A JDSupra post from last month offers a helpful reminder of the changing legal landscape for New York same sex couples who are married.

As virtually everyone knows, in late June the U.S. Supreme Court declared the main portion of the federal law known as the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) unconstitutional. The crux of the particular case, Windsor v. United States, related to the estate tax. Windsor, a New York resident, was forced to pay over $350,000 in estate taxes following the death of her wife, Thea Spyer. The couple’s marriage was legally recognized in New York, but the federal government treated the pair as strangers.

Estate Planning Options

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

It is often argued that estate planning is necessary to prevent family feuding in the aftermath of a passing. Disagreements about “who gets what,” how to handle funeral issues, and other concerns are known to tear friends and family apart. Being explicit about one’s wishes ahead of time–and letting relatives know early on–is the ideal way to avoid surprises and present the best opportunity for disputes to be squelched.

But proper planning does more than prevent feuding after a passing; it can also prevent it before one’s death. That is because disagreements about caring for aging relatives is often a bone of contention. Arguments about who is going to make decisions on their behalf, what type of long-term care will be pursued, and similar concerns can cause ruined relationships just as much as any inheritance dispute. All of this makes it imperative for local community members to visit with an NY estate planning lawyer early on to ensure legal documentation is in place so that there is no uncertainty about how any of these issues are to be decided. Considering the prevalence of cognitive brain issues (i.e. Alzheimer’s and dementia), prudent planning requires these matters be handled as soon as possible.

Celebrity Example

The more assets that are at stake following a passing, the higher the risk that others might pursue all available means to get a piece of the pie–even if it completely contravenes the original wishes of the former owner. Estate planning fills the gap by closing as many opportunities for subsequent legal challenge as possible. Sadly, in many cases, even when some planning is done ahead of time, outsiders may attempt to find any loophole possible to upset the original plan.

That seems to be what happened with the estate of music legend James Brown. Brown died over four years ago from heart failure, but the final resolution of his assets remains in limbo with a potentially long future ahead. That is because the Huffington Post is now reporting that the state’s supreme court recently rejected a compromise that was two years earlier between various parties.

The Backstory

One common excuse for putting off basic estate planning is the assumption that others–spouse, children, siblings, close friends–already know exactly what you want, and so there is little need to go through the legal hoops to solidify it. Sadly, in the aftermath of a passing, there is no way to know exactly what those in control of a situation might do unless there is legal backing to it. That obviously applies with distribution of property, but it also applies to more ceremonial aspects to a passing, like funeral and burial wishes.

Don’t Leave it to Chance

For many, their faith dictates how they chose to have their passing honored (or not honored). From deciding what to do with remains or where to be buried, it is critical that desires be set forth clearly. It is a mistake to underestimate the significance of these details or the in-fighting that may bubble up where there is disagreement about how to handle these matters.

A Reuters story late last week suggested that while estate planning feuds of the famous usually involve millions, the principle issues are the same as those faced by all local residents. Every case must be evaluated individually, but the same main issues are found again and again. That is why our New York estate planning lawyers urge residents to visit with experienced professionals when making preparations because they have likely seen similar issues in the past and can help anticipate problems that might come up down the road. As this latest story explained “anyone thinking about wealth transfer faces the same issues: dysfunctional families, potentially unequal positions in the family business, perhaps multiple marriages with kids from each.” This applies whether one has $50,000 or $50 million.

For example, second marriages often create planning problems. When crafting an estate plan, one must balance the needs of the second spouse with the children of the first marriage. If one doesn’t do it, as the author notes, “you’re basically buying a litigation case.” For example, the longest estate litigation case of the last century was that of Anna Nicole Smith. She was a second wife of a billionaire investor. The children from the man’s first marriage engaged in a prolonged battle to ensure that Ms. Smith did not receive any substantial portion of the man’s wealth. The case was still not resolved with Ms. Smith herself passed away.

Family businesses also present common issues for those in all income brackets. Much family wealth is wrapped up in a business. Often some of the children participate in the business while others do not. This often creates significant estate planning issues regarding who gets what share of the business. One of the most well-known examples of this is that of the Koch family in New York. The patriarch had created a fortune after developing a new cracking method in oil refinement. However, upon his death the man’s four sons engaged in a prolonged legal dispute over control of the business. As the article notes, “there are a lot of ticking time bombs in family businesses that creates litigation.”

Most local residents will nod in agreement when one explains the importance of conducting New York estate planning as soon as possible. It is easy for most to understand the value of planning an inheritance, saving on taxes, and preparing for alternative decision makers. Yet, all estate planning lawyers know that there is a difference between recognizing the importance of a task and actually taking the time to get it done. Psychologists have found that when it comes to making the leap from knowing that a task should be completed to actually doing it, personal examples are usually the most effective motivators. It is one thing to learn about the value of planning, it is another to hear about a specific case of proper planning that helped an actual person. In fact, experts have also found that even more effective than stories of positive benefits are stories of plans gone awry. The stick is often more persuasive than the carrot.

That is where the estate planning misadventures of the rich and famous can be useful. Unfortunately, recent history is replete with stories of many well-known figures who did not take care of their affairs properly (or at all) before their passing. This week the SM Mirror ran down a quick list of some of the more well-known cases of celebrity estate planning blunders. A few included examples:

Jimi Hendrix

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