Articles Posted in Power of Attorney

Most estate planning advice stories include one theme over and over–plan early and update consistently. Because no one know what the future holds and life changes occur frequently, it is critical to ensure your legal planning will work as you want it to when you need it.

However, that does not mean that there is ever a point when it is too late and not worth crafting a plan. Taking the time to put affairs in order even in the midst of serious illness or terminal conditions can make a world of difference for a family. A recent article provides a helpful discussion that touches on some of the key issues with regard to “deathbed planning.”

Late Estate Planning

Celebrity estate planning complications and feuds are often used to illustrate basic planning principles or common problems. Perhaps none of those examples are as well-known, especially for New Yorkers, as the sad case of the estate of Brooke Astor. The legendary socialite and philanthropist died several years ago. Since her passing, a wide-range of claims were made regarding the distribution of her assets and criminal activity on the part of those responsible for her care and affairs in the later years of her life.

Astor reportedly suffered from Alzheimer’s at the end of her life–an affliction that similarly affects many New York seniors. Unfortunately, also like many others, it seems that her condition was abused by the very people who were supposed to look-out for her.

Astor’s son, Brooke Marshall, was criminally charged with exploiting his mother to funnel more money to himself. Marshall was ultimately convicted, along with a co-defendant, of illegally giving himself a $2 million “raise” to administer the estate. Claims also suggested that an amendment to Astor’s will in 2004 included a forged signature.

Before being overshadowed by the election, the talk of the social media universe in the past week and a half was Disney’s purchase of the George Lucas film business (LucasFilm). The film company owned all the rights to the mega-popular Star Wars francise, and the purchase might mean that another Star Wars film will be in the works in coming years. Perhaps the most eye-popping part of the deal was the sale price. Disney apparently paid a staggering $4.05 billion in cash and stock for LucasFilm.

Since the deal was announced many professionals in the fields of tax and estate plannining have chimed in, noting that the decision to sell now was likely a smart one by Lucas. It will probably pay many divideds in the future for himself and his family. At a general level, by cashing out now Lucas will spare his family the very difficult and complex challenge of handling these matters upon his passing. At 68 years old, hopefully that time is still several decades in the future; however, prudent planning is timely planning. In addition, selling the company allows Lucas to spend more of his times on philanthrophy–something that he has been committed to for decades. He explained recently that he plans to donate most of his wealth to educational efforts around the world.

Beyond that, the timing of the move was likely motivated by smart assessment of the current tax climate. As recently discussed in a Forbes article on the subject, the current capital gains tax rate and brackets are set to be far less favorable in the coming year. No matter who was elected this year, increases in the tax rates to some degree were likely. However, by acting now, Lucas may have saved significant sums on taxes as a result of the immense gain in value of his company since it was founded.

Mystery permanently surrounded the heiress Huguette Clark–a reclusive woman whose $300 million estate is often referred to as the last collection of wealth drawn from the American “Gilded Age.” Her father was a copper magnante many decades ago and was also a former senator from Montana. He is well known as the founder of the city of Las Vegas. Huguette inherited the fortune upon his (and her mother’s) passing. However, she never sought business or public notoriety like her father. Instead, she was intimately private. In fact, she reportedly spent the last twenty years of her life inside a New York City hospital–even when she was healthy enough to live on her own.

Huguette eventually passed away in May of last year. As often happens in cases of great wealth–particularly when there is much mystery surrounding one’s life–various fights ensued over control of the fortune.

A trial in the case is set to begin soon, according to a recent NBC report on the case.

Some area residents may think that New York estate planning is only for married seniors who have big families and substantial wealth. Fortunately, more and more people are coming to understand that this planning is a necessity for all community members, no matter what their situation in life. The Calgary Herald recently discussed the universal applicability of estate planning by sharing the example of a thirty-six year old mother of two who was recently divorced. The woman had never before seriously considered financial matters, but everything changed following separation from her husband.

It was not long before the mother began to realize that taking care of her family was now squarely on her shoulders–necessitating prudent preparation for long-term contingencies. For example, if she were to suddenly become ill, who would take care of her children? If she became disabled, how would the family survive? The woman began considering these and similar questions before realizing that she wanted the peace of mind of knowing that she had prepared for these possibilities ahead of time. The woman visited an estate planning attorney and learned what options were available to her. She eventually purchased life insurance, disability insurance, and had legal documents drafted to ensure others could make critical decisions on behalf of her family if the need arose.

The mother’s situation is a good example of why estate planning is often particularly important for singles. Those without a partner frequently need to clearly spell out their wishes ahead of time, because fewer people may be around to speak on their behalf. For example, a thirty year old single man may get in an accident shortly before closing on his first piece of real estate. If he has taken the time to create a durable Power of Attorney, the named individual may be able to close on that new home on his behalf. There are countless similar situations that may arise where prior estate preparation can significantly affect an individual’s life.

same-sex.gifby Michael Ettinger, Esq.

Same sex couples face unique estate planning issues since, in many jurisdictions, their unions are not legally protected. New York, for example, does not permit same sex marriages although the state does recognize same sex marriages performed elsewhere (i.e., Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and D.C.).

Living trusts are often the estate planning vehicle of choice for the GLBT community for a number of reasons.

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