Results tagged “manhattan estate planning” from New York Estate Planning Lawyer Blog

Key Estate Planning Questions to Help Avoid Mistakes

July 1, 2014,

Many people are uncomfortable with the process of estate planning. As a result, people are not always completely forthcoming with their estate planning attorney or do not think through all aspects of their plan. If you are just starting to draft your estate plan or are thinking of revising your current documents, here are some questions to consider that can make the process easier.

· What are your personal goals? Professional goals?
Establishing personal and professional goals can give an idea of how much you will need to live comfortably in your lifetime and how much will be left for your heirs. If you plan on retiring early or need more money for personal, financial, or health reasons an attorney can help you structure your estate plan accordingly. Establishing goals is also a good way to indicate to your heirs what they should expect to receive from your estate.

· What would you like to achieve with your wealth?
Knowing what you want to do with your money can also help with estate planning. Are you planning on investing in a post-retirement business, do you want to spend most of your wealth before you die, or do you want to set aside a significant amount for your heirs?

· What keeps you up at night about your money?
Knowing your concerns about your current estate can also help your attorney plan accordingly. If you are unsure about how to use money in retirement and have some left for your heirs they can help you structure a plan, and if you don't know the best way to leave money for your heirs an attorney can tell you what your options are.

· What do you want for your children? Parents? Other family members?
Everyone wants their loved ones to be happy, healthy, and taken care of. However, you need to think carefully about how exactly you want your estate to help. Do you want your loved ones receiving lump sums of money after you are gone, or would setting up a trust be more prudent? In the case of you passing before your parents do you want part of your estate to be put towards their senior care?

· Who have you considered for the role of executor of your estate? Why?
What you should be asking yourself when appointing an executor is who knows best about my estate wishes and has the ability to see them through? It could be a spouse, child, or family friend. You can also appoint someone outside of your close circle like an attorney in order to avoid any personal or familial conflicts that could arise.

· Who have you considered for the role of trustee of your various trusts? Why?
The trustee(s) to any accounts set up for your estate should be knowledgeable about your financial matters as well as your wishes for those assets. You can appoint someone who is close to your family and knows the intimate needs of the beneficiaries, or if you can appoint a neutral third party who will make decisions based on what is best for the trust.

· Who have you considered for the role of custodian for your children?
This person will be in charge of raising your children, and it should be someone who can effectively communicate with the executor and any trustees for your estate to ensure that your children are properly cared for in the estate plan.

· Do your family members get along? If not, why?
If your family does not get along, you need to discuss with your attorney how this may affect your estate plan. Beneficiary, executor, trustee, and other designations can be greatly affected if there is discord in your family. This may mean that you include a letter in your estate plan explaining your decisions, or it may mean restructuring your plan entirely to avoid any further strife.

The Power of Legacy - Could a Will have Prevented WWII?

April 11, 2014,

Life is about far more than the accumulation of material wealth. Working hard and collecting valuables to enjoy and pass on to others at death is nothing to spurn. But there are many other things that are accumulated over a life and can be passed on at death: morals, lessons, memories, stories of hope, words of kindness, inspiration, and countless other values.

When thinking about life transitions and estate planning, it is important to consider those intangibles just as much as those items that have a monetary value. This is why, in addition to creating legal wills and trusts, we work with New York families on "ethical wills" to pass on all of those moral and spiritual items that solidify a legacy.

Advice for the Future -- Preventing a War
One common part of an ethical will is the sharing of advice to the next generation. The value of passing on advice should not be underestimated. An extreme example suggests that one of the greatest horrors in human history--World War II--may have been prevented if only a last will and testament was more widely disseminated.

A Daily Mail story last month discussed the will of the former President of Germany, Baron Paul von Hindenburg. Hindenburg led the nation until his death in 1934. He was widely respected in the country, particularly among the powerful political class.

Recently declassified information suggests that Hindenburg's last will and testament did far more than dispose of his property. The will also contained very specific advice to his country about the preservation of democracy and limiting the power of the up-and-coming populist leader at the time: Adolf Hitler. Recognizing Hitler's goal of taking complete control of the government, Hindenburg's will explained that the country need to maintain established principles, like an independent army and separation of powers. The document was intended specifically to prevent Hitler from fulfilling his ambition. One historian described the will as "a bomb timed to go off posthumously and blow Hitler off course."

Unfortunately, it did not work out as intended. That is because before the will was made public, Hitler found out about the contents. He immediately ordered the document seized, and the German people never learned of the lessons their statesman wanted to impart. Instead, a forged document was released to the public which wrongly asserted that Hindenburg had nothing but glowing praise for Hitler.

While this example is a bit different than the lessons that many New York seniors wish to impart, the underlying principle stands. Estate planning offers a chance to think wholistically about the meaning of life and how one would like to be remembered by the generations to follow.

Art Collections and Estate Planning

March 10, 2014,

Art Collector Disappointed Her Kids Don't want her Collection: Makes Backup Plan

A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed how estate plans protect art collections. The feature focused on a widowed woman with an art collection worth $250,000. The woman and her late husband traveled extensively and amassed the collectibles over a 50-year time frame. Now in her 80s, she wants to make future plans for the valuable collection.

Upon her death, she would like her cherished art to pass to her two daughters. However, she discussed her desires with her children and discovered that they do not want the Asian art collection. She reluctantly came to grips with the reality of her art moving beyond the family. The Asian art aficionado requested that, if possible, the art assortment stays together and be sold to one collector.

This story, and countless others, highlight the importance and necessity of pre-planning for the inevitable with a clear estate plan.

Options for Art Collections
A New York Times piece focused on both the monetary and emotional worth attached to personal collections. Because of the later, many people avoid including their prized collections in any type of estate plan. This is a mistake.

A robust estate plan prevents confusion and often times costly estate taxes. An estate planning attorney can assist and plan for the proper disposition of your property, including art collections.

Here are some options for collectors and what to do with their treasured collections:

· Pass it on to family members - this seems to be a popular 'default' for most collectors. However, in some instances, it may be a good idea to discuss your desires with your family members, or those whom you wish to inherit your valuables. Not everyone has the same taste and may not want the collection.
· Sell it - as noted above, not all family members want to inherit collections. So, one option is to sell to a buyer with the same passion as the original collector.
· Donate it - some collectors opt to donate to a museum or their alma mater. This way, the collection can stay together, which is an important factor to many collectors.

An estate plan that clearly incorporates all your desires, including how and where you want your collection to be dispersed, is central to avert any future issues.

NY Estate Planning
It is important for everyone to make an estate plan. When valuables, such as special art collections, are involved, it is imperative to create a plan and entertain a 'fallback plan' as well. Discuss and make proper arrangements for the disposition of belongings with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Continuing Legal Hurdles for Same-Sex Couples

February 18, 2014,

Each day seemingly brings news of additional states that are joining New York in allowing same sex couples the right to marry. Although the new laws and court decisions represent a monumental victory for residents seeking to take advantage of the protections and benefits afforded by same-sex marriage, same-sex couples will still face several unique legal challenges. .

Though the US Constitution requires states to give full faith and credit to judicial decrees, a marriage license does not fall under this category. Rather, a marriage license is an administrative license issued by the state or county and historically has not been subject to full faith and credit. This means that other states do not have to recognize the legal status of a same-sex marriage that was entered into in New York.

The majority of states do not recognize same-sex marriage, and 36 states currently have "defense of marriage" statutes that expressly provide that the state's government will not recognize a same-sex marriage. This presents a problem for same-sex couples looking to travel out of state. If same-sex couples travel or move to another state or country, their marriage may not be recognized.

Power of Attorney
One consequence of a state's refusal to recognize a same-sex marriage entered into in New York is that same-sex couples may not be allowed to be involved in the decision-making process should something happen to one of their loved ones while traveling. For example, a recent article explains that a hospital in a state lacking public accommodation procedures based on sexual orientation may refuse to allow visitation rights to a same-sex partner. Furthermore, a same-sex spouse may be prohibited from making end-of-life decisions for their spouse or loved one. As a result, same-sex couples should consider taking certain precautions before traveling, such as executing health care and financial powers of attorney and carrying those with them while out of state. These documents will ensure that proper procedures are in place should an accident occur while in another state or abroad.

Adoption
Another legal issue that arises for same-sex couples is whether a state will recognize a legal relationship between same-sex parents and their children. A New York Times article notes that a concern among same-sex couples is that without their adoption papers, their parental rights may be questioned while traveling. Another concern is that the nonbiological parent will lose rights if the couple divorces or the family moves to a different state.

Some states may not recognize a child's relationship to a same-sex couple. Therefore, it is important for same-sex couples to adopt their children in legal proceedings. If a same-sex couple does not have a biological relationship with their child, then their relationship would rest only on a marriage certificate, which may not be recognized in all states. Since states are required to give full faith and credit to an adoption certificate, as it is approved by a judge, a same-sex couple will have clear legal rights and a recognition of their relationship with their child while out of state.

Contact an New York Estate Planning Attorney
It is important to speak to an attorney that can help you make sure that you and your loved ones are have plans in place whatever the future holds. Contact our estate planning attorneys today to see how we can help.

Former New York State Medicaid Inspector General Sets His Sights on Charity Regulation

January 23, 2014,

There will soon be a new chief in town when it comes to monitoring the activities of New York charitable organizations. According to a report last week in the Wall Street Journal, James Sheehan was named the head of a state agency known as the Charities Bureau. This entity may not be a well-understood by most community members, but it plays a role in trust regulation and other activities which hit upon estate planning matters.

The New Chief
Mr. Sheehan is well known to many in the estate planning elder law community as the former New York Medicaid inspector general. The inspector general is charged with acting as a check on the system to watch out for misdeed and violations. It is that same commitment to enforcement and transparency in activities that Sheehan will take to the new office.

Speaking about his new role, Sheehan explained that he viewed himself as a "compliance officer." In other words, instead of acting aggressively to root out misdeeds, he hoped to help "organizations do the job that they are here to do."

Sheehan likely felt the need to point out the distinction in order to quell concerns about his reputation as an "aggressive enforcer." While working as the Medicaid inspector general, he acted vigilantly to ensure state funds were not misspent, leading to sharp disagreement with many in the healthcare industry who felt his actions were unfair and overly forceful.

Regulating Charities in NY
The Charities Bureau has a mixed charge, focusing on ensuring proper oversight of state non-profits, legal use of charitable trusts, and management of various public outreach programs. In fact, this years will mark the first where the Bureau makes use of expanded powers passed into law by the state legislature in December.

The New York Nonprofit Revitalization Act will take effect this summer. The Charities Bureau will be in charge of implementing this Act which, at its core, is intended to ease the somewhat complex regulatory stresses that many nonprofits face in the state. This will be in addition to the traditional duties of the government entity to guard against fraud and other violations.

Many New York residents include charitable donations and create charitable trusts as part of their estate planning. As changes take place at the Charities Bureau, it will be important to keep a close eye on the developments to determine if any of the alternations impact long-term planning options or strategies.

Disorganization & IRA Inheritances

January 15, 2014,

Many New Yorkers invest a sizeable portion of theirs assets into IRAs--retirement accounts to fund their golden years after their work life is over. Of course, no one knows exactly what their future holds, and so it is common for IRAs to contain significant funds upon one's passing. Deciding who will receive those assets is a critical part of estate planning.

Unfortunately, as discussed in a recent Forbes article, sloppy planning on that front, which leaves designated beneficiaries in the dark, may ultimately cost those beneficiaries their inheritances.

Make Your Wishes Known
The financial lives of many New Yorkers are complicated. People have different bank accounts, work with various brokerage firms, and otherwise create a complex web of records for their diverse, scattered assets. It is hard enough for individuals to keep track of their own financial lives let alone that of a loved one after a passing.

But dealing with this problem following a sudden death without estate planning is more than just a paperwork nightmare--it can have very real financial consequences. For example, what happens if the designated beneficiary of an IRA does not know that they inherited the account?

Even a delay in knowledge about beneficiaries may be problematic. That is because non-spousal IRA beneficiaries are usually required to withdraw a minimum amount from the account each year. Failure to do so may result in a penalty, often 50% of the very amount that should have been withdrawn each year! This is not a small slap on the wrist. It is not necessarily uncommon for delays to drag on for years, with IRA beneficiaries having no idea that they are due money--the banks where these accounts are held are under no obligation to find the beneficiary.

On top of this, if the account holder eventually turned the funds over to the state as part of their abandoned property protocol, then an additional problems may arise--like income taxes. That is if the beneficiary ever finds out about the IRA at all.

All told, various nightmare scenarios can be worked out involving IRA beneficiaries who have no idea they are set to inherit, with subsequent complications resulting in the account assets being completely devoured by fees and taxes.

It is a bit cliche, but this situation is yet another reason to never let this planning go undone. Beneficiaries need to know what they are set to receive and the steps that must be taken to ensure their inheritance gets to them in full. Too many New Yorkers spend a lifetime acquiring assets and have the goal of leaving some to loved ones only to have that wish derailed by poor or non-existent estate planning.

Modifying a Will - Don't Just Scratch Things Off

December 12, 2013,

Our attorneys frequently advise New Yorkers of the immense benefit of using trusts to conduct estate planning instead of relying solely on a Will. More and more residents are recognizing the value of trusts and incorporating them into their planning. However, Wills remain the most well-known and used tool to pass on assets upon death.

There are specific laws which dictate when a Will can be deemed valid by courts in probate. For this reason, it is always prudent to have an attorney draft your Will to ensure it will work as desired when the time comes.

However, even those who have an attorney draft a Will may make the later mistake of trying to modify the WIll on their own, without legal help. This is a significant problem and may result in the entire Will being thrown out. It is not uncommon for an individual's assets to be divided via intestacy rules instead of per their actual wishes in a Will because of modifications made ad hoc.

One common urge may be for a resident to simply take a Will prepared by an attorney and scratch a few names out, write in new names, or change the exact assets that each is to receive. But this is a mistake. Modifications or additions to a Will, often referred to as "codicils," still have to follow the same witnessing, capacity and signature requirements as a new Will. Therefore, making haphazard alternations as a time-saving measure will likely not be upheld.

In fact, considering that most Wills today are created and stored digitally, there is virtually no reason to engage in the complex use of codicils or slight modifications. Instead, most of the time it makes more sense to simply have an attorney help draft a new Will to ensure that all formalities are followed and fewer questions will be asked in probate when the WIll is brought forward.

At the end of the day the takeaway is clear: have the aid of an attorney every time you create a Will or want to update a Will. Holographic Wills--handwritten and unwitnessed documents--generally will not be upheld in New York Probate Court except in very limited situations (like for members of the armed services who are overseas). For this reason, without the counsel of an attorney you always risks having a home-made Will thrown out and rendered ineffective, adding an extra challenge to grieving families at the exact moment that they do not need it.

Would Changes to Charitable Tax Deductions Affect American Gifting?

December 4, 2013,

Many New York residents make charitable giving a part of their estate plan. Whether for estate tax benefits to pass on values and ethics to family members and many other reasons, residents commonly set aside certain assets to go to causes about which they are passionate.

However, according to a new report from a conservative "think tank" if any changes are made to federal rules about charitable tax deductions, then one can expect total giving in the country to decrease by billions each year. Before delving into the details it is critical to point out that the group releasing the study, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is known as a long-time opponent of all changes which would increase tax revenues. In addition, this AEI estimate is far higher than that found in similar studies by other groups.

The Charitable Giving Report
According to an article from Philanthropy.com discussing the new estimates, AEI researchers found that a limit to the value of charitable deductions--proposed by President Obama--may cause donors to give up to $9 billion less to charities each and every year. That large reduction in giving would have serious effects, the authors claim, on many non-profit organizations that rely exclusively on the gifts of donors for their yearly operations.

If the President's proposal passes, it is claimed that overall donations would fall by about 4.4 percent. The researchers used that figure against total giving nationwide to come up with the $9.4 billion amount that may be lost with changes to the tax law. The AEI report argues that the largest donors in particular would likely cut back on giving with the changes, because it is the "top 1 percent" of earners who are most likely to itemize their deductions and benefit from the charitable giving tax break.

All of this is being used to push back against the President's proposal to curb deductions that certain high earning individuals can take on these donations. Right now the upper limit is at 39.6 percent and the proposal calls for its shift down to a 28 percent limit. For his part, the President and his supporters argue that current law is unfair in that it provides more benefit to high earners to donate than it does to lower income donor. In addition, the additional revenue raised by the tax changes would be used to bolster programs supported by most non-profit organizations.

For help understanding how charitable giving can be incorporated into your estate plan, seek out the help of an experienced attorney today.

What Matters When Choosing an Executor?

November 1, 2013,

Understanding the specifics of the law is just one aspect of successful estate planning. Obviously it is critical that a will is created in a such a way that it will be upheld or that a trust will have legal effect (or that you take advantage of all available trust options to begin with).

But that legal knowledge is not enough to best prepare for the future. In addition, it is critical to understand the social, emotional, and practical considerations that affect these issues. Are certain family members more likely to feel jilted by a specific arrangement? Is there a financial danger that should be guarded against? These and hundreds of other questions must be considered when planning. Memorizing statutes and legal books will only provide so much guidance--experience on these issues fills in the gaps.

Advice for Executor Selection
For example, when creating a will it is important to name an executor. The executor is charged with ensuring that the provisions of the will are carried out. But what considerations should one make when deciding who to name? Choosing the wrong executor can lead to a myriad of inheritance problems and often spurs feuding.

A recent Advisor to Client article touched on a few important considerations. Even a quick perusal of the list of considerations makes clear that the choice must be guided by practical considerations (and not legal nuance).

For example, often the two most basic qualifiers are not considered: Is the executor capable of doing the job and does he or she even want the job? When it comes to capacity, it is important to select someone who is of proper age and in good health. Additionally, the task involves understanding many administrative matters, taxes, and more. If the executor is uncomfortable with these topics, mistakes are far more likely to be made. Similarly, forcing someone into the position is a recipe for disaster. Individuals may have very different reasons about why they do or do not want to play this role, but it is important to lay it all on the table at the beginning so an executor is not chosen who truly does not want the responsibility.

No one has better appreciates how an estate plan can go well (or poorly), then attorneys working on these matters. When choosing an estate planning lawyer be careful to select a team that has years (or even better, decades) of experiences to provide the practical advice you need to best position your family to deal with these matters in a timely, efficient, conflict-free manner.

Planning for Posthumous Children in New York

October 11, 2013,

One of the more unique estate planning issues arising in recent years relates to "posthumous births." This refers to a child who is born after one of their parents has already died.

This was always a possibility, as a parent could pass away in the months after a child was conceived by before the actual birth.

Yet, the issue has grown more acute with reproductive technology advances, including tools that allow the extraction and storage of genetic material, combined with in vitro fertilization. Children are now able to be conceived years after one of their parents has died. While the option is available to anyone, families in certain situations are currently more likely to take advantage of the technology, including those deployed in the military and when a partner has a serious medical ailment, like cancer.

Estate Planning Complications
As with all unique family situations it is critical to craft a tailored estate plan that takes these issues into account. Few laws exist which clearly explain how to handle these posthumous births for estate purposes. That makes it even more important to fill the gap and plan on your own to avoid a web of problems if left to unclear rules.

A recent Financial Advisor Magazine story touched on a few of these issues. Perhaps most obviously, there are concerns about inheritances. In most cases, after a passing an inheritance is doled out immediately. But does the child conceived later have any rights to that inheritance? If so, how long must one wait before those rights are extinguished? Should other beneficiaries receive their portion immediately?

There are no automatic answers to these questions, as they require a balancing of interests. It is therefore imperative for families who might be in this situation to have their clear wishes laid out in an estate plan ahead of time.

In New York, lawmakers are considering options to provide more concrete answers for residents who fail to plan ahead. As the FA story explains, "Legislation wending its way through the New York State legislature, for example, proposes that for a child born after the death of a genetic parent to be considered the offspring of that parent for inheritance purposes, it must be in utero within 24 months or born within 33 months."

On top of the proposed state law requires consent from the individual who is not alive at the birth. Without that consent, the child would have no inheritance rights, regardless of the time frame.

IRS Issues Guidance on Federal Taxes for Same Sex Couples

September 3, 2013,

Last week the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released information on what has been dubbed a "hugely important" questions for same sex couples. Essentially, the new rules mean that same sex couples who are legally married in one state will still be treated as married for tax purposes by the federal government, even if they move to a state which does not allow same sex couples to marry.

More Protection for Couples
While the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark gay marriage decisions last summer were seen as a huge leap forward for equality, the decisions did not come close to permanently settling the matter. A majority of states still do not allow same sex couples to marry. This creates a complex patchwork of rules for taxes, inheritances, public benefits, and privileges. Same sex couples can be treated very differently simply by crossing a state line.

Obviously each state will treat couples differently based on state law. New York has marriage equality, and so same sex couples are treated the same as opposite sex couples here. But that still leaves open the question of treatment under federal law. What about couples who move out of New York? Do they lose all of their rights and privileges as a result?

The short answer: it depends. But, as a result of these new IRS rules, the couples will likely still be treated as married for federal tax purposes, even if they head to a non-marriage equality state. The U.S. Treasury Secretary explained that the IRS decision "assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change."

The decision means that the IRS adopted a "celebration" approach to determining marriage status. In other words, whether or not a couple is married for federal purposes is if the initial celebration (creation) of the marriage occurred in a state that allows it. The marriage laws of the couple's current residence does not decide the matter.

Most obviously, this will allows couples to file federal taxes jointly (though state taxes may need to be filed separately). On top of that, by treating same sex couples as married, the IRS decision will allow couples to claim additional exemptions attached to marriage, defer on IRA contributions, claim various tax credits available only for married couples, use the "portability" benefit for estate tax purposes, and more.

A Forbes story last week summarizes the specifics of the IRS decision. You can view the press release issued by the IRS here.

This is clearly good news for those hoping for fairness and uniformity for all legally married couples. If you have questions about how this may affect your estate planning or retirement, be sure to contact an attorney to learn more.

Issues with Family Vacation Homes

August 19, 2013,

Many New York families have vacation homes. While the reference often conjures up images of the super-wealthy wintering in palacial estates, the truth is that owning a second piece of real estate in a favorite location is not only for the elite. Middle class families who prudently save often decide to purchase a second home for investment purposes.

Considering the frequency of these homes, it is important for families to be aware of some financial and estate planning issues that they may create. A Forbes story from last week provides a helpful introduction into the topic.

Unfortunately, the use and future ownership of these homes is often cause for confusion, misunderstanding , and argument. For one thing, parents and children often have different ideas about the property. Is it meant to be a family keepsake that is passed down through the generations as a meeting place and memory maker? Or is it simply an investment item that can be sold if necessary without much thought? Often different family members have different levels of attached to these homes. One sibling may hold the location dear and never dream of getting rid of it while another may have few memories of the home and not wish to hold onto the property if it does not make financial sense.

The Forbes discussion notes that the single most common mistake made with regards to these issues is parents who decide to just "let the kids figure it out." Without honest discussion and legal planning ahead of time it is likely problems will arise. It is easy to see why. Adult children may live far away from one another. Those who live near the home may use it, while others may get nothing from the property. Those with a larger family and more immediate financial needs may view the property as a windfall, while others may not.

Solving these disputes is not as easy as simply giving the property to those who most enjoy it. After all, many parents seek to split their assets evenly between children. Because a second home may be one of the family's largest assets, it is often impossible to offset that value with something else.

On top of all of this there are tax issues to consider. What is the best way to pass on the asset? Children can receive it via will or perhaps as part of a trust (QTIPs are common in these cases). Alternatively, it may even be appropriate to use a limited liability company to make the transfer. These choices can literally save families tens of thousands of dollars (or more!).

In other words, there are many complex estate planning issues that come into play with vacation homes, and it is critical not to discount them or fail to anticipate them.

Think Twice Before Disinheriting A Child

August 2, 2013,

Families are complicated. No matter how well intentioned, virtually all family histories include some situations, dynamics, and incidents that cause immense disagreement, tension, stress, and frayed relationship. Virtually all families have some level of "dysfunction," and no family is perfect.

Estate planning attorneys are acutely aware of this reality, as we worked with every manner of family on issues which must take into account their unique situations. Simply "splitting everything between the children" is not an ideal option for many. In certain cases parents have serious concerns about their child's ability to manage an inheritance or the fairness of dividing things equally.

In the most extreme cases, some parents consider disinheriting a child altogether. This may be based on many different reasons: the child is estranged, they have significant means and do not need an inheritance, or perhaps they have drug and alcohol problems.

But is disinheritance the best option? Perhaps, but it should not be decided upon lightly. A planning professional can provide specific advice to discuss the pitfalls and ramifications of such a move.

A Bloomberg story from this month touched on the same topic, arguing that many parents who think that they want to cut their child out of their will may need to think twice.

The most obvious concern about cutting out a child is the door that it opens for subsequent litigation. As one professional interviewed for the story explained, "A good attorney will assume a will or trust will be contested. You do everything you can to cut off potential litigation in advance."

A disinherited child may pursue legal redress. Even if it is unsuccessful it requires resources and delays a final resolution. But even if the party left out does not do anything, a disinheritance also places immense pressure on those who did receive an inheritance. For example, cutting out one child automatically creates a rift between those children left in and left out--even if that rift did not exist before. It is a template for family drama.

No matter what, it is prudent to at least learn about the alternatives available, like trusts for spendthrifts and "sprinkle" trusts. These legal tools may be able to more accurately address concerns without the need to completely disinherit a child. The spendthrift trust can structure the inheritance in such a way that it cannot be exposed to creditors and does not allow the child to blow through it all at once. A 'sprinkle" trust may allow for an inheritance to be based on the child's need down the road, to account for different financial situations for each child.

"Funeral Shopping" - The Basics

July 26, 2013,

Last week Forbes dove into a topic that families give little attention until the task is thrust upon them: picking burial and funeral vendors. For obvious reasons, most of us have little direct experience evaluating different options for quality or negotiating to receive the best value.

For starters, as the story points out, it is important to have a specific idea of what you want at the services before calling any funeral parlor director. That is because, without an idea ahead of time, you may be persuaded to purchase many different things that you do not truly need or want. Having detailed plans in place as part of a comprehensive estate plan ahead of time can help narrow the focus.

There is a lot of pressure in any sales situation, and it can be made worse when it comes to funeral services. When a certain item is offered by the funeral parlor, a family may feel as if not agreeing to the most expensive options reflects on the value of the one who passed away. Of course this is not true, but the pressure is there. Having one's wishes laid one with clarity ahead of time takes away much of that burden from the surviving family.

Beyond being clear about wishes, it is also helpful to ask for a specific price list from the funeral parlor. It is easy to agree to many different services or features without appreciating the cost of each. As the story points out, by having a list in hand ahead of time, a family can weigh the value of each service with the cost to make the best choices on their own time after careful consideration.

Perhaps the most logical (but overlooked) tip is to shop around for services. Considering the emotional turmoil of the situation and time pressures, many families simply make a single call and go with whatever they hear. Even individuals who are normally prudent about getting the best deal fail to consider different options from different vendors when dealing with funeral services. This is a mistake. Prices vary considerably, and using a parlor just because your family has used it in the past or because it is close may result in significant over-payment. Assign someone to call around and get a feel for the basic price difference between a few relatively close options.

For more tailored advice about planning for these services, paying for them, and putting plans into place to ease the transition for family members, feel free to contact our estate planning attorneys today.

The Unanswered Questions Following the DOMA Decision

July 5, 2013,

It will take some time for all of the implications of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Supreme Court decision to be fully understood. Over the past week we discussed a few of the most critical effects on estate planning for New York married same sex couples.

All those wondering about the grey areas that remain when it comes to the ruling should browse a recent Forbes article on that situation. It offers a helpful overview of the remaining question marks that will likely be shaped by political, judicial, and administrative actions over the next few months and years.

Most notably, there remain somewhat murky questions about what happens when couples move between states. This is not some isolated worry, as it is quite common for a couple get married somewhere and move away for any number of reasons: job, family, adventure, etc. Married New York same sex couples must be very careful about their situation to ensure they do not lose their rights upon leaving.

As the Forbes article points out, technically only one part of DOMA was struck down by the Court's decision in Windsor v. US.. Left in place was the section that allows individual states to not recognize same sex marriages performed elsewhere. The Court did not officially deem that portion in compliance with the Constitution, it just didn't mention it. More litigation will likely be pursued to clarify this question.

Not only do state not have to recognize same sex marriages from elsewhere, but the federal government may not have to keep recognizing such marriage if a couple moves to a different state. In other words, per the DOMA ruling, the federal government must treat all New York marriages equally. Yet, if a married same sex couple moves from New York to New Jersey (where such marriages are not recognized), the federal government may be free to stop recognizing the marriage. It is unclear if they will do so, but it is still too early to understand how it will all play out.

Remember: It is critical for all families to update their estate plan on a regular basis. That need is acute for married sex couples who move between states. It is very possible that the simple act of moving across state lines can totally alter one's rights and obligations with severe effects on a plan. Long-term plans are tailored to one's unique circumstances and applicable state laws. Any change in those circumstances or those laws may require modification of the plan.

New Yorker Wins DOMA Case at U.S. Supreme Court

June 27, 2013,

Yesterday was a blockbuster moment for those who believe in equal marriage rights for all couples, as well as all those who follow important developments at the U.S. Supreme Court. That is because he Court issued two opinions that will surely be included in some Constitutional Law textbooks in the years to come.

Perhaps most importantly, the Court ruled in the case of Windsor v. U.S. that a portion of the federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. In so doing, the Court's decision will have immediate impact on the rights and long-term planning of all married same sex couples in New York--as well as the other eleven states that allow such unions.

The Ruling
Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for the divided 5-4 Court. Many observers expected Kennedy to be the swing vote in the case, but if he decided to strike DOMA (which he did), it was unclear what his underlying arguments would entail. More specifically, many thought that Kennedy might base his decision entirely on "federalism" grounds, arguing that, regardless of the merit of the law, it was not the federal government's role to make such sweeping decisions about marriage when those decisions have almost always been left to the states.

Yet the logic used in the opinion is far more sweeping. The crux of DOMAs unconstitutionality, said the court, was in its violation of gay couples rights to equal protection implicit in the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Kennedy wrote, "The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States."

Kennedy goes on to make clear the harm of the law, "Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound."

The Implications
So what does this mean for New York same-sex couples? Essentially, the "second-class" status of their marriages are now gone. All couples legally married in New York receive the same federal benefits (and obligations) as every other. This will apply to estate tax exemptions, Social security benefits, income tax filing options, immigration concerns and much more.

This marks an incredibly positive development for those who value equality and fairness under the law. For assistance understanding how this decision may affect your family's elder law or estate planning, please contact our team of attorneys today.

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.

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.

Developments in Anthony Marshall Case - Brooke Astor Estate Fiasco

April 29, 2013,

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.

The criminal conviction actually came more than three years ago, when the pair was sentenced to serve between one to three years in jail for their conduct. However, they have yet to serve a day as various appeals are worked out.

As reported by the New York Post, Marshall was in court again a week ago. The Manhattan Supreme Court justice handling the matter allowed Marshall to remain out on bail while his final appeal request to the highest court in the state--New York's Court of Appeals--is considered. If the Court decides not to hear the case, then Marshall and his co-defendant will be completely out of options and likely report to jail in mid-June. That would mark the end to the most drawn-out, contentious, high-profile inheritance controversy in recent New York memory.

Seamless Estate Planning
While most may not have the wealth of Brooke Astor, the other dynamics of the situation are the same for many: declining health, disagreement among children about inheritance amounts, pressure from in-laws, last-minute will changes, and more.

The general lessons are myriad. Be sure to seek out the help of legal professionals with a reputation for honest dealing and whom you trust. Be forthright about various family dynamics that may come into play in the aftermath, even if it involves difficult conversations about family members. Do not delay, as one's health is never certain.

By following these basic principles, one can be in the best position to ensure an inheritance is handled efficiently and exactly as one wishes