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

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.

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.

NFL Players & Estate Planning Errors - It Can Happen to Anyone

January 31, 2014,

For sports fans, all eyes this weekend are planted squarely on New York City with the Super Bowl set to kick off early Sunday evening. Beyond the usual chatter about who will win and lose, many commentators are discussing how this single game will impact the long-term legacy of many players in it.

Of course, at the end of the day, this game represents just a single game in a career. And for many players, that career is relatively short-lived. Football is a demanding sport, and it is not uncommon for players to retire in their late twenties or early thirties. It is only a rare few who play successfully into their late thirties.

This presents an unique dilemma for players who must then find other careers and/or properly manage their affairs early in life ensure financial stability for what is hopefully a many-decades long retirement. As you might imagine, many players are clumsy in this regard, making a plethora of estate planning mistakes that cause harm to themselves and their families down the road.

Professional Athletes Estate Planning Mistakes
In honor of football's biggest night, this week Life Health Pro discusses a list they dubbed the "Six Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes NFL Players Make." Most of the list centers on the basic idea of failing to think long term.

First, estate planning professionals who work with athletes explain that athletes often do not get out of the present. No matter how big one's check in any given month, the entire purpose of planning is to stretch today's earnings to an uncertain tomorrow. That need is especially acute for those in unique positions, like professional football players, who earn the vast majority of their lifetime earnings within a specific window that is often no more than a decade.

Along the same lines, a common NFL player planning mistake is spending outside their means. It is easy to mistake a large paycheck now for a license to make luxury purchases. And perhaps those purchases are feasible. But without an actual idea of the funds needed to sustain a decades-long retirement, in too many cases that high living comes at the cost of financial struggles down the road.

Be sure to take a look at the full article for the entire list of common planning errors.

Get Legal Help
The specific estate planning needs of most New York residents will be quite distinct from professional football players. High net worth individuals who are likely to have uneven earnings over the years present very unique planning challenges. But the underlying principles of prudent foresight and seeking out tailored advice to ensure your own actions fit your actual needs is important for all of us, regardless of our age, career, or particular challenges.

For help with estate planning for you and your family be sure that you contact an attorney as soon as feasible and secure the peace of mind that it brings.

Thinking About the Un-thinkable - When Children Are Involved

January 21, 2014,

According to a survey by legal services website RocketLawyer, 70% of American parents with minor children do not have a Will. The survey revealed that 76% of respondents believe that a Will is not an "urgent" matter. Parents of young children certainly must have many urgent claims on their attention. Many of them, it seems, are not inclined to give any consideration at all to the horrible possibility that they may not be around to raise their children themselves.

What would happen to your children if the unthinkable did happen and you were no longer there to care for them? If your children have two parents in their lives, then you might think that the chances of both parents dying in a common accident are too remote to merit serious consideration. Still, remote as the chances may be, we know that it does happen. Every day, couples face deadly risks together. How many times have you and your spouse found yourselves in a place where some quite plausible accident might befall you both? A car accident? A plane crash? A house fire? Upon reflection, you might discover that you face the risk of common accident almost every day.

Protect Your Child's Future
In New York, if both parents die, the fate of a minor child will be influenced heavily by the parents' Will, or the absence of a Will. If the parents leave a Will that designates a guardian for their child, the prospective guardian may petition the Surrogate's Court for appointment as guardian of the child's person or property (or both). The court is obliged to act in the best interest of the child, but within this broad parameter, New York courts will show great deference to the parents' wishes. The court will confirm that the prospective guardian (and other adults in the guardian's household) are not named in the New York State Registry of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. If there is no evidence of past abuse, the court will likely grant the petition for guardianship.

If there is no Will, the court will have to devise its own plan for the child. If you have ever given the guardianship question much thought with respect to your own family, you know how complicated this decision can be. Suppose a child has two loving adult relatives, both of whom wish to act as guardian. One is the child's favorite uncle, but he has four kids and a wife who is overwhelmed by the idea of adding another to their brood. Would it be best to have this child live with a more distant relative, if it meant that the addition of the child to the new household would cause less strife?

Although there is no perfect solution, in most cases, parents will be in a better position to find the best alternative. Think now about the unthinkable, and going forward, you can be assured that you have provided the best possible future for your child. Contact our estate planning attorneys today to learn more.

Will Contests & the Super Wealthy

December 9, 2013,

In the emotional tumult following a passing it is common for disagreement to arise regarding property and other matters between friends and family members. Jealousy and greed can cause bitter family feuds for years to come. It is for this reason that, at the very least, all New York residents need a will to ensure that loved ones are taken care of in the manner you see fit.

It is critical not to think that just any document will suffice as a will. There are very specific legal rules regarding what documents will be used by the court to settle these matters, and will contests are startlingly common. In order to have a valid will in New York, the documents must be signed in front of a minimum of two witnesses; the witnesses must sign the document in front of each other; the person whose will it is must be of sound mind; and the person cannot be under any undue influence or duress.

Will contests are not isolated only for those in dire financial straits, disputes can arise even among those who do not have any financial need at all.

For example. a high-profile inheritance lawsuit taking place in New Jersey's Hackensack Civil Court, Revlon billionaire Ron Perelman's daughter, Samantha Perelman, is suing her uncle, Jamie Cohen, for almost $600 million from her grandfather, Robert Cohen's, estate. Despite being the daughter of a one of the richest men in the world, Samantha wanted anywhere from one-third to half of her grandfather's estate. A thirty carat jewel, lavish real estate and life insurance worth $30 million dollars that Robert Cohen left Samantha were not enough for the 23 year old.

Samantha and her lawyers argued that she is entitled to a larger piece of her grandfather's estate as a matter of right. A Superior Court previously ruled that it was unreasonable to say that Robert Cohen was obligated to leave Samantha with one-third to half of his entire state. Additionally, Samantha and her expensive legal team tried to get her grandfather's will voided by arguing that he was not legally competent when he made the will. This line of argument was also rejected by past courts.

It will be interesting to see how this case turns out. Samantha Perelman has lost all 18 court decisions so far, between three states and five different courts, all before her grandfather passed away. Additionally, Samantha also lost an appeal in October of this year.

Protect Your Estate With A Will
As this case illustrates, wills can be a source of contention in families and cause years of feuding between family members and loved ones. Estate disputes are not exclusive to the rich; people from all walks of life can be affected. In order to avoid (or mitigate) such a result, you should incorporate a properly drafted will and perhaps use of trusts into your estate planning. This can also cut down on future legal disputes.

For help with estate planning matters throughout New York state, please contact our attorneys today.

The Pendergrass Estate and Control of a Legacy

November 26, 2013,

The Times Standard reported on another high-profile estate battle brewing that touches on many common themes, including a divided family and conflicting claims about last wishes.

Legendary R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass is probably best known for his smash hit "If You Don't Know Me By Now." Pendergrass dealt with various challenges throughout his life, including a serious car accident in 1982 that left him a quadriplegic. The accident required him to have around-the-clock care, but he survived and thrived until his death in early 2010.

Family Battle
Unfortunately, there was much discord in the family regarding the distribution of his assets and control of his legacy. The main dispute--as is so often the case--seems to be between Pendergrass's second wife (whom he married in 2008) and the adult children from his first marriage. From the available reports, it seems that only very basic planning was complete, without use of trusts, leaving the situation open for dispute.

According to court records, the singer's adult son claims that a 2009 Will names the son as executor and beneficiary of his father's estate. The singer's wife contests the validity of the Will. At one point the wife argued that she had possession of a "codocil" or addition to the Will which revealed different terms than those in the 2009 original. It is unclear if she is still making that claim.

Regardless, a civil trial in the matter is underway now, and it seems that the wife is contesting the validity of the 2009 Will entirely. One interesting claim suggests that the singer was physically not able to sign the legal document as claimed. A long-time nurse of the man explained last week at trial that the singer could not hold anything himself after the accident and required aid for even the most basic tasks. She testified that she did not believe his motor skills allowed him to sign his name or make initials on paper. In addition, there was confusion about how the singer could have left the home at the time that the Will was supposedly signed without caregivers knowing about it.

Both sides concede that they are concerned about the long-term legacy of the singer. Beyond the physical assets and bank accounts, control of an estate also includes the ability to dictate how the singer's legacy is handled, including future use and licensing of the famous name.

It is impossible to predict how a court will rule in this case. Any time an estate battle goes to trial, there are unknowns which can sway the matter either way. That is why everything should be done ahead of time to avoid legal disputes, dispensing with the matter efficiently and quickly. An estate planning attorney can help ensure you have details in place to avoid conflict.

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.

Deathbed Planning: In the Face of Serious Illness

October 25, 2013,

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
Is the individual competent to make legal decisions? One initial hurdle is identifying whether or not the ill party is still in a condition to assent to the crafting of a plan or updating of legal documents. It is important to have witnesses, verification from medical professionals, audio recordings, or other proof of competency just in case the issue is challenged down the road. If the individual is not legally competent, then the only other option is for one was previously given authority (via durable powers of attorney) to act on their behalf.

Assuming that the individual is competent or an agent exists, what are the main issues to consider during deathbed planning?

The general goal is to update an older plan or craft new one that covers all of the most fundamental issues. That includes ensuring that executors and trustees are properly named, the provisions of a will or trust documents still reflect the clients wishes, and similar matters. In addition, all beneficiary designations need to be considered. Is the beneficiary on a life insurance policy still correct?

If a plan was created years ago, there is a good chance some things have changed. For example, it is not uncommon for certain children, nieces/nephews, or grandchildren, to be named with others left out. Those not mentioned may simply not have been born at the time the original planning was conducted. Obviously, these oversights need to be corrected near the end.

Administratively, it is also helpful at this time to locate all necessary paperwork, records, and important information that will be needed for estate administration. Similarly, funeral and burial requests should be spelled out clearly. In the heart of grief, it is common for family members to disagree over even the most minor details. Preventing that possible feuding by making these wishes explicit is vital.

Of course there are many other potential issues to consider at this time. But, In short, most deathbed planning involves getting all of the "basics" correct so that assets will be transferred in the desired manner as efficiently as possible.

The Affordable Care Act and Estate Planning in New York

October 21, 2013,

With the recent launch of the President's health insurance marketplaces across the country, the Affordable Care Act has taken on a much more tangible character. Over 36 states are participating in the federally run internet exchange, while New York is one of a dozen of states running separate markets with its own operating system. The New York exchange is known as the "New York State of Health." In just a few months, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will come into full effect. While parts of the law are already in place, 2014 will bring in a whole new set of changes, including dozens of tax provisions that can be difficult to understand.

With this in mind it is important to understand if and how the Affordable Care Act may affect your estate planning. Some of the provisions may have a relatively uncomplicated impact on your future. For example, nonmedical withdraws from health savings accounts will be taxed at 20%. Additionally, using pre-tax flexible spending accounts on nonprescription medications will be prohibited.

Other parts of the ACA's provisions, though, are exceedingly complex. Careful planning and advice will be necessary to ensure that you can reduce your overall tax liability. One of the largest effects to your estate comes from the investment income surtax of 3.8%, which applies to the lesser of the investment income or the amount that income exceeds over the threshold. The threshold is $200,000 of Adjusted Gross Income ("AGI") for unmarried filers or heads of household, $250,000 AGI for married filing joint, $125,000 AGI for married filing separate filers, and $12,000 AGI for trusts and estates. Further, there is an additional Medicare Earnings Tax on earnings above $200,000 for unmarried filers, $250,000 for married filing joint, and $125,000 for married filing separate filers. There is little that people can do to avoid these taxes, which will go up .9% from the existing rate to 2.35%. That is, except if you decide to earn less money!

You, however, are not without options concerning the new surtax. For example, investors can use Roth IRAs, which do not count as taxable income.

The American Institute of CPAs has put together a number of useful articles and webinars to help you better understand the how the ACA will affect your finances. Check out their site here and be sure to keep up to date on all of our analysis as the ACA continues its rollout!

The Huguette Clark Drama Continues--Possible Settlement?

September 27, 2013,

The New York estate feud that dominated headlines for months may finally be nearing an end. Mysterious New York heiress Huguette Clark died in 2011 at the ripe old age of 104. For several decades before her death, Clark lived inside a hospital room--even though she was healthy enough to live elsewhere. Her several mansions remained empty for years. In fact, a documentary film based on Clark's life and death is currently in creation--several books have already been published.

Because of her unique lifestyle and secretive existence, many were intensely interested in her estate plan--curious as to how her $300 million fortune would be passed on. So began a complex back-and-forth between dozens of different parties who apparently had a stake in the estate--including Clark's doctor, lawyer, nurse, the hospital where she stayed, her distant relative, named charities, and more.

Clark's estate planning was relatively bare considering the size of the assets. Essentially two wills were produced. The two wills were both created in 2005. The terms of those two wills could not be more different. The first will gave most of her assets to her distant relatives. The second will cut the family out entirely and instead sprinkled money to her doctor, nurse, lawyer, accountant, and arts-related charities.

It was not long before the different parties at stake were locked in a legal battles. As a substantive matter, the main issues was which of the two wills should be followed. Last week, we explained how negotiations had broken down and the matter was set for trial.

Apparent Settlement
But on the eve of jury selection in the case, the New York Post is reporting that a settlement may have been reached. Per the terms of the possible agreement, a group of 20 relatives will split $34.5 million from that estate. Another major beneficiary would be the new foundation created and set up at Clark's California estate. The Corcoran Gallery will receive $10 million, the hospital where she lived would get $1 million, and a loyal doctor-friend would receive $100,000.

Interestingly, not everyone involved with walk away with some piece of the estate. For example, her attorney and accountant will not receive anything. In addition, Clark's nurse will not receive the nearly $7 million she would have per the terms of the second will.

The next step is for the settlement to be put before the judge. So long as he approves it, the matter may finally be settled.

Financial Advisors Discuss Ways to Save on Increased Capital Gains Taxes

September 19, 2013,

Many New Yorkers know that, as part of the federal tax package compromise that was passed on January 1st of this year, the capital gains tax rate was increased. Last year the top rate was 15% but that is now up to 20%. In addition, some individuals will also face a 3.8% investment surcharge tacked on top.

Prudent estate planning always takes tax considerations into account, and transferring assets which have accumulated in value is one of the most important (but trickiest) aspects of the process. As such, it is prudent to closely consider ways to legally save on taxes, particularly considering the new rates.

Forbes on Capital Gains
A personal finance article from Forbes delves into some general strategies that may be used to legally save on those capital gains taxes. For one thing, there may be great benefit to saving assets until death so that heirs get a "stepped up" basis on assets which have appreciated considerably. In many cases, this results in those assets moving to heirs without the capital gains tax coming due at all. Though, don't forget that other taxes (like the estate tax) will still be in play at those times.

Yet, depending on your situation, there may come a time when assets must be sold before death. For one thing, seniors are often forced to sell assets in order to pay for retirement or long-term care. This may risk a huge capital gains tax bill. [Sidenote: this is one of many reasons why it is prudent to invest in long-term care insurance].

So what can one do to save on capital gains while alive? For one thing, passing on gifts to children or others under the annual tax exemption rate may be prudent. As the WSJ story reminds, "you can give $14,000 a year in cash or property each to as many individuals as you'd like without eating into your lifetime gift/estate tax exemption."

Other strategies can be used to keep one's income below the mark which imposes the 3.8% investment tax ($200,000 for singles/$250,000 for couples). One way to do so is to put more money into retirement savings accounts like 401(k)s as pre-tax contributions. This won't eliminate all capital gains, but it is always worth saving even smaller amounts like 3.8% from leaving your bank accounts.

The story delves into many other specific financial strategies, some which impact long-term estate planning. It is worth perusing the entire story, and hopefully acts as a spur to seek out professional guidance on all of these matters to protect assets for you and your family.

How Does New York Stack Up for Retiree Taxes?

August 26, 2013,

Do you have enough money to retire? It is a questions that tens of thousands of New Yorkers ask themselves every day. When talking with attorneys and financial advisers, many factors are weighed to determine whether enough resources are available for one to have the type and length of retirement that they want and need.

One of those factors, as always, is taxes. Retirement income is frequently taxed, with a portion of money going to state and local government. These are not necessarily trivial amounts, as the exact size of the tax burden may affect whether or not the nest egg is large enough to cash in one's chips and begin the next phase of life.

Federal taxes will obviously be the same everywhere, but the rules about retirement taxes vary considerably from state to state. When making long-term plans regarding finances, it is critical to understand how state tax rules will affect your retirement

New York Retirement & Taxes -- High Burden
One recent report from Kiplinger includes a helpful map that compares relative state retirement tax burdens nationwide. New York is rated as one of the "worst" for retirement purposes, because of its relative lack of senior-related retirement tax benefits. As you can see in this full map, New York is one of ten group into the "least tax friendly."

The designation was based on analysis of various factors, including: state sales tax, social security tax, income tax, estate/inheritance taxes, and other special treatment of income used for retirement.

For example, New York has a 4% sales tax, an income tax ranging from 4-8.82%, and a relatively aggressive state inheritance tax. Compare that to a relatively senior "tax friendly" state like Florida, which has a 6% sales tax but with no state income tax and no state inheritance tax.

None of this is to say it is all bad news for local retirees. New York does not tax Social Security benefits or public pensions, and provides some tax exemptions for private and out-of-state pensions. However, our state does have some of the highest property tax rates in the country, which can hit seniors hard.

More and more seniors are at least taking a look at this data when making future plans, including any thoughts about relocating. Even if the tax issue does not ultimately affect your retirement decision, it is still important to appreciate the differences if you are moving out of New York or into it. Those families entering the state should account for the effect that our relatively high rates may have. While those moving elsewhere should be sure to check on their eligibility for different senior-based retirement tax breaks.

Adoption to Avoid Taxes -- When Marriage Is Not Open to Same Sex Couples

July 11, 2013,

The discrepancy in the law related to recognition of same sex unions may lead to some bizarre moves as part of an estate plan. That is particularly true when trying to avoid large tax burdens. For example, ABC News reported last week on a story out of Pennsylvania where a long-term couple decided to have one partner adopt the other to protect their long-term financial interests.

The couple has been together for four and a half decades. Yet, state law does not allow them to marry. As a result, even though they each planned to leave all of their assets to one another in the event of death, they would not be able to take advantage of inheritance tax exemptions for spouses.

One partner explained the situation regarding state inheritance taxes, "If we just live together and Gregory willed me his assets and property and anything else, I would be liable for a 15 percent tax on the value of the estate. By adoption, that decreases to 4 percent. It's a huge difference."

in deciding who would be the adoptive father and who would be the son, the couple did not have a choice. The younger partner's actual father is still alive, and it is impossible to have two legal fathers. That only left the younger partner to become the adoptive dad.

This situation is being used nationwide as a reminder of the lengths that still need to be taken to protect same sex couples in states where marriage is not allowed. Following the recent high-profile gay marriage decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court there is some confusion regarding the legal battles still on the horizon. As this adoption situation makes clear, full equality is far from reality across the country.

And it is not just about money. Many couples worry about service preferences. For example, one partner in this case explained that he wants to be sure his preferences (and not his biological family's wishes) are made clear, "I made all my end-of-life arrangements. I wanted to be cremated. With my Irish-Italian family, there would have been a four-day viewing and a Catholic mass and I don't want to put Gregory through that."

Equality in New York
Of course, the playing field is now level for local same sex couples. New York recognizes same sex marriage. With the Supreme Court decision related to DOMA last month, couples here are now afforded the same benefits as all others with regard to inheritance taxes and the many other benefits accruing to spouses under the law.

For help taking advantage of the benefits of these recent actions or to create a new estate plan to protect your family in the future, please visit our attorneys today.

Federal Marriage Rights Now Available for Same-Sex Couples

June 28, 2013,

Whether one is married or single is obviously a vital factor that impacts elder law and estate planning. Of course, that placed married New York same-sex couple in a strange position, as they were married under New York law, but single under federal law. As mentioned yesterday,with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Windsor v. U.S., the federal law which deemed those couples unmarried is now gone. This will hopefully lead to a far more straightforward picture for those couples.

Marriage Rights & Obligations
Yesterday, The Globe published a story that delved a little more deeply into the specific rights which will now be afforded to married same-sex couples. The article is worth a look to get a better idea of some of the practical effects of yesterday's ruling--beyond the obvious cultural and social effect of finally eliminating the stigma.

*Estate Taxes: The plaintiff in the original case, Edie Windsor was a New Yorker who began the battle because of the over $300,000 in estate taxes that she had to pay after inheriting her long-time partner's estate. The couple's marriage was recognized in New York, but not by the federal government. After this week's decision, this same thing will never happen to other couples. Now, married same sex couples will be able to take advantage of the same spousal benefit for tax purposes--transferring unlimited assets to a spouse without a tax burden.

*Social Security Survivor Benefits: A partner will now be able to collect Social Security benefits of a partner, if the spouse dies while receiving a higher benefit amount.

*Retirement Accounts: Now, a partner in same-sex relationship will be able to roll over benefits in tax-preferred Individual Retirement Accounts without first being taxed on those funds.

*Citizenship: Citizen partners in a same-sex marriages will now be able to sponsor their spouse for a visa. If the partner chooses, they will also receive "spousal preference" on their path to citizenship. This will likely settle the debate that was raging in the U.S. Congress regarding whether or not gay couples should be treated equally in the new immigration bill that is being negotiated by Congress.

Of course, this minimal list is just a small snippet of the over 1,100 specific ways in which marriage applies in federal rules and statutes.

The elder law estate planning attorneys at our firm look forward to helping all New York couples take the necessary steps to protect their families and their future.

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.

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.

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.

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 22, 2013,

Yesterday marked the official federal holiday chosen to honor civil rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It also happened to be Inauguration Day for President Barack Obama. In a unique twist, the President chose to be sworn in on the Bible that was read by Dr. King on the day that he gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington D.C. It is a stirring reminder of the connections that echo throughout history.

As we often point out, in the world of estate planning and elder law, history is also a great guide to understanding what should or should not be done to help prepare yourself and your family for whatever the future might hold. Dr. King himself was taken far too soon, dying in 1968 at the age of thirty nine as a result of an assassin's bullet. Because he passed away so suddenly--and relatively young--he had not conducted much estate planning at all.

The King Estate
At the time of his death in April of 1968, Dr. King did not have a will or any other estate plans in place. This has subsequently led to significant disagreement between involved parties. Many are surprised to learn that some of that disagreement continues today, many decades later.

According to various reports, Dr. King had about $30,000 when he died. Most of those funds passed along to his widow. However, the real confusion began only later, when the value King's legacy and other materials connected to the national legend began to increase in value. This is a common occurrence for those with some national celebrity. It is not uncommon to find estate battles raging between parties related to high-profile. writers, actors, politicians, and others fifty or one hundred years after their passing.

Right now, for example, Dr King's family is currently mired in litigation with the relatives of a former secretary of the civil right's leader. At the center of the dispute are papers written by Dr, King's that the family claims should have been part of the estate. The secretary's son, conversely, argues that those papers were given to his mother as a gift by Dr. King. Some of the material may be of significant value, including a handwritten letter from Dr. King to Rosa Parks.

In a sign of how complex many of these matter's become, years ago a corporation was actually created to handle Dr. King's estate. Known at the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc it is charged with handling the many different issues that arise related to the slain civil rights hero. It was that corporation that filed suit seeking ownership of the papers owned by the son of the former secretary.

At the end of the day, because there was no legal documentation in place, the litigation may come down to a "he said, she said" battle. What matters is Dr. King's intent when he gave the papers over. If he intended the secretary to have them permanently, then that ends the matter. But if he intended for her to hold them for safe-keeping, then they may not belong to her. Yet, divining this intention decades later may be next to impossible.

Estate Planning Help
For help with these issues in New York City, Albany, White Plains, and many other communities throughout the state, please get in touch with the estate planning attorneys at our firm to see how we can help.

U.S. Supreme Court Sets Date for Gay Marriage Case Hearings

January 9, 2013,

Late last year the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two separate cases impacting various same-sex marriage issues. As we have frequently discussed, in ruling on these issues the Supreme Court may set precedent which impacts marriages across the country, including in New York. In so doing the Court may set in motion legal changes that impact estate planning issues for all of the thousands of same sex couples living throughout the state.

However, we will have to wait a while longer before anything is finalized. That is because agreeing to hear the case was just the beginning of the process. The next step was the setting of specific dates for hearings in which both sides argue their case and answer questions posed by the nine justices.

This week the Court released its schedule for those gay marriage cases. As reported in the Huffington Post, the hearings will take place over two days in late March. First, on March 26th the court will hear arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry. Perry is the case related to Proposition 8 out in California. Beyond "standing" issues, this legal matter may clarify what the U.S. Constitution has to say about the substantive right to marry for same-sex couples. Depending on what they decide, nothing can change, gay marriage may be allowed in California, or, theoretically, gay marriage could become the law of the land across the country.

On the following day, March 27th, the Court will conduct hearings on the second case, United States v. Windsor. This is the legal matter that originated with a New York couple and has more direct bearings on the rights of local same sex couples. The Windsor case, if it survives past the standing issues, will decide whether or not the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is constitutional. As readers know, DOMA acts a bar that prevents federal recognition of even state marriage for same sex couples. This has implications on issues like estate taxes and qualification for federal benefits, including Social Security.

Obviously it is important for all couples who may be affected to follow as these cases are argued and then decided. Following these March hearings, it will likely be several months before the justices reach their opinion and release it to the public. While the final date is impossible to predict it is likely that the judgement will be issued sometime in late June. Also, the changes may not take effect immediately. Depending on what is decided it could be weeks or even months before the implementation date of certain components. In any event, it remains critical for same sex couples to be diligent about their planning so that they are protected right now, no matter what the future holds.

Face Retirement: Psychology to Spur Long-Term Financial Planning

December 12, 2012,

Virtually everyone agrees that it is important to invest for retirement, take care of inheritance details, prepare for long-term care, and otherwise plan for the future. But there is a big difference between understanding the value of these tasks and actually taking the time to do it. Considering the financial and political stresses that come with caring for an aging population, figuring out how to motivate community members to do what is necessary to plan for the future is drawing more and more attention.

One new tactic stems from unique psychological research on financial motivation. In previous studies out of Stanford, experts found that one way to spur real action on long-term planning was getting individuals to visualize their future, elderly selves. Interestingly the researchers found the most benefit not when people just imagined themselves in old age but actually saw digitally enhanced images of themselves when they were older. The surprise of seeing their own face in old age was a real spur to stop putting off the necessary planning.

The lead researcher in the Stanford experiment summarized that, "People who see an age-progressed rendering of themselves are more likely to allocate resources to the future."

See For Yourself
In fact, interest in this technique has advanced to the point that Bank of America's "Merril Edge" program allows anyone to go online, take a picture of themselves, and see how they might look in the future. The tool is known as "Face Retirement." You can check it out for yourself here.

The program allows you to view images of yourself at various ages. On top of that, the tool provides estimated cost of living figures for each of those ages. Those cost of living calculators adjust for inflation so that consumers have a real idea of what they'll need to do to be financially secure well into their golden years. Perhaps expectedly, considering the tool was created by a financial services firm, the program also provides information about steps that can be taken now to prepare for the future.

Action Matters
No matter what you use to motivate yourself to plan for the future, the bottom line is that there is nothing to lose from taking action today. Thinking about money is always stressful. That is particularly true when worrying about retirement and other end-of-life issues. But it is important not to forget that the easiest way to ease the stress burden is to actually do something about it. No matter what your current financial situation--good or bad--there is value to beginning the process of long-term planning.

If you are in New York City, Albany, Fishkill, MIddletown, Nyack, Rhinebeck, Saratoga Springs, White Plains, or elsewhere throughout our state, please feel free to reach out to the attorneys at our firm to see how we can help.

Two Teens, a Custody Battle, and $1 Billion New York Trust

November 7, 2012,

DNA Info in New York shared an interesting story on the intersection of a custody dispute, estate planning, and a one billion trust fund waiting in the wings. The tale is a reminder of how money and the emotions following a death are a breeding ground for feuding and conflict among many different parties. It is always best to proceed with the assumption that strong disagreement will arise and to crafts plans and take those into account. Perhaps those worst fears won't materialize, but, if they do, they must be accounted for.

The situation in this story concerns two teens who are set to inherit the $1 billion inheritance from their great aunt's fortune--the New York philantropist Doris Duke. Duke was a tobacco heiress andspent much of her time in a $44 million Upper East side apartment. Duke obtained the fortune after the death of her husband--Lucky Strike cigarette magnante "Buck" Duke--and holding from her own mother's fortune. Upon Doris's death in 1993, the fortune passed down to her nephew with whom she was close--the father of the twins. Sadly, he died in 2010 at age 57 due to a methodone overdose. He had divorced the teens'mother in 2000 and was awarded custody at that time.

As one might expect, confusion broke loose following the father's death. The children's biological mother was given custody at first, though serious concerns have been raised about her ability to raise the children, with past reports identifying her as suffering from paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder. The twins' stepmother has been trying to obtain custody of the children but has thus far been unsuccessful.

In this midst of this tragedy and custody fighting, the children's mother has been making strange requests of the $1 billion trust fund that the two teens will inherit when they turn 21 years old. The large fund is currently managed by JPMorgan with specific rules about how much funds are dispersed to the children while they remain minors. Recently, the mother has been making large, somewhat bizrre requests of the trustees, claiming that the children "feel like they are poor" because of the trustee's denial of many of the requests.

Right now the family received a range of monthly allotments, including $8,000 for housing, $1,800 for food, $3,600 to rent a car, $500 for gas, $2,000 for random monthly expenses, and pre-pad nanny service, tuition, medical insurance, and more. All of this, however, is apparently not enough and the mother has been making repeated calls for more money. For example, $6,000 was requested for a Halloween party, with the trustee providing only $2,800. At Christmastime, the mother asked for $50,000 to cover expenses for gifts and several trips. That request was denied.

In the midst of all of these financial requests, the trustee asked a Manhattan Court for guidance on how to respond to the financial requests. As often happens in these cases, the court has appointed an independent guardian to act in the children's best interest in the matter. It is still pending with the court.

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