In an increasingly digital society where we have become use to just “googling” the answers to our questions, there is no shortage of online legal advice and self-help. While some of this information can be valid and very useful, it doesn’t take the place of an actual lawyer that is able to apply the law to individual circumstances.

In fact, the ready availability of do-it-yourself legal guides on the web can pose a serious risk to people that use them, especially in the case of wills. Given how important your last will and testament is, it is essential to make sure that all details have been addressed and that all of your bases are covered so that you are able to distribute assets you have worked a lifetime for according to your wishes. According to the American Bar Association, three common dangers of do-it-yourself wills include:

Generic Forms

The law can often be confusing. One such term includes probate in reference to a will. It is important for people to understand exactly what probate is and what assets are required to go through probate in New York. Keep in mind that these are general definitions and examples, and your individual circumstances will often impact exactly what assets are considered probate or non-probate.

What is probate?

Basically, probate is the legal process that takes place after a person has died. Usually, the probate process begins by proving whether or not the deceased person’s will is valid if a will exists. The process may also include:

When a deceased individual, known as a decedent, leaves a Will, family members and friends that have reason to believe something may be wrong with that Will may be able to have a court rule that the Will is invalid in some situations. The following are examples of common situations in which a person may have reason to ask a court to overturn a Will, most of which can be avoided by working with an attorney to create a valid Will.

The Will Does Not Comply with Law

There are several specific requirements the person making a Will, known as the testator, must comply with for a Will to be valid in New York. Basically, these include:

As the United States prepares to have a new president take office in 2017, millions of Americans are wondering what will happen to their health insurance coverage under Obamacare. Obamacare was enacted in order to provide coverage to those citizens who did not previously have coverage due to ineligibility or loss of coverage, with the goal of bringing down the cost of health insurance generally, and reducing costs regardless of preexisting conditions. While it was a widely contested issue between Republicans and Democrats, now that a Republican president will take office, plans are being made to repeal Obamacare.

Those in favor of Obamacare have raised question about what the 25 to 30 million people who now have insurance through the government program will do when coverage is stripped, especially since many of those are elders. However, proponents of a new system point to statistics that have shown that the majority of those who obtained benefits did so through Medicaid. Of the 14 million people who signed up for Obamacare between 2013 and 2015, 12 million of those did so through Medicaid. Thus, a large portion of the population will be able to qualify for coverage through other government programs technically.

In an effort to prepare, Republicans have come up with a block grant system as an alternative to be implemented, giving states more control over the way government funding is spent in their area. The block grant alternative also lawmakers on the state level to decide how money allocated to their area through Medicaid is spent, by allowing health needs particular to that state’s citizens control where more or less money can be spent. One thing is definite for government health care coverage, it will be cut one way or another with the new presidency.

Why Were Interest Rates Raised?

The Federal Reserve has made the decision to increase interest rates by 0.25% at the end of 2016, with more dramatic increases to follow in 2017, news of which was released in December 2016. The decision was made for the interest rate increase of a quarter point to begin at the end of 2016, with two more 0.25% increases to follow over the course of the following year. This increase indicates that the labor market is tightening and thus, the United States economy is improving. Over the past decade, interest rates have only increased 0.25%, with that increase happening at the same time last year.

This change was made in response to the impressive amount of jobs that have been created and maintained over the past year and a half, with unemployment rates now below 5%, the lowest it has been since before the recession. Notably, in 2016, 180,000 jobs were added a month, which has led the Federal Reserve to allow interest rates to increase due to borrowers’ ability to pay more for loans and return to the ideal of 2% inflation. The interest rate hikes in 2017 could follow quickly after President-elect Trump’s taking to office, due to his pledge to provide growth oriented tax cuts and increased spending on infrastructure.

Maintaining your Social Security number is something we have all been told to keep close, and to be wary of releasing to companies unless absolutely needed. Your Social Security number are a series of numbers that help identify individuals in the United States as either citizens, permanent residents, or temporary workers, for tax reporting purposes. If closely held, this series of numbers provides an easy way for you to identify yourself for various reasons including obtaining bills,  loans, applying for jobs, and when attempting to contact any government agency.

While the internet has provided us with a vast amount of knowledge, it has also provided hackers with a way of obtaining our personal data once entered into a database, for credit card processing, or many of the other reasons we use personal information. A website is recently under scrutiny when they began selling Social Security Numbers for $250 dollars each. The website guarantees that as long as the seeker of the Social Security Number has the correct name, last known address, and date of birth of the person they are looking for, they will provide the correct Social Security Number.

The way in which Peopleinfofind.com, the website behind this scheme is able to claim what they are doing is legal is by stating they they provide this information in order to help debt collectors or those who have forgotten their Social recover it or locate an individual. However, the Better Business Bureau has caught on and is now investigating their website. While it is legal for employers to verify an employee’s Social Security Number with the Social Security Administration,  attempting to find someone’s Social Security Number through a reverse lookup should be seriously questioned.

Healthcare coverage has been an unsure and confusing issue for both young and elderly citizens over the past decade, with the potential to only become more complicated as a new president takes office. While laws have been amended throughout President Obama’s term to now allow young adults to remain covered under their parents insurance until they are 26 years old, there are no hard rules regarding whether parents can qualify under their adult childrens’ health insurance plans.

Narrow Exceptions To Covering Parents

There are limited situations in which an adult child could get their elderly or ailing parent covered under their company’s insurance provider, however, they must meet a number of requirements. Parents can be covered under their child’s insurance plan if they can qualify as a dependent and meet specific criteria. Dependents traditionally have been considered those children under the age of 26 who do not maintain coverage, spouses or domestic partners, however, parents can qualify generally if they meet the IRS definition of dependent upon their adult child.

Properly planning and structuring of charitable contributions and gifts can be a huge part of the overall estate plan. There are good and bad ways to give. Ensure that your gift is properly funded and distributed per your wishes by planning ahead of time. This planning may include using charitable remainder trusts.

Charitable Remainder Trust Basics

This estate planning tool is often considered a “split interest trust” which allows both the owner and the charity to benefit. Once a charitable remainder trust (CRT) is drafted and assets are transferred into the trust, the owner will begin receiving income for life from the trust. Upon the death of the owner of the CRT, the remaining trust property passes directly to the charity.

Giving to charity is an important aspect of many estates. Those wishing to give gifts in a tax efficient manner should consider the positives and negatives of certain types of gifts. Many people who are wishing to help reduce estate taxes should consider spreading gifts throughout their lifetime.

Lifetime Gifting

In most cases, it is better to give money to loved ones while you are still alive than to wait until you pass away. Currently, a person can give up to $14,000 each to any number of other persons in a single year without incurring a taxable gift. This $14,000 annual exclusion is beneficial to you and to the recipient who typically does not owe taxes on the gift and does not have to report it unless it is from a foreign source. Any gift over the $14,000 exclusion must be reported on a Gift Tax Return and spouses splitting gifts must always file this Gift Tax Return even when no taxable gift is incurred. It is also possible to make unlimited payments directly to medical providers or educational institutions on behalf of others for qualified expenses though incurring a taxable gift. This can be a bit of a loophole.

Charitable contributions and gifts make up a large aspect of many estates. As with everything, there is a right way to give and a wrong way to give. Planning can help ensure that your gift is properly funded and distributed according to your wishes. This planning may include using qualified funds while you are living.

The 411 on QCDs

Individuals age 70 ½ or older are allowed under IRS rules to make direct charitable gifts from an IRA of up to $100,000 to public charities. These gifts are called qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) and are not required to report this distribution as taxable income on their federal income tax return. Historically, this tax break was voted upon and approved on an annual basis; as of 2015, it has been permanent.

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