Most New York estate plans have various components and include several legal documents. Most will have a Revocable Living Trust, Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, or both. A pour-over will is also frequently added as a failsafe to cancel an old will and ensure that any assets left outside the trust are brought into it after death. The plan will have various other facets, including a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, burial instructions, and other final instructions for a family.
In addition, a common practice is to leave a list which indicates which valuables will go to each heir. This list is usually handwritten and specifically requests that a trustee honor its terms. In this way, if a client changes their mind about the distribution of their personal property they can simply handwrite a new list without needing to visit their attorney to cement the change. This step is important because many local families experience in-fighting when trying to distribute sentimental personal property without the guidance offered by a New York estate plan. When more than one family member wants the same item, the stage may be set for strong disagreements that often profoundly and permanently affect relationships. Most family members are under immense stress at the time of a passing which makes the situation even worse.
A few online web services have recently sprung up which claim to help families distribute this property in a fair manner. For example, one of the more popular services is eDivvyup. The website essentially sets up a family auction using non-monetary “credits.” A family first selects an “executor” to set up the auction by cataloging personal items, inviting family members to participate, and assigning credits. Each family member then visits the site and places bids on items of interest to them using the non-monetary credits they are provided. The auctions usually work like eBay, spanning anywhere from a day to several weeks. The goal is that by the end of the auction each family member will have gotten the fair chance to indicate which items mean the most to them.
While these online tools may offer a helpful way for some families to have discussions about the distribution of personal items, it is absolutely essential that users not be misled into substituting these tools for actual legal planning. The eDivvyup website itself specifically notes that it is intended to be used aside from proper legal efforts at property distribution. Our New York estate planning attorneys know well that the utmost care must be taken with every legal document crafted to ensure that it is capable of withstanding legal challenge. Online and “do-it-yourself” resources may be helpful and convenient tools for some residents. However, they cannot act as a substitute for proper legal planning because they generally have no legal effect and are readily challenged.
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