New York Estate Planning – No Child Left Behind?

Some New Yorkers eschew an estate plan because they assume their wishes are very simple. “I just want the kids to split it” is a common refrain. For one thing, default rules in the state do not automatically mean that children will split a parents’ assets. The only way to do that is by ensuring you have a properly updated will, or, even better, use trusts to protect assets and streamline the process.

Even when residents wish to split their assets between the children, mistakes are made all the time. Take, for example, the recent high-profile passing of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. The 46-year old passed away tragically earlier this year inside his New York City apartment. Recently, his will was made public and problems were quickly pointed out.

Perhaps most notably, the will was written ten years prior. The provisions specifically created a trust for Hoffman’s oldest son, who was then an infant. After the will was drafted, Hoffman had two additional children, but there is no mention of them in the older will. As a result, it is unclear what, if anything, they will inherit directly from their father’s estate. New York law provides some protection for unintentionally disinherited children, but the law can be murky in some cases.

Forgotten Children
The “forgotten child” problem is a common estate planning blunder. There may be times when you intentionally wish to disinherit a child. But when done accidentally this usually occur in one of two situations: outdated planning or blunders with a mixed family.

1) Outdated Will – As in the case of Philip Seymour Hoffman, failing to update planning documents on a regular basis can lead to oversights. Every major life event–childbirth, marriages, divorces, and others–must be follow by updates to a will and other planning tools. It is very easy to fall into the trap of “getting to it later.” But the entire point of preparing ahead is because the future is uncertain. If your life circumstances have changed in any meaningful way, then ensure your planning reflects that.

2) Mixed Family Mistakes – Step-children are often unintentionally forgotten with regard to inheritance as a result of sloppy planning. Some planning documents suggest that property should go to “all my children.” But no matter how close one’s relationship to a step-child, unless there is a legal adoption, step-children will not be treated as “children” in most of these situations. Instead, clearer instructions will need to be included in legal documents to ensure a child is not unintentionally left behind.

For help with any NY estate planning matters, please contact our attorneys today for guidance. We work throughout New York City, Albany, White Plains, Fishkill, and many other communities throughout the state.

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