Every family has at least one horror story of a death in a family turning into a protracted legal tragedy well documented publicly by a probate court. An angry heir dissatisfied with their share of inheritance or a disinherited family member desperately trying to claim a stake of the predeceased’s estate contests the will and alleges a whole manner of improprieties in order to invalidate the will or one of the bequests made under it. A testator considering a future will contest can take steps to protect his or her estate from challengers and minimize the negative effects that a challenge can have.

Destroy All Previously Revoked Wills

A common occurrence in the probate court is for someone who was to inherit under an older version of a testator’s will to present the revoked copy as the testator’s true and most recent will. This can only happen though if the testator does not take proper steps to discard and make it apparent that an older will is now revoked. Writing ‘void’ or ‘revoked’ on each page of an older will or physically destroying the will shows everyone that the will is no longer valid.

Prince’s lack of estate planning in life has made quite a mess for his potential heirs as we have covered in the past. The slow moving probate proceedings are also preventing his estate from fully monetizing his image and collecting potential revenue. This week though the Minnesota probate judge gave the go ahead for the administrator of Prince’s estate to sell six of the late artist’s properties. This order does nothing to touch the much more valuable part of Prince’s estate such as his likeness, music catalogue, personal home or recording studio.

Your Life Out In The Open

But how exactly do we know the extensive real estate listings and assets held by Prince? That is because court proceedings are public knowledge and any court filings in a probate court are public records. That means that when you pass, if you have to go through probate chances are any assets you have at the time of your death will be catalogued and listed. Probate records include wills, estate inventories, letters of administration and other documents relating to the administration and settlement of deceased persons’ estates. These records also contain information on the property of decedents, the identity and relationships of heirs, and legal actions taken to prove wills and settle estates.

A charitable remainder annuity trust or CRAT as is it more commonly known is a type of irrevocable trust that is used to pass on property to a charity while still receiving an income from the assets in the trust. The way it operates is that a fixed amount of income or principal is paid from the CRAT to designated noncharitable beneficiaries, usually the grantor or creator of the trust. After a set term the remainder of the trust is payable to charity.

Multiple Tax Benefits

The CRAT comes with many tax benefits due to its charitable nature. The CRAT pays no income tax on its income. The CRAT is not taxed on any gain it realizes upon selling appreciated property either at the time of donation or any appreciation occurring after the donation. Furthermore the grantor of the trust created during his or her lifetime is entitled to an immediate income and gift tax deduction equal to the amount of the present value of the remainder interest passing to charity.

In order to make and execute a valid will under New York law, a person must meet certain requirements. One of these requirements is that the testator or person creating his or her will have testamentary capacity. Testamentary capacity refers to a person’s ability to understand and execute a will. Generally, most people over the age of 18 who have reached legal adulthood are considered competent to make and sign a will. They understand the nature of the document they are creating and signing, the property that will be passed and understand the effects that the document will have after their death.

One of the most common bases for contesting a will is that a person lacked testamentary capacity and for good reason. There are many ways a person can lack testamentary capacity and many of them relate to illnesses and conditions that are common in old age. In particular, challenges arising out of accusations of the testator being mentally incompetent or under undue influence are not rare, especially if the testator is of advanced age.

Mentally Incompetent

Making an estate plan tends to be something people ignore until the last minute. These documents are considered important, but only for those who are old or dying. Why would a person under 40 need an estate plan?

Estate planning is a safety net. It is there if the unthinkable happens. If you die or are incapacitated, a proper estate plan can help to make sure your loved ones aren’t left to pick up the pieces.

Decision Making

Protecting Your Estate

The divorce rate in America has sat steady at just below 50 percent for decades now. From out of the troubling reality that almost every other marriage fails is the issue that comes with the rights that ex-spouses may have on marital assets after the divorce. Your family could end up missing out on assets and an inheritance due to a lack of careful estate planning. In some cases, widowed individuals who survive their spouse discover later that they have limited or no legal right to assets from their deceased spouse’s estate. If you remarry after a divorce or death you will face unique estate planning challenges that others entering their first marriage do not have to deal with.

Retitling and Updating

Few people think about what will happen to their business after they die and therefore rarely put together a plan. Fewer may even think that a family or closely held business should be considered a part of their estate plan. However, for many small business owners, their financial interest in their business may be the largest asset that they have and represent most of the wealth that they will transfer at the time of their death. When transferring a family or closely held business, a well-funded life insurance policy can play a very large role in a smooth transition.

Providing For Your Children

There are a number of contingencies that a business owner has to consider when transferring their interest in their family or closely held business. While family businesses may be a truly family affair, with children working, operating and managing the business as well as the parents, it is a fact of life that not all of the children may be interested or suited to taking ownership of the business. In some cases, there might not be any children that wish to take over.

Parents believe that leaving their children the family home is a great boon but experience shows that beneficiaries are not happy with the bequest.

For many people in the United States chances are that their house is their most valuable asset. It makes sense then for most parents to leave their most valuable asset to their children. But this common inheritance is only a blessing for a small few of beneficiaries and a burden on most others.

Not A Quick Sell

Newly proposed IRS regulations meant to curb common estate and gift tax planning tactics is being met with a firestorm of resistance from financial advisers and estate planners across the country. The proposed regulations (REG-163113-02) place limitations on the use of current valuation discounts that reduce the overall value of assets in family-owned businesses, thus lowering a decedent’s estate and gift tax liability at the time of death. The IRS hope to achieve this end by disregarding restrictions that enabled taxpayers to use these discounts in the past.

Wealth Preservation In Closely Held Businesses

Currently, interests in closely held businesses are not taxed the same as other property interests due to their illiquid nature. Many tax and estate planners put a family’s assets in a closely held business to reduce their estate and gift tax liability. While this is a boon for many families seeking to preserve their wealth, others argue that what started out as a helpful tax break for legitimate family businesses is being abused and exploited by those who have no legitimate use of it.

It is common knowledge that in order for a New York will to be valid that there must be other people to witness you signing your will as well as putting down their own signatures on your will. Despite this knowledge though improper execution of the will is the most common reason that a will is found to be invalid.

Why Do I Need Witnesses At All?

Witnesses provide an important evidentiary function to the probate process. Witnesses to your signing can provide first-hand accounts of the execution of the will. If a will is ever contested, the witnesses can testify about the procedures that were followed when executing the will, the testamentary capacity of the testator as well as the mental capacity of the testator.

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