Articles Tagged with New York estate plan lawyers

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.

Some mistakenly assume that estate planning only deals with minimizing taxes. With all of the focus on the estate tax in recent weeks it is easy to see how this assumption might gain ground. And it is true that for some families, significant planning must be conducted to ensure that as large a portion of an estate as possible makes its way to the intended beneficiary instead of the pockets of Uncle Sam.

But it is a mistake to suggest that taxes are the only or even the most important factor for most long-term planning for New Yorkers. The reality is that many tangential issues are just as important and often even more important. A recent WRALTechwire article reminds readers of several “non-tax” issues that are critical and must be addressed in estate planning efforts.

Some of those issues include:

The New York Times reported last week on the seeming end to one of the most high-profile New York estate planning feuds in decades. For almost five years Brooke Astor’s only son was engaged in a prolonged battle to settle his inheritance and control over other portions of the family estate. The extended legal saga was yet another reminder of the perils of trying to transfer significant assets in a straight-forward, conflict-free manner.

Mrs. Astor had a fortune estimated at roughly $100 million at the time of her death. Reports indicate that Mrs. Astor had dementia in her later years, dying in 2007 at the age of 107. Three years ago her son, Anthony D. Marshall, was convicted of stealing from her. Another man who handled Mrs. Astor’s affairs was also convicted of similar crimes. Both men were sentenced to one to three years in prison for their conduct, but they remain free pending appeal. The criminal proceedings are separate legal affairs from the probate process which resolves Mrs. Astor’s estate. However, the conduct of Mr. Marshall as revealed in the criminal matter likely affected the ultimate resolution of the New York estate plan dispute.

Mrs. Astor signed a will in 2002 that left a sizeable amount of money to charity. However, the will was amended in 2003 and then twice-again in 2004. The changes essentially gave Mr. Marshall more money as inheritance and control over her estate. The legal fight centered on whether Mrs. Astor was tricked into signing those subsequent revisions and whether she was competent at the time.

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