Mullen and Iannarone, P.C.
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families of Suffolk County since 1972

Long Island Elder Law Blog

Why everyone can benefit from an estate plan

Being too young or being single and childless are some of the common excuses people in New York often use to justify not making estate planning a priority. According to one survey, the majority of millennials don't have a will. While some people may not want to think about what will happen after their death, procrastinating can have potentially serious consequences. For instance, if an individual dies without a will, which is referred to in legal terms as intestate, the state will determine how assets and property are divided. Without a medical directive in place, the default decision is usually to prolong life artificially.

With wills, decisions about how assets are divided can be made proactively, and an executor can be named to ensure that everything is distributed as specified. Single, healthy millennials may be advised to also consider a durable power of attorney, a document that states who is authorized to make financial decisions in the event that an individual is unable to do so. With an advance medical directive, decisions concerning life support and comfort measures can be made ahead of time, or a specific individual can be named to make such decisions.

Tim Conway's daughter petitions court for guardianship

The comedic actor Tim Conway, whose fans in New York may have first encountered in his television roles on "McHale's Navy" and "The Carol Burnett Show", has been overcome by dementia. A dispute about his care has erupted between his wife and his 56-year-old daughter. The daughter wants the right to oversee his medical care and has filed court papers seeking an appointment as his conservator.

Court documents reveal the daughter's concern about the intention of her father's wife to remove him from a skilled nursing facility. His wife allegedly plans to place the 84-year-old actor in another facility where he would lose access to 24-hour care and a speech therapist. The speech therapy is meant to alleviate Conway's difficulty with swallowing. According to his daughter's petition, Conway needs assistance with personal care and eating. If the court approves her guardianship request, she will personally manage her father's medications.

How to incorporate digital assets into an estate plan

The rise of digital assets has drastically changed estate planning for many people. An individual can't simply add a digital wallet to their will as if it was a vacation home in New York or expensive jewelry. They'll need to include quite a bit of additional information so that those assets are quickly handed over to heirs.

While digital assets should be listed just as if they were any other type of valuable, most can't be accessed unless an individual has the correct username and password. That information must be handed over to the executor during the process of developing the estate plan. The executor might also need to access certain websites or email accounts in order to pass along the assets.

Estate planning considerations for single people without children

Many individuals in New York do not have a spouse or children to call upon for help as they age. Nationwide, approximately 19.5 million people age 65 or older live alone. For people who do not have any close relatives, issues involving financial security and long-term care during their elderly years pose extra challenges.

Like most people, singles will want to create a will to record their wishes about the distribution of assets. A will could prevent the state from sending an estate to a distant relative not of a person's choosing. Powers of attorney for financial affairs and health care should be completed as well. Single people might need more time to identify trusted individuals to grant the power to handle money or make health care decisions in the event of incapacity. Married people often name each other, but single people must draw upon other relationships to complete these important documents.

Strategies for transferring wealth to future generations

A parent in New York who is trying to decide how to divide their assets should have confidence in their ultimate decision. This is true regardless of what adult children or other family members may feel. Children are urged to not let the size of their inheritance act as a proxy for the size of their parent's love. Parents should talk with their children and others ahead of time to discuss how assets will be divided.

In some cases, this may be based on what a child or grandchild may need in the future. For instance, a son or daughter who is struggling financially may need more money than another child who has $500,000 in the bank. Parents may also decide that current efforts to help a child who is struggling financially should be taken into consideration when deciding on the size of an inheritance.

Important issues to consider when choosing a trustee

Establishing a trust can provide must-appreciated peace of mind for individuals in New York looking to ensure that important assets are distributed appropriately to a spouse, children, other family members or close friends. One of the most critical steps in establishing a trust fund for the preferred beneficiaries is to determine who will be the trustee. There are some issues anyone setting up a trust may want to consider to improve their confidence when naming a preferred trustee.

Discussing the possibility of being named a trustee with a candidate for this role can be helpful. Some individuals assume that a relative with business or financial experience will automatically be willing and able to handle estate administration responsibilities without asking them if they wish to accept this responsibility. In some situations, the nature of the estate can matter. For instance, it may be preferable to have someone with real estate experience handle an estate largely comprised of real estate holdings.

Including collectibles in an estate plan

When people in New York plan for the future of their family and their assets, they may be concerned about how best to pass on valuable collectible objects like artwork and memorabilia. These items are not the only types of personal property that may have a high financial value; they can also hold significant amount of sentimental value to their owners as well as to others in the family. In a study by Deloitte, over 80 percent of art collectors noted that they considered their collections to be a valuable investment. Just like other types of investments, estate plans need to take proper steps to deal with the distribution of artwork and collectibles.

Collectibles have a special status in U.S. tax law, which can also mean special consideration for these items during estate planning. The IRS classifies artwork, rugs, antiques, stamps, coins and gems, among other items, as collectibles, and special tax laws can apply to these items. In addition to concerns about taxation of beneficiaries, selling these items and receiving a fair market value can be particularly difficult in some cases.

What's missed in estate planning

Suffolk County residents are often encouraged to plan for emergencies or retirement, but planning for death isn't commonly discussed even if it is inevitable. Failing to plan can cause numerous legal troubles, financial burdens and discord in the event of a loved one's passing.

All retirement accounts and insurance policies should have a named beneficiary, and naming a contingent beneficiary is essential. The default beneficiary should be named just in case the original beneficiary passes. Not naming a contingent beneficiary exposes the estate to creditors and probate, which can leave family members insecure. Questions like who should get the property, the children or the family could lead to a legal quagmire and countless legal expenses if not clearly outlined.

Estate planning can be critical for the future

When people in New York plan for the future for themselves and their families, estate planning can be a big part of the picture. However, only 4 out of every 10 Americans over the age of 60 have important documents in place to deal with their finances or healthcare decisions in case of incapacity. These kinds of documents can help to protect people from elder abuse, fraud and other types of negative outcomes. Across the country, 20 percent of Americans over 65 are financially abused; however, only 10 percent expect that it could happen to them.

It is important to have estate plans stored in a durable, accessible location. Online storage can be used in addition to physical storage to help ensure that these important documents are available to family members in case of a crisis. In addition, it can be important to track which estate planning tasks have been completed and which ones need work. Everyone should have a will, a financial power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney and an advance healthcare directive.

Coming up with a trust solution

New York residents can use a trust to protect assets intended for future generations and as a form of tax management for those assets. However, it is important that the person they select to oversee the trust is able to properly carry out the duties the position entails.

Designating a trustee should involve careful consideration. The person selected has to be able to ensure that the wishes of the creator of the trust will be adhered to. Sometimes, grantors believe that the best person to take on the role of trustee should be someone who is close to the family and will be able to use the intent for which the trust was created to consider requests for distributions. However, the disadvantage of basing one's choice of trustee on their familiarity with the family is that the person selected may not be able to handle the legal, administrative and fiduciary duties that come with being a trustee.