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What to consider in estate planning

The end of the holiday season and transition into a new year is an ideal time to prepare an estate plan. New York residents should start by inventorying their assets both large and small. It is critical that a person doesn't forget to leave behind a list of online passwords or other instructions related to digital assets. It is also important to have a conversation with other family members to articulate that plan once it is made.

A family member or other trusted individual will ideally be granted a power of attorney. This allows that individual to pay bills, sell assets or otherwise manage a person's financial affairs while he or she is incapacitated. Generally speaking, a spouse can't access accounts or sell assets unless they are jointly owned. The use of a living trust can specify what happens to assets that don't have a beneficiary designation attached to them.

Having such a document can protect a person in the event that he or she dies unexpectedly. While having an estate planning conversation may be uncomfortable, it can help to ensure that a person's last wishes are respected and carried out. It can also minimize the chances of family infighting.

Through wills, trusts and other estate planning tools, an individual may be able to protect his or her legacy. These tools generally allow a person to specify who receives a given asset or how it can be used. Parents can also leave instructions as to who becomes guardian to a minor child or children. An attorney may help create an estate plan document or answer any questions that a person may have about them.

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