Estate planning is not just about planning for death

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By Daniel Reiter Esq.

My estate planning approach saves clients and their loved ones thousands of dollars and smooths the challenges associated with aging. Many people believe that all they need to complete their estate plan is a “simple will”. They are under the impression that, once they pass away, their assets automatically become the property of the beneficiaries in their will. This belief is mistaken.

When someone passes away in New York with a will (and no trust or beneficiary designations), generally, the will must first be proven as valid to the Surrogate’s Court. The fee to “probate” a will (“probate” is the Latin word for “prove”) in New York ranges from $45.00 to $1,250.00, depending on the size of the estate. “Estate administration”, which is the process of re-titling assets from the name of the decedent to the name(s) of those entitled to inherit (the “beneficiaries”), generally takes seven months to two years.

Going forward with administration without the assistance of counsel is ill-advised, particularly given the fact that the executor of the estate is a fiduciary and is required to account. An inadequate account, prepared by an executor without the assistance of counsel, often creates conflict between the executor and beneficiaries, which slows down administration and causes great expense to the beneficiaries and the estate. From my experience, this is the most common issue that arises during administration of a decedent’s estate. Retention of a defensive-minded estate planning attorney early in the estate planning process can avoid family infighting.

I also always discuss the advantages and disadvantages of trusts with my clients, so they are fully educated regarding their choices and options. Trusts (and often times beneficiary designations) can be employed to avoid the entire probate process and ultimately saves clients and beneficiaries thousands of dollars.

Moreover, estate planning is not just about planning for death. A proper estate plan takes into account planning for incapacity. A power of attorney, health care proxy and living will (among other “advance directives”) allow clients to decide who will make decisions for them if they ever lose the capacity to make their own decisions regarding medical treatment and property management.

And let’s not forget about asset protection. For young clients, I always have, at least, a brief conversation about long-term care and how to approach planning for the same when the time is appropriate. A more extensive conversation is almost always necessary for older clients. I also ask homeowners to provide me with their homeowner’s insurance policy, so I can see if they are adequately insured and advise as to some of the “goodies” buried in such policies that clients don’t even know exist.

To learn more about all aspects of estate planning, long-term care planning, and social needs and elder law, contact Daniel Reiter Esq. at (646) 820-4011 or djr@djrattorney.com.

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Zev Asch