The Law Offices of Fox & Lefkowitz LLP prepares wills & trusts from the most basic to the most comprehensive. No matter what type of will or trust you require, our advice is that it is always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Delaying the cost today will always cost your loved ones more in the long run.
At The Law Offices of Fox & Lefkowitz LLP, we have decades of legal experience to help our clients plan for their future and their family’s future. One of the most common ways to go about this is by drafting a last will and testament or a specific trust tailored to your needs. The Law Offices of Fox & Lefkowitz LLP has the tools, resources, and knowledge you need to solidify the future of your estate.
Estate planning includes planning for the proper distribution of your assets upon death as well as planning for the possibility of mental or physical incapacity, retirement or illness. It also includes, in applicable estates, planning to minimize, reduce or eliminate federal and state inheritance taxes which if not properly addressed, it may significantly deplete your assets. Absent proper planning, estate taxes can approach and exceed fifty percent of an estate. Moreover, it may be necessary to plan for liquidity of assets (available cash or cash equivalents) so that certain assets may be preserved and estate inheritance taxes may be paid when due. Also, in certain circumstances, it may be necessary to plan for asset protection during your lifetime or upon your death.
A Will is an expression of your wishes as to what happens to your property upon your death. Those wishes are memorialized in a legally binding document called a Last Will and Testament. A significant benefit derived from making a Will is to make sure that your property, regardless how big or small, goes to the people you care about and in the amounts that you determine according to your personal wishes. It is also important to have a properly executed will to expedite and simplify the probate process. Probate is the filing of the will upon death in order to officially validate its authenticity and have it approved and admitted by the Court. In the event you do not have a Will, your property passes intestate (without a will) and is distributed in accordance with the statute in effect which may not be the way in which you want your property to pass.In your Will, you appoint an Executor (a person, relative or friend, a bank or trust company) that administers your estate, collects and disposes of the assets and makes distributions to the beneficiaries or trusts that have been created. A Will is not the only device which controls how your property passes at death. There are other ways in which property passes such as a joint bank account designation or a beneficiary designation on certain retirement assets (Ira’s, Keogh’s, pension plans etc.), life insurance products or bank accounts. A Trust is also a method used to pass assets upon death. The different methods employed to pass property upon your death must be coordinated into an estate plan to ensure that the property and proper amounts pass to the intended heirs (the individuals who inherit your property).
Trusts are sometimes employed to minimize or eliminate the estate tax and to avoid probate. There are two basic types, revocable trusts, and irrevocable trusts. As the names imply, a revocable trust may be changed or terminated during one’s lifetime; however, an irrevocable trust, with certain limited exceptions, may not. Revocable trusts are principally used to avoid the probate process. Irrevocable trusts are used to minimize or eliminate the estate tax. The trust is also used in some instances of elder law planning.
Major federal tax legislation was recently passed by Congress increasing the amount of the federal estate tax exemption available to each individual to $5 million per individual in the years 2011 and 2012 only. This exemption may revert back to lower amounts thereafter or Congress may enact additional legislation to continue these exemption amounts. For married couples, a unified credit shelter trust or marital trust is used to preserve the exemption from federal estate tax that exists for each individual. Through the use of this type of trust or other planning methods, $10 million may be exempted from federal estate taxes. Some gifting strategies are presently being employed by high net worth individuals and families to take advantage of and preserve this increased exemption amount. Note that the present New York State estate tax exemption is lower than the federal amount resulting in some state estate tax liability which is incurred even though no federal estate tax is paid, depending on the size of the estate. Other trusts typically used in estate planning are life insurance trusts, annual exclusion trusts, residence trusts and minor trusts.
Along with a Will or Trust or a Will containing a Trust, it is recommended that a power of attorney and health care proxy be executed. Powers of attorney, health care proxies and sometimes living wills are necessary to plan for incapacity during your lifetime. A power of attorney is often used when a person becomes incapacitated, either physically or mentally, and cannot attend to their own affairs. Health care proxies are designed to allow an individual to designate a health care decision maker in the case of illness or incapacity. A living will is an expression of your intent in the event you have an extreme physical or mental disability from which there is no reasonable expectation of recovery which contains directives that you be allowed to die, and not be kept alive by artificial means, medications, life support equipment or “heroic measures.”
SOME DISADVANTAGES OF NOT HAVING A WILL OR ESTATE PLAN?
- Your property will be pass according to state law to unintended beneficiaries.
- In some states, your property may be transferred to the state.
- In many estates, you will lose the opportunity to save substantial estate inheritance taxes.
- You will not be able to choose an Executor for your estate.
- You will not be able to create a Trust that is desirable or to appoint a Trustee.
- You will not be able to allocate the distribution of assets and payment of taxes and expenses.
- If you have minor children, you will not be able to advise the Court who you wish to be appointed the guardian and how you wish to provide financially for your children.
- If you have minor children, court approval to pay certain expenses and administer the assets may be necessary.
- A bond may have to be posted and bond premiums paid by your Executor and Guardian which costs money.
- Makes probate and estate administration and distribution more difficult and costly.
- May result in unnecessary court proceedings, attorney’s fees, and delays.
Estate planning is a complex matter in which a qualified attorney should be consulted for advice. An estate plan is personal and tailored to your own particular needs. The preparation of your will and estate plan may be the most important and wisest investment of all.
A substantial part of our practice is devoted to Wills, Trusts, and Estates including Probate and Estate Administration as well as Estate Planning. Should you require any additional information or wish to make an appointment, please feel free to contact us.