At the Law Offices of Mary A. Miller, P.C., we regularly field questions from clients and others who want to know more about various aspects of the estate planning process. There’s a good chance that you’ve wondered about at least some of the same issues, so we have compiled some of the most popular questions we’ve received and answers that should help to bring some clarity to these important concerns.
What does estate planning do?
We understand that many people still think of estate planning as something that is only really useful for the rich and famous, but it’s really something that can benefit just about anyone. At its core, estate planning is about protecting all those things that matter to you: your home, your other assets, and – most of all – your loved ones. Estate planning provides for secure distribution of your assets when you die, continuity of decision-making in the event that you become incapacitated, and better management of taxes and financial planning.
What is my ‘estate’ anyway?
Some people get confused and assume that their estate must be small since they don’t have sizable deposits sitting in a bank account in Switzerland. Your estate is much more than the value of your savings deposit, however. It encompasses everything that you own, and even your liabilities. That includes your house or houses, business properties, rental assets, and vehicles. If you own art, jewelry, collectibles, and other items of value, those are included too. In addition to bank accounts, your estate also includes insurance policies, retirement funds, securities, bonds, and other financial assets.
Do I need a will or a trust?
That depends on your circumstances. While trusts can be effective tools for transferring assets over time or for avoiding probate, small estates may not really receive much benefits from the inclusion of trusts. This is especially true for estates that are so small that they can avoid probate altogether. In like manner, trusts may be unnecessary if you can use things like joint tenancy or policy beneficiaries to transfer ownership of assets when you die. On the other hand, trusts are invaluable for estates that need to make periodic distributions of assets to beneficiaries, or where estate taxes may be a serious concern.
Is estate planning right for me?
You may not need comprehensive estate planning that incorporates every element of the most in-depth plans, but you can almost certainly benefit from some level of professional planning. Even if your estate is relatively meager at this point in your life, financial circumstances change over time. A sound estate plan can be adapted to meet your changing needs, ensuring that your assets and loved ones are properly protected at every stage of your life.
Is estate planning just about money?
Obviously, financial planning is an important part of most estate plans. Money is not the only reason to have an estate plan, however. Things like incapacitation and guardianship can be important concerns as well. If you become incapacitated due to injury or illness, you need a plan in place to ensure that important financial and medical decisions can still be made on your behalf. Your estate plan can include powers of attorney that empower someone to act as your agent-in-fact in the event that you can no longer manage your affairs.
Is there any reason why I can’t make out my own will?
From a legal standpoint, there is certainly nothing prohibiting you from creating your own will. Most experts advise against it, however – and for good reason. Many do-it-yourself estate planning options that you can find online and elsewhere often lead to confusing results. Worse, many people who use these products often find that they end up with invalid wills, inheritance provisions that fail to act as planned, or other problems that require an attorney’s assistance to correct. Since it’s so easy to make mistakes with a do-it-yourself Last Will and Testament, it is usually best to get an attorney’s assistance during its creation.
Can I avoid probate?
You may not need to avoid probate, but if you do there are tools that can help you accomplish that goal. More and more people are turning to things like living trusts as they try to avoid the high costs and time delays associated with the probate process. Others simply want to enjoy the increased privacy that can be achieved by avoiding court involvement. In New York, living trusts, joint tenancy, policy beneficiary designations, and transfer-on-death provisions can all be effective ways to ensure that asset ownership transfers without the need for probate.
What is Medicaid planning, and why would I need it?
For many middle-income Americans, the thought that they might one day need Medicaid benefits never crosses their minds. Many simply have a hard time believing that they might ever need the benefits that a program designed for lower-income people can provide. As nursing home costs have exploded in recent decades, however, Medicaid is no longer used by the poor. Many of the nation’s seniors also rely on the program to cover the high cost of long-term care. Medicaid planning is designed to help ensure that you can qualify for the benefits you might someday need, without impoverishing yourself just to get below the program’s income benefits.
How can an attorney help?
Estate planning involves the use of complex legal tools and strategies to achieve your financial and life goals. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you to make sense of these strategies and determine the right options for your unique circumstances. More importantly, professional legal counsel can ensure that your plan accomplishes your goals in the most efficient and reliable manner possible.
At the Law Offices of Mary A. Miller, P.C., our team is here to help guide you through the complexities of estate planning so that your plan provides you with the asset protection you need and the peace of mind your family deserves. If you have additional questions about estate planning in New York, or would like to know more about how we can help you secure your assets and your legacy, visit our website or call (914) 939-6565 today.