Unsigned Wills Are Meaningless (and Photocopies are Not Much Better)

I like to remind people that the laws regarding modern U.S. Wills, not only predate the founding of the U.S., but actually predate European discovery of the Western Hemisphere. In Olde England in the city of York having a signed, witnessed piece of paper instructing how you wanted your property to be distributed after your death was often the only way to ensure your desires were fulfilled. Original paper mattered back then – there were no other recording devices or accounts with beneficiary designations – and witnesses would later attest to the fact they had seen you sign said paper instead of someone else. And original, signed paper still matters for several legal documents today, including your Will. The issue

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Facebook After Your Death: Enter the “Legacy Contact”

  My Grandpa Joe died in 2012 at the age of 90, but before he passed he was able to figure out how to set up a Facebook account – no small feat for a man born before the invention of refrigerators, Ford’s Model T and frozen food. So, you can imagine my surprise when my Facebook account suggested I might want to “Friend” my grandfather in 2014. While Friending a deceased individual seemed novel, I sensed that continuing our actual relationship was one of the few things beyond Facebook’s ability to monitor. But while the law has slowly figured out that an Executor or Administrator of your estate is legally permitted to access your personal email and social media

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The 4 Ways (and Best Way) to Leave Property Using Your Will and Trust

If you have not already, one morning you will wake up and finally accept the fact that one day you shall die. Not an easy thought but coming to this inevitable conclusion earlier in life has the benefit of allowing you to plan for the things that remain when you pass: Your family, friends, legacy, and money. And while you can use accounts that name beneficiary designations to transfer some property – such as retirement plans, life insurance, and transfer-on-death accounts – only Wills and Trusts allow you to transfer property at the point-in-time you desire (such as a beneficiary attaining a certain age), and include protections for beneficiaries (from creditors, spendthrift behaviors, special needs and addiction). But how much

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How to Write Your Own Eulogy

Only you can tell your story from your point of view. So, it comes as a surprise that many people have no written recounting of their life. In addition, it is sometimes easier to keep certain thoughts and feelings secret until you have passed away, but if you have taken no steps to memorialize how you want to deal with your loose ends, your unfinished business will remain unfinished.   Remember the difference between a Eulogy and an Obituary: An Obituary is often an objective, somewhat-cold fact-based notice of your death; a Eulogy is a speech at your funeral meant to paint a picture of who you really were.   A good Eulogy contains the following chapters:   Origin: When

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Life-Draining Probate? It’s Probably the Court’s Fault

There are many, many attorneys who are not experienced in handling New York Surrogate’s Court cases or qualified to handle anything except the easiest Probate. This article isn’t about them. This article is about how an agonizingly-long, Probate of a Will is most likely the Court’s fault.   New York’s Surrogate’s Court used to be the Unified Court System’s neat china doll in a house full of dirty toys: Every clerk in every county was professional, smart and helpful (except Queens County, they were awful), Probates moved forward quickly, and questions were answered on the spot. Yes, certain counties did things “their way” (I.e. NOT the way the Surrogate’s Court Procedures Act outlines how Probate should be administered), but not

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Don’t Leave Money to Charity Using Your Will

Charities receive some of their largest gifts upon the passing of a benefactor. While this is a kind gesture on your part, if you live in New York you should leave money to your preferred charity using any method other than your Will.   Probate is Annoying: Probating a Will requires New York’s involvement, meaning Probate can be an expensive, tedious and slow process. You will need to both place the charity on notice that they are a beneficiary under the Will, send them their funds, and procure a Release from the charity. All of this takes time, meaning an attorney is billing for all of this.   Attorney General’s Involvement: As if New York’s courts weren’t inefficient enough for

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What and When Should I Tell My Kids?

Parents who have gone through the estate planning process typically ask what information they should share with their children and when. The answer requires balancing many factors, but can be boiled down to a simple concept: Take responsibility and own up to your decisions, and don’t leave it to your kids to fight about it. First, if a child has been left out of a Will or is receiving less money than other siblings you may want to tell them so, and why. Clearly this is not a universal approach, but taking responsibility and informing them up-front allows the child to reconcile this fact. This will also help minimize your other children having to deal with the dispossessed child’s bitterness

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“Name That Witness” (to Your Will)

When you execute your Will you MUST have it witnessed by at least two competent adults who are not beneficiaries in the Will. When you die New York’s Surrogate’s Courts require the names of the witnesses to be listed in the Probate Petition. And so it is nothing short of stupefying to me how many Wills have witness signatures that are completely illegible. This is somewhat understandable if you execute your own Will, since non-attorneys are not in the business of drafting Wills.  The signers of illegible signatures are also more easily identified in the event it was the Testator’s friends or neighbors who signed (and thus the identities of the witnesses are more easily deduced). But many attorneys’ witnesses

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“Don’t Forget About BoBo: Pet Trust for Your Animal Companion”

One of my dearest aging clients have a dog named Bo Bo. Bo Bo is a true companion to this couple: They are in their 90s and have outlived many of their friends, the husband is more mobile than his wife and likes to get physical activity by walking Bo Bo, and the dog is absolutely in love with them. Bo Bo also smells bad, barks at the littlest disturbance, is a manic that constantly jumps on visitors, (and gets slobber and fur on my suit, which needs to be dry cleaned after every single visit) and is begrudgingly tolerated (at best) by anyone other than my clients. Unfortunately,  when my clients pass to the eternal human boneyard, Bo Bo’s

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5 Times You DON’T Pay a Deceased Person’s Credit Card Bill

The weeks immediately following a family member’s death is tense, emotional and stressful; many people rush to handle the departed person’s affairs. This includes paying the deceased person’s debts, since every credit card company comes out of the woodwork the moment the card is cancelled by the survivors. However, many family members pay these bills even though they had no responsibility to do so.   Here are 5 instances when you should NOT pay a deceased person’s debts:   Retirement Plans: Remember that your retirement plans are protected from most creditors, including credit cards. If the decedent died with only retirement plan assets remaining in his name, tell this to the credit card company and don’t pay them anything.  

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