Angry Brothers Agree to Settle (Mom’s Estate)

You never know how close you are to your family until you have to share an inheritance with them. I am wrapping-up a case where my client’s mother died, leaving a Will that equally-distributed her real estate between her two somewhat-acrimonious sons. Usually this apartment would be sold, proceeds disbursed, and everyone would go their separate way. However, my client’s brother insisted that he could make them more money if he improved the real estate. His brother (my client) was not so hip on this idea – none of them had any real estate investing experience – but through sheer force, perseverance and presumption his brother had his own son move in (which he did – with a few kewl

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Should You Treat Your Kids Evenly in Your Estate Plan?

I believe you do not need to treat children equally in your estate plan, even if they are equally responsible, equally financially-empowered, and on good terms with you and one-another. Some parents follow differing distributive patterns under Sharia Law or other cultural edicts, others leave disparate amounts to children if one has several children of their own and the other child does not. In the end, the decision of how to bequeath one’s money is the client’s decision. I had one couple who decided to almost completely disinherit their daughter. She was an active opioid addict for several years, and they felt leaving her substantial money (even if utilizing a trust with a substance abuse provision that would limit her

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4 Reasons Your Family Disinherited You

I often get calls from indignant clients telling me their recently-departed parent or other family member has disinherited them, and they want to know their options. And while proving a Will that disinherits someone is never a foregone conclusion, they are usually walking up to home plate with two strikes against them.   And many times, this was unexpected: The client had no clue why they were cut out of the decedent’s estate. From my experience, it is likely due to one of the following misperceptions you had:   You did not give them enough attention.   Face it: Spending time with elderly and sick people is not usually our go-to option for a Friday night. It can be very

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6 Steps Before You Fund Your Child’s Home Down Payment

I have had an increasing number of clients approach me asking an increasingly-difficult question: “Should I provide my child with funds for her first home down payment, or focus on my own lifetime needs and leave my (presumably larger) estate as an inheritance when I pass away?” This is not an easy decision, since it depend both on the parent’s finances and health issues, and the child’s cash flow and social issues.   Many middle-class parents realize their children’s purchasing power for real estate is significantly weaker than theirs was: Real estate prices have outpaced income growth over the last twenty years, while the number and cost of financial commitments (such as student loan debt and health insurance payments) have

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5 Reasons UTMA Accounts Are Bad

Parents and grandparents sometimes look for easy ways to give money to younger family members. The challenge arises when the recipient is a minor (minors cannot own property in their own name until 18, with some exceptions) and when the donor wants to minimize legal fees. A Uniform Transfer to Minors Act [“UTMA”] account, which leaves funds to the child when he/she turns 21, used to be viewed as an appropriate way to leave funds to a minor now that would be paid out later when he/she reached a more mature age. UTMAs are inexpensive: You only need to set up the account at a financial institution, name an adult custodian for the account, and let the custodian buy a

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How the Probate Court Screws You if You are Old (OR: How to Screw Over Your Family if You Are Disinherited in the Will): Personal Service and New York Surrogate’s Court

Many people have a horror story, how Probating your family member’s Will took years, was a pain in the neck, and Aunt Mildred’s lawyer was to blame. And this is often at least partially true: New York Probates can have unusual complexities that will blindside an unsuspecting attorney. In my last blog I gave several reasons why the Court itself is usually to blame. Now I would like to focus on one way the system itself is faulty: New York’s Surrogate’s Court requires personal service on the next-of-kin.   When a person dies and their Will is being submitted to New York’s Surrogate’s Court it must include (among other things) an original Death Certificate, a Petition requesting the Court to

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No One Likes Your Uncle Marvin: Isolated Aging Men

Many of us have an aging male friend or family member who is unmarried and has no children. This man, also known as your “Uncle Marvin”, is getting older, lives alone, and is probably financially prepared for the remainder of his life. But he may be completely unprepared for the legal consequences of his aging.   Unlike his female counterparts, such as your Aunt May, Uncle Marvin and his male contemporaries are more likely to be emotionally isolated from other family members and socially separated from his community. In addition, our society still erroneously views men as competent, stoic loners who don’t require or desire our involvement with their lives. Even our health care and aging mechanisms are geared toward

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Your Brother is Taking Your (Parent’s) Money

  My grandmother used to counsel her friends with young children by sharing the phrase “Small children, small problems; big children, big problems…”   Some siblings work a lot, take pride in their independence, and save their hard-earned money. And some siblings have bad luck, are victims of financial predators or our legal system (divorce, criminal “justice” matters, etc.), or they may just be lazy. While the stars perfectly aligned for the former children, the latter child gets stuck in a perpetual rut, parents or other family members start financing his lifestyle, and sibling bitterness boils.   Down-on-their-luck children drain family assets, become increasingly disinterested in working, and cause fraternal discontent and animosity. Parental assets that could one day pass

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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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Your Prenup: How Your Family Law Attorney Betrayed You

If you have a prenuptial agreement, chances are that the family law attorney who represented you betrayed you and didn’t even realize it.   I often tell clients to get a prenup if they are getting married later in life, and insist my older clients pay for their child’s prenup. And soon thereafter, much to my dismay, I see yet another prenup that unintentionally-yet-completely screws my client if his or her spouse dies unexpectedly.   Prenups serve one vital purpose: “Split Money.” There is usually a financial disparity between the parties when the couple marries, so the wealthier spouse naturally wants to protect his or her money from the other spouse’s financial grasp after a short marriage. So the prenup

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