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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Codicils and Trust Amendments May Burn Your Estate

Hiring an attorney has been obnoxiously expensive since the first time a guy’s donkey backing into another guy’s mud version of today’s tiny houses: You tend to want a person or document that best insures you are going to get things done your way, but good results cost a lot of money. So, it is not surprising that people prefer to change their Wills using Codicils and Trust Amendments instead of redrafting the entire original document. I have concluded this is often a mistake and now believe clients should spring for the costs of redrafting their entire document. Codicils are quick changes to existing Wills, and only modify the portions they are intended to change (and maintain the remaining contents

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Requiem for Stan Lee: Superhero of the Superheroes

As a former collector of Bronze-Age Marvel comic books, I was sad to hear of the passing of Stan Lee. As the creator or co-creator of so many comic book characters – the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Spider Man, Iron Man, the Avengers, the Uncanny X-Men, Doctor Strange, the list goes on – Lee is one of the most meaningful entertainment influencers of our era. True, Lee owed a great debt to his prolific co-creators (and arguably more talented artists), such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but even though Lee’s style often promoted himself instead of Marvel and anyone else that made Marvel Comics the cultural juggernaut it has become, everyone from once-teenage comic collectors, to Disney executives

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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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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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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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Should I Share My Will with My Financial Advisor?

And the answer is: No. Usually. See you next week.   Okay, okay, I’ll elaborate.   Your Last Will and Testament is a confidential document while you are alive. When you pass away your Will may be Probated in a court – at which time it’s contents are publicly available – so that your estate’s assets are properly distributed to your choice of beneficiaries.   So only you and your lawyer have access to the contents of your Will. Disinherit your son? He can’t find out while you are alive. Have more assets than your family knows about? They shall continue to live in ignorance. Don’t trust third parties with access to your confidential information? No problem, nothing to see

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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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Second Wives: Reapers of Sorrow, Destroyers of Family Wealth!

In a world where our assets are constantly under threat from usurious taxes, government largess, financial predators and rapacious offspring, there is still NO worse threat to intergenerational family wealth than a second wife.   People get married the first time for any one of a number of reasons: Family pressure, filling a void, the urge to have children, an inexplicable desire to emulate the lives of Al and Peg Bundy and passion.  But these first marriages often end, sometimes with children left in their wake, and are replaced by a second marriage based on love, devotion and emotional security.   In these second (or third) marriages, often one spouse tends to be significantly older and more financially secure than

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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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