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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Your Wills & Trusts Should Require Your Children to Have Prenups

After you die there are way too many evil forces that can take a swipe at gifts to your children. Credit card companies may receive unpaid debts from your transfers to your children; the street level dope dealer may have his next good run with your child as his primary client; even the government may take much of the funds if your child becomes disabled. But for some reason, nothing annoys a parent more than knowing their soon-to-be-ex-son-in-law Chad is going to get a hold of your bequest to your daughter Becky (and now your son Bryce too, if that’s how he rolls, since greed has no sexual preference). All Wills and Trusts should have substance abuse provisions, spendthrift provisions

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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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The ONLY 5 Times You Should Leave Your Will with Your Lawyer

Ah, lawyers. That smarmy, cash-grabbing group of wordy professionals who somehow legitimately charge you in 15-minute intervals for one text message. And if you thought their tricks ended when you are dead, you would be wrong: Attorneys even know how to ensure they wring out one last retainer after you expire. When a person has their Will done with an attorney it becomes an excuse for the lawyer to say, “After all your thought and money, don’t you think it makes sense for me to hold onto your Will in case your family can find it when you die?” What the attorney was NOT telling you is that when you do expire they get the first chance at charging your

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4 Reasons Your Online Will is Turdy

In the world of legal documents, sometimes having nothing is better than having something. If you pass away without a Will you would hardly be the first person – thousands of people die in the United States every day without having a Will – so there are default statutes that dictate how your estate shall be distributed. True, often times these default laws do not entirely fulfill your post-mortem desires, but they may be better than drafting a faulty document from an online web site, executing it incorrectly, or drafting in ambiguities that now require extra court interpretation (and attorney costs) when you do pass away. My advice: Work with an attorney to draft your Will, even if it’s a

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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 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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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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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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