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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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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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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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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College Kids in Trouble! Draft Your Child’s Health Care Proxy

Ah, the Ivory Tower, where high school kids aspire to escape to, and parents best hope for 4 years of peace and quiet. But with independence comes responsibility: Travel, driving, concerts, and protests. And drinking. Lots of drinking. And then comes a horrible injury or hospital admittance, followed by a parental realization: You are not allowed access to your adult child’s health care information, and cannot make decisions regarding their health care.   In most states, the age of majority is 18, and once he or she moves out of his or her parent’s residence they are considered an adult with all of the privacy rights that inure to adults.   The only individual who, by default, has access to

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How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

You may have some idea of how an Estate Planning Attorney can help you (Wills, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, Trusts), but may not know how to choose one. In addition to the questions you would ask any service professional, here are some thoughts and questions you may want to consider prior to signing a Retainer Agreement with the attorney, who will help you establish your estate plan: EXPERTISE: Does the attorney primarily practice New York estate planning, or are they a general practitioner licensed in multiple states? If your estate planning needs are relatively simple (minimal assets, you are married in a first marriage without kids, no disabled relatives) a general practitioner may suffice. However, I have also seen some horrible Wills drafted by

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Keeping Your Trust Private

As followers of my blog know, I am a proponent of passing property using a Trust instead of a Will. While a Will is a contract between the deceased individual and the State in which it is Probated, Trusts are contacts between the Creator and Trustee of the trust. Wills submitted to the Surrogate’s Court are public knowledge (as are the decedent’s assets), while Trusts are private documents. It is this last point that we are discussing here. In order to make a Trust “effective” you have to fund the Trust. The owner on the Deed is now “The John Doe Revocable Trust” (not “John Doe”); the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is likewise the Trust. An unfunded Trust is more effective

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When to Contact Your Estate Attorney

Many people figure that once their estate planning documents are executed the estate planning process has ended. From the client’s perspective, several consultations have been attended and a lot of hours have gone into ordering beneficiary designation forms, real estate documents, and the like (unless the client went to an estate chop shop, in which case almost no time has been spent and the significance of the affair has not been realized). From the old school estate attorney’s perspective, the only financially significant moments of the process are during the drafting/execution phase, and entering Probate upon the client’s death, so follow-up appointments are viewed as a waste of time. I find this viewpoint to be both unfortunate and potentially hazardous to client and

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