There is an easy answer to the question, “Who needs an estate plan?” That answer is “everyone.” You may think you do not have enough assets to make it worth your time to draft a will, but there is more to estate planning than just writing a will.
Documents Involved in Estate Planning
There are many documents that might be part of an estate plan. Some of these are:
- Will. A Will is a document in which you direct how you want your assets to be distributed after you die. You can be very specific about particular items of property and about who will be the beneficiary. For example, you can name a person you want to receive your house or your car. You can direct that the beneficiary get the property outright, or that the property be held in a trust which means distribution will be restricted. You can also name someone who you do not want to inherit anything. However, a Will must be signed in a very particular way, and it is not valid unless correctly signed.
- Power of Attorney. In this document you name someone to be your agent, and you give your agent authority to manage your financial affairs. Picking the agent and the types of authorities requires discussion (not just a form you download from the internet). A power of attorney must also be signed in a very particular way, and it is not valid unless correctly signed.
- A Living Will. This document provides you the opportunity of establishing exactly what type of care you want, and do not want, if you cannot express yourself or you are not competent. It can cover testing, treatment, artificial nutrition, hydration and respiration. It can cover your wishes about resuscitation, hospitalization, etc.
- A healthcare proxy. In your health care proxy, you designate someone you trust to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself.
- Various types of trusts. Each type of trust serves a different purpose. For example, while you are alive you may want to gift assets to reduce your estate taxes, or because you want to take care of someone else. Your intended beneficiary might be a minor or a person who is not competent, or is a person who might have creditor or matrimonial issues. Or you might need to consider using a trust when doing estate planning to create trusts after you die. Or you might need to consider using a trust to avoid probate.
If you die without the documents which implement your estate plan, your assets will be distributed according to New York State law. The NYS law does not know you, or who is important to you, or whether your favorite people have capacity to manage their assets. NYS law makes no provisions for your best friend, or your favorite charities, or trusts for your adult children who are not quite ready to manage their own assets.
You can, and should, be making your own decisions about your health care and the disposition of your property during your lifetime and after your death.
Contact Estate Planning Attorneys at Rosenthal & Markowitz, LLP
For answers to your questions about estate planning, contact our will, trusts, and estate attorneys at Rosenthal & Markowitz, LLP. You can reach us online or by calling 914.347.1292.