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Rochester Estate Planning Law Blog

Updating an estate plan is a forgotten necessity for New Yorkers

New Yorkers should be fully aware of the importance of drafting estate planning documents. There are a seeming endless number of reasons why this is a good idea. Often, however, people who have an estate plan will not update it as needed. Simply having the estate plan is rarely enough. Knowing when and why it is essential to update the plan can avoid long-term problems and regret.

There is no specific time at which a person must revise and update their estate plan. But certain events or situations are obvious tipping points to do so. If a person leaves one state and moves to another, it is wise to remember that estate laws can vary depending on the state. So, if a person is moving to New York, having a law firm that is based in New York and understands all the different variables with an estate plan can ensure that it fits into state laws. Even if the person is not moving to another state permanently, but is getting a second residence, it remains important to account for that in the estate plan.

Could a special needs trust help your loved one?

Creating your estate plan can be complicated, and if you have a disabled loved one, your plan can be even more complicated. One option you have available to you in New York is the special needs trust, also referred to as a supplemental needs trust. The special needs trust allows you to care for a disabled family member without jeopardizing the Medicaid benefits they rely on.


Changes to inheritance tax might not lead to IRS clawback

Recent posts have discussed how the changes to the tax laws under the Trump Administration could affect people who are seeking to avoid the inheritance tax and make sure their wealth protection strategies stand the test of time. A concern for many has been whether the Internal Revenue Service will seek to get some of the lost taxes back when the changes expire in 2025. New information indicates that the IRS has no intention to do that and it could be important as to how people go about preparing their estate plans.

For those with significant wealth, the idea of simply gifting assets to heirs while there is a temporary reprieve from onerous tax implications for doing so might have seemed like a short-term solution that would later need to be recovered. However, a proposal from the IRS says that the doubling of the individual limit to $11.2 million and the limit to a married couple to $22.4 million will not result in a so-called "clawback" at its 2025 expiration.

Inheritance tax levels for 2019 announced

As New Yorkers prepare an estate plan to divide their assets after their death and loved ones of a person who recently died set about to move forward with estate administration, the inheritance tax (also known as the estate tax) is an unavoidable concern. Fortunately, for people who are estate planning, there are strategies to mitigate its impact. After the testator has died, those who have inherited the assets should be cognizant of what the new limits are based on changes implemented by the Trump Administration. As part of that, the Internal Revenue Service has released the estate tax and gift tax limits for 2019. As 2018 winds down, everyone should be aware of these and how they are affected by it.

For 2019, the individual exemption will be $11.4 million. This is a rise from $11.18 million. A testator can give that amount to heirs and there will be no federal tax. For a married couple, it is going to be $22.8 million. The amount that can be excluded as a gift stays at $15,000. This is important for those who have significant assets - of which there are many in New York. Even people who do not think they are considered "well off" might be surprised when a loved one had assets that reached these levels once the totals are tabulated.

What should you do about digital assets in an estate plan?

As more of our lives go online, it’s becoming increasingly important to have a plan for what happens to your digital identity.

Many New York residents are finding themselves at a loss when it comes to loved ones’ online presence. Increasingly, family members lose access to important online accounts. Avoid that by creating a plan for digital possessions. Here’s how to plan for digital assets:

Estate plan of late comic book icon a cautionary tale

Estate planning and proper preparation for the future are key for New Yorkers of all ages and in every financial situation. This is especially true for people who are wealthy, prominent and getting up in years. For people who are in this situation, having legal assistance is a must to make certain that there is adequate protection for every aspect of their lives. Evidence of how crucial this is recently became evident when the comic book creator and icon Stan Lee died at age 95.

Mr. Lee had been ailing for approximately one year. His daughter, 68, is his sole heir after his wife's death in July 2017. Other issues have hampered Mr. Lee including allegations of sexual harassment made by caregivers and his bank accounts being short of significant money. He asserted that around $850,000 of that missing money was used to buy a condominium. In addition, he had business managers with whom he'd had disagreements and parted ways. For his part, Mr. Lee seemed aware of the issues as he stated he knew he had had problems with business managers and others involved in his life and asserted others should be cautious.

Handling art and sentimental items when estate planning

Estate planning can be a difficult process for New Yorkers when they are determining strategies to pass along their assets. What can make this even more complicated is when the assets go beyond the basic and tangible to that which is open to desire and interpretation. Specifically, that will include items like art, jewelry and goods that might not appear to be worth much when on the market, but have sentimental value to prospective heirs and can be subject to an intense dispute. Having assistance from a qualified law firm that specializes in complicated estate planning is a must in any situation, but is of great importance with these cases.

There are certain steps to take with properties that are hard to quantify. Understanding what the property is worth is a first step. This is truly independent of whether the testator would like to pass it to an heir or wants it sold. The market value should be known before anything else. When value is attached to an item, it puts a number to it so those involved understand what they are dealing with. This is critical with art and jewelry. The value of such items can vary depending on its market and how in demand it is. This should be known.

Family conflict often causes more problems than tax rules

Fights over a loved one’s estate all too often overshadow a family’s ability to grieve their loss. In fact, family conflict is the biggest worry in estate planning today, according to recent survey of professionals at the Annual Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning. Nearly half of professionals surveyed who handle estate planning said this issue was even more important than tax reform and market volatility concerns.

To avoid future conflict over your estate, think carefully about the dynamics of your family. Are there individuals whose interests are naturally competing, such as a stepparent and stepchildren? Is a relationship between siblings already strained? These issues can cause serious conflict when people are forced to work together following a loss.

Various aspects of creating a full, comprehensive estate plan

New Yorkers who do not take the necessary steps to craft a well-designed estate plan will inevitably regret it. While these documents are often considered to be essential only to those who have significant assets, everyone can use estate planning strategies to avoid family disputes and ensure that the person's property, savings and more will go where they want after they have passed. In most cases, this is not as complicated as it sounds, but there are certain aspects that should be considered beforehand.

With the changes to the tax laws, the impact on those who have major assets is not as hefty as it once was as the estate tax threshold has been increased to $11.18 million. This is one of the issues that people should know about. Making a will details how the assets will be distributed after death. There will be an executor named and this person will do as the will instructs them. For those who have minor children, a guardianship can be used for their care. People should remember that dying intestate - without a will - can take the decisions out of the person's hands and leave it to the state to determine how to distribute the assets.

How to handle distributing assets as a trustee

Unlike what movies and TV would have you believe, the administration of an estate does not occur immediately after someone passes on. Typically, a trustee does not begin handling a trust until after the funeral and memorial arrangements.

Trusts can stipulate assets are distributed a variety of ways, so this affects the steps you take as a trustee. However, you must begin somewhere, so here is how to get started distributing assets from a trust.

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