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Estate planning in New York about more than money and assets

Having an estate plan is a good idea, but only if the desired results are achieved. An estate plan should have a positive and empowering effect on its heirs, and not a divisive effect. Too many times, the latter is the outcome. Having the assets distributed as the owner wants them distributed is vital, but again, only if the outcome is good for everyone.

When you spend your adult life making an estate and spend little to no time in estate planning, the outcome is never good. On the other hand, the person who over-plans has so many pages of documents that the people who are to carry out his or her wishes leave it on a shelf and never look at it. Neither outcome is ideal.

The worth of an individual is not measured in dollars but in experiences, family ties, health, traditions and family wisdom. The problem with estate planning is trying to equate these values to money.

There are four categories that an estate plan is built on: defer taxes, divide among heirs, dump assets on those unqualified to take care of them and last, dissipate and squander. This may bring a sense of entitlement that is not warranted or necessary in the receiving generation.

Many of those who divide their estates do so to avoid conflict among siblings. Ideally, you want to establish your estate to last for a generation or more so that the heirs of your estate do not feel a burden but can carry on your legacy.

Estate planning is not simply avoiding taxes or dumping assets on heirs who are ill-equipped to handle them. Family leadership is important in planning the future of your assets. Encouraging your children to lead productive lives and to be successful is the truest and highest form of the legacy that an estate planner can have.

Clarity, confidence, focus, balance and harmony in an estate plan are what to aim for. Having a professional involved is an important element in the equation.

Source: NHBR, "A new paradigm for estate planning" Charles H. Baldwin, May. 29, 2014

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