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What should I ask my estate planning attorney?

Estate planning is not only for the wealthy. In fact, every adult New York resident should consider drawing up an estate plan, and speaking with a qualified estate planning lawyer is a great way to start with that process. When speaking with your attorney, be sure to address the following issues.

First, ask your attorney about drafting a will. A will is the most basic estate planning document and everyone should, at the very least, have one set up. Nevertheless, an estimated 64 percent of United States citizens do not have wills. Putting off the creation of a will is a serious mistake since following death, the division of a person's estate will then be left up to a probate court to decide -- a process that is will not be cheap or easy to complete for the decedent's heirs.

Second, ask your estate planning lawyer about beneficiaries of different accounts. It is important to remember that a will does not govern the dispensation of all assets. Indeed, various accounts like IRAs, 401(k)s and life insurance policies have special beneficiary forms that indicate who will inherit them after death. As such, estate planners need to double check their beneficiary forms on a regular basis to ensure that they reflect their wishes and their current family situations.

Third, ask your lawyer whether you should consider giving away some of your money while you are still alive. This strategy applies to New York residents whose estates are in danger of getting hit with estate taxes. Under IRS regulations, Americans are permitted to gift as much as $14,000 tax-free per year per person who receives the gift. Over time, these gifts may help you lower the ultimate value of your assets and reduce your estate's tax burden after death.

Depending on your family situation and needs, you will probably have a lot of other relevant questions to ask your New York estate planning attorney. Be sure to write those questions down before visiting your lawyer to ensure that you stay organized and cover everything during your initial meetings.

Source: US News, "5 Estate Planning Strategies to Keep Your Money in the Family," Maryalene LaPonsie, Nov. 19, 2015

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    --Robert and Christine Simonson, Fairport
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    — Christine and Robert Simonson, Fairport
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    --David and Ajia Cherry, Fairport
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