Our Estate Planning and Elder Law practice includes advising individuals and families in the protection and transfer of wealth, including multi-generational planning, business succession and philanthropic gifting arrangements. Our services include preparation of simple and complex Last Wills and Testaments and Trusts (such as life insurance trusts, asset protection trusts, supplemental needs trusts, living trusts, charitable trusts, private foundations and trusts created under Wills, and Gift plans). In addition, we help our clients create Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, and Living Wills. For persona who lack the mental capacity to create those documents, we bring petitions before the Court for the appointment of a Guardian. Also, we offer fiduciary consulting services to individuals and business entities with respect to agency and trust and estate administration matters.
We know that a “good” estate plan includes planning for the expenses of long term care. We assist our clients with identifying resources that will be available to help pay for that care, including self-funding, insurance, and governmental assistance programs, such as Medicaid. Then, we help our clients create a plan to help ensure that the resource will be available to them in the future should they require long term care.
Why you must keep your estate planning up-to-date
If you are lucky, there will be several decades between when you create your estate planning documents and when your loved ones use them. But, estate plans should not be created and forgotten. They need to be reviewed from time to time and adjusted as the circumstances of your life and the laws that may affect your estate plan change. As a general rule, we recommend reviewing your estate planning documents at least once every five years. The huge exception to this general rule occurs when you experience (or when you anticipate experiencing) a major life change, or when there is a major change in the law that could affect your estate plan.
A “major life change” is a life event that affects you and/or the ones that you love and care about. Examples include marriage, divorce, separation, a child attaining the age of majority, the birth of a grandchild (especially if the grandchild has special needs), drastic changes in finances, a chronic illness, the incapacity of a loved one, the death of a loved one, and changing the state of your residence. A “major change in the law” is a little trickier to identify. For example, there have been recent changes in the law significantly increasing the amount that can pass free of federal and New York State estate taxes at the time of your death. Prior to this major change, many married couples created “two-share” estate plans with a formula-funded bypass trust or credit shelter trust. Should you fail to update your estate plan prior to your death, this type of arrangement may have serious unintended consequences with respect to taxation and/or your surviving spouse’s access to assets subsequent to your death.
Updating your estate plan is not necessarily the end of the story. If your beneficiaries (i.e. your partner or your children) do not have their own estate planning documents up to date, your best-laid plans may be undermined by unexpected and unintended problems.
Picture this: You make a Will that leave all your estate to your adult child. Your child has a Will that leaves everything she owns to her son (your grandson). Your grandson is 19 years old and has recently decided to drop out of college to search for unicorns. You pass away a few months later, and your child receives his inheritance and carefully invests the money in the stock market. That child then dies unexpectedly without updating his Will and your grandson receives his inheritance outright. Your grandson spends his entire inheritance to buy a cage large enough to hold 10 unicorns. The sting? A year later, your grandson realizes that he will never catch a unicorn and wants to return to college, but he has spent everything he had (including the inheritance that you had given to your daughter that passed to him when your daughter passed away) on the cage. The lesson: your grandson would have money available to pay for college if your child had made or updated her Will to protect your grandson from the long-term consequences of making foolish decisions.
An estate plan is one of the most important gifts that we give to the loved ones that we leave behind. As such, it is important that we ensure that your estate plan continues to serve the needs of those we love as life changes and as the laws change. When is the last time you looked at your estate plan? We invite you to schedule a complimentary half hour consultation to review your estate plan.
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