Our Skilled Estate Planning Lawyers Put Your Mind at Ease With the Answers You Need About Your New York Will

You may believe writing a will is something you can put off until later, or you have so many questions that you don’t know where to start. It’s possible the idea of drafting your wishes and thinking about death may bring you a great deal of stress. However, when you work with an experienced estate planning attorney, you don’t have to delay the process or feel anxiety about creating this crucial document. 

The intelligent, well-informed NY attorneys at Landskind & Ricaforte have worked with thousands of clients who had questions before developing their estate plans and writing their wills. We understand your uncertainty and need for honest answers before taking steps to ensure your legacy and protect your family and beneficiaries. Renata Landskind and Terence Ricaforte answer common questions about writing a New York will. 

1. Why Is It Important to Have a Will?

Most people know they should have a will. However, many never get around to writing one. They find many reasons not to create a will, including believing it costs too much, it takes too much time, and the idea of death is too difficult to think about. 

But for as many reasons as there are to avoid making a will, there are many or more reasons to get one written right away. These include:

  • It will save time, money, and stress for your family. Without a will, your loved ones could face a complicated intestate administration. The court will have to name an executor, which can become expensive, time-consuming, and contentious for your family members. Having a will streamlines the court process and allows your loved ones the time to grieve without getting caught up in administrative decisions.
  • You designate your executor. You’ll be able to state who you want to manage your affairs—someone you trust and feel confident will follow through on your wishes. The court will pick one for you if you don’t have a will with a designated executor. Imagine if this was a stranger or someone you don’t like. Because the court doesn’t know your relationships, it could choose someone you would never have chosen yourself. 
  • It provides you with peace of mind. A last will and testament helps you look after your loved ones after you die. It also provides your family with a road map for your estate. You can spell out who receives what items, outline the financial allocation to each person, and provide information about why you may have left a specific item to one individual and something else to another. You can help decrease family disputes about your estate by explaining your thoughts and reasoning for asset distribution. 

2. Do I Need a Lawyer to Write a Will in New York?

With today’s technology advances, you’ve likely heard about DIY wills—templates you can pull off the internet and use to write a basic will. New York allows you to write your own will as long as it meets the following criteria:

  • You’re 18 years old and fully competent when creating the will.
  • It’s typed and not handwritten—NY only accepts holographic wills under very special circumstances.
  • It’s signed by you—the testator—in front of two witnesses.
  • You must state that you’re aware the document you’re signing is a will.
  • It’s signed by two witnesses who sign in front of you.
  • The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries. 

Even though you don’t need to hire a lawyer to draft your will, most people don’t understand the vocabulary or language used in this document or have the background to write an iron-clad, uncontestable legal directive. If you use ambiguous language, you may jeopardize the validity of your will. For example, you might write that your nephew will receive $50,000. At a later point in the will, you may state that your nephew will receive one-third of your entire estate. This ambiguity will likely create questions and problems, and your family may contest the document to get clarification. 

When you hire Landskind & Ricaforte, you can feel confident that there’ll be no ambiguity in your legal documentation. Creating a DIY will might seem less expensive—however, why put your estate at risk? If you draft your will incorrectly and there are inaccuracies or ambiguities that no family member can explain, your estate may end up in court.  

3. What If I Choose Not to Create a Will? 

If you die without a will, it’s said that you’ve died “intestate.” This means the New York courts divide your property based on state law. Your family members share the estate based on NY’s strict hierarchy. Typically, if the person who died intestate had a spouse but no children, the spouse inherits all assets. If the deceased had children but no spouse, the children receive all assets. 

However, there are other scenarios where the division of assets might not be what you expect or want. For example, you might want a friend to share some of your estate, or you want to leave money to a charitable organization. But without a legal document with instructions to specify your wishes, these intentions won’t happen. Rarely do the laws of the state align with what the deceased person wanted. That’s why it’s important to work with an estate planning attorney and create a will that clearly states your wishes and how you want your assets distributed. 

4. Who’s Responsible for Ensuring My Wishes Are Carried Out the Way I Want?

When you create a will, you designate an executor—sometimes called a representative—to handle your affairs after you die. Executors have many responsibilities, but their primary job is to protect your estate and carry out the intentions stated in the will. An executor must act in the estate’s best interests at all times.

Generally, an executor must perform some of the following duties:

  • Establish an estate bank account
  • Identify all assets and properties of the deceased
  • Pay taxes, bills, and creditors
  • Make distributions to beneficiaries and heirs
  • Maintain detailed accounts and records of asset sales for the court

An executor has a “fiduciary duty” to the estate. This means the executor must demonstrate a high degree of honesty, diligence, and impartiality and act in good faith on behalf of the deceased. 

5. What Assets Should I Include and Not Include in My Will?

A will is an easy way to distribute your assets to beneficiaries and allows you to gift what you own to people or organizations of your choosing. These assets can include:

  • Money
  • Cars, boats, motorcycles
  • Bank accounts
  • Heirlooms and collectibles
  • Jewelry
  • Furniture
  • Real property 

Real property usually refers to homes, buildings, and land. It’s possible that gifting these items can be more complicated than some of your other assets, but you should still list them in your will.  You can be as detailed as you want about the distribution of your assets, or you can simplify the process by dividing your estate equally among your beneficiaries. You can also gift money, artwork, or collectibles to charities and other favorite organizations. 

Other Things to Include in Your New York Will

You can also use your will to include the name of a guardian for your minor children. If you pass away before they’re of legal age, this action ensures they’ll be cared for by someone you choose instead of by the courts. 

Other things you may want to include in your will include the following:

What Not to Include in Your New York Will

Although you can include real property in your will, you can’t include property that’s held in joint tenancy or in a living trust. You also cannot include the following in your will:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement plans
  • Bank accounts that are designated payable on death

Rest assured, our estate planning attorneys will partner with you to help you understand various solutions and create a will and testament that protects your legacy and makes the future easier for your loved ones.

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