Many people put off estate planning for as long as they can, or even fail to make any plan at all during their lifetime. While you may be able to avoid the unpleasantness of planning for your passing, that unpleasantness doesn’t go away—it becomes the first thing handed down to your heirs.
Dying Intestate Raises Questions Your Heirs Will Have to Answer
In New York State, estates are passed down in one of two ways: through a Last Will and Testament or by court distribution. If you have left a Will, your property will go through probate and be passed to your beneficiaries according to your instructions. If you have died without a Will (also called dying intestate), the probate court will determine the distribution of your assets according to the laws of intestacy.
If you don’t have an estate plan in place, do you know:
- Who will make life-and-death decisions about your health? A comprehensive estate plan covers a wide variety of situations where you may not be able to make your own decisions. If you become incapacitated, someone will need to make important medical decisions for you. If you don’t designate this person with a healthcare proxy, the court may have to step in and appoint someone on your behalf.
- Who can pay the family bills? If you suffer from a progressive illness, you may need someone to step in and handle your finances, business interests, and legal affairs. If you haven’t granted financial power of attorney to a trusted family member, an unscrupulous relative may gain control of your assets.
- How will you pay for long-term care? The costs of nursing homes or assisted living facilities can eat away at a person’s life savings or even force them to sell the family home. A well-crafted estate plan can preserve your Medicaid eligibility and protect valuable assets from going toward the costs of future care.
- Who will care for your children? If you are married and have children under the age of 18, you might assume that your surviving spouse will raise the children upon your passing. But what if both of you pass away in the same incident, or your spouse dies shortly after you? It will be up to the courts to decide who will act as guardian for your minor children, giving that person control over your children as well as their inheritances from you.
- Who gets your possessions? Some people believe they don’t need an estate plan because they don’t have a lot of property. When these estates turn out to be far more valuable than they thought, their families often start fighting amongst themselves to get their “fair share.” Anyone who may have family ties to you could claim a portion of your assets, including spouses from prior marriages, foster children, stepchildren, or even people you’ve never met.
- How will your debts be paid? After your passing, your estate is liable for any outstanding debt you have left behind. If you have debt, your surviving spouse may be left impoverished or there may be nothing left for your heirs once your debts have been paid.
- How much will be left for your beneficiaries after taxes? A significant portion of your estate could go to the government after your death, especially if you have a high net worth. There are several ways to avoid federal estate taxes in your estate plan, including gifting a certain amount of assets to your beneficiaries each year.
- Who will settle disputes among family members? A Will designates a trusted person to act as executor to your estate—gathering your assets, paying off creditors, and distributing property to your heirs. Without a Will, the court will appoint someone to act as executor.
While there’s no way to prevent the pain your passing will cause the ones you love, you can make their lives easier and prevent confusion after you’re gone. At Landskind & Ricaforte Law Group, P.C., our experienced estate planning lawyers can help you create a Last Will and Testament that makes your wishes clear—giving you and your loved ones immediate peace of mind. Contact us today through our online form to learn how we can be of assistance.