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A Primer On Estate Planning - White Plains, NYCommon Misconceptions About Estate Planning

Unfortunately, misconceptions surrounding estate planning are all too common. Meanwhile, understanding estate planning in New York, or anywhere for that matter, is critical. Many people think estate planning is planning for the end of your life. It is indeed planning for your death, but it isn’t only that. In fact, estate planning encompasses a lot more than that.

Estate planning is about taking control of your life, especially concerning your medical and financial wishes. This can be true even in situations that likely don’t cross your mind when you think of estate planning. For example, you think one day, “I am not feeling well today, but I am not on my deathbed or anything. I just want some help, so I’m going to give a power of attorney to my son or my daughter to go to the bank for me.” Granted, this happens more as people become older since the body generally is not as vigorous as in youth, so people tend to associate it with being elderly or near death.

Many people think, “If I die tomorrow, everything I own will go to my spouse or children.” However, this is not necessarily true per New York law. In this situation, the assets you leave would be divided per state law. However, having proper documentation in place, you could declare your wishes and distribute your assets accordingly.

Many have misconceptions surrounding Medicaid planning as well, which becomes relevant when a person requires assistance in a nursing home or at home and needs to apply for Medicaid. Even still are misconceptions related to special needs planning, where setting up trust funds can be beneficial for individuals receiving funds, ensuring they are provided for without necessarily giving them a full share they might be entitled to under a will.

I emphasize personalizing my estate planning services and taking the time to understand your family dynamics. I learn about your family, who you want to be involved, and the unique circumstances of each of your family members. This could include considerations such as whether you’re in contact with all your children if they are geographically dispersed or if some have specific care needs that others do not. Knowing these details allows me to create a tailored estate plan that reflects your wishes and ensures your loved ones are cared for according to their specific needs and circumstances.

Constructing A Sufficient Estate Planning Portfolio

How robust your estate planning portfolio needs to be depends on the circumstances you find yourself in. Some clients have very light portfolios, consisting of only a few pages. While this might be fine for some people, it might not be for others. On top of this, your circumstances can change over time. It is wise to re-evaluate your documents every few years or every time there’s a significant change in your life. The goal here is to ensure the documents that make up your portfolio are still effective and relevant to your circumstances.

Besides this, you may change your mind in the future concerning what you want. You may want something changed, or you may end up needing to change something. I take many possibilities into account when drafting a will or trust. However, unforeseen events can occur, prompting the need for updates and modifications to your estate plan. For instance, if a beneficiary passes away abruptly, you would need to update documents accordingly.

When moving to a new state, the laws may vary, so I advise people to review their estate plans when they move. While no major changes are often necessary, periodic review is beneficial. For instance, consider healthcare proxies, as circumstances can shift. If a spouse passes away or a child who was once your proxy moves, you may want to designate a different child who is now actively involved in your care to be your healthcare proxy.

Regularly revisiting your estate plan can ensure it accurately reflects your current wishes and safeguards your interests during life’s various milestones.

Estate Planning Goals

When developing goals for my clients’ estate planning, I take a comprehensive approach and evaluate their overall estate planning needs. To meet their needs, strategies I employ typically include a:

  • Will;
  • Health Care proxy;
  • Powers of attorney;
  • Advanced directives (also known as a living will);
  • Occasionally, a trust.

Having all of these as part of an estate planning portfolio means you are not only planning for matters after death, but you are taking a step toward controlling your own life now. For example, naming someone in a healthcare proxy means that an individual represents your interests if you cannot communicate for yourself while you are still alive. An advanced directive gives the individual representing you, your caregivers, and your medical providers an idea of what your wishes are. This has significant implications should you desire something that might not be typical or not desire something that is, such as artificial respiration, intubation, hydration, and countless other medical treatments available.

A power of attorney is more of a financial document. It authorizes someone to act on your behalf in financial matters. With a power of attorney, you can authorize your spouse or child to handle your banking for you if you cannot yourself, even if you are not incapacitated. It also enables you to allow them to deal with insurance companies on your behalf if you need medical bills handled. Without a power of attorney, these entities will not engage with someone on another’s behalf.

After these considerations, I approach things with what the client wants for their assets after they pass away in mind, asking questions such as:

  • How should they be distributed after creating the estate and amassing a house, savings, and insurance policies?
  • How can we ensure that happens?
  • Who gets what?

There are various ways of making this happen. You can name beneficiaries, for example, on an insurance policy or have everything go to your estate. I often walk my clients through why one option may be better than another. Since each case is unique, it is critical you have these conversations with a skilled and trustworthy estate planning lawyer.

For more information on Understanding Estate Planning In New York, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (914) 358-9755 today.

Rose Rossi, Esq.

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