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What Is Estate Planning?

Estate Planning is the process of addressing issues relating to the management and preservation of your assets during your lifetime, and then, ultimately, the transfer of those assets to your chosen beneficiaries: Many questions and issues are addressed in the Estate Planning process, including the following:

  • If you are incapacitated for any extended period of time, who will pay your bills and manage your assets for you?
  • Who will make your health care decisions during any period when you may be unable to make them for yourself?
  • If you need long term care such as a Nursing Home, how will the cost of your care be paid?
  • Do you wish to do any “Asset Protection Planning” such as transferring your homestead and other assets into an “Asset Protection Trust”, sometimes known as a “Medicaid Qualifying Trust”, so that at least some of your assets are protected from long term care costs?
  • Do you want your heirs/beneficiaries to receive their inheritances under a Will, which is subject to the Oversight of your local Surrogate’s Court, or do you want to avoid the Probate Process by transferring your assets into a Revocable (Living) Trust?  Note: Such a Trust avoids Probate, but does not give you any “Asset Protection” benefits.
  • If you own any business interests, what plan do you have in place to transfer ownership and control of those interests to those who will take over the business? For closely held businesses, the use of “discount valuations” for minority interests and marketability discounts can significantly lower estate tax liabilities.
  • Do you expect any Will Challenges from your heirs, or do you want to disinherit any of your closest heirs?  Such circumstances strongly suggest the use of a Living Revocable Trust, to reduce the chance that your directives might be subject to challenge.
  • If your taxable estate is over $1,000,000.00, you need to give strong consideration to the idea of minimizing or at least reducing possible Estate taxes: Such analysis involves the balance between maintaining control of assets versus relinquishing some control in order to reduce the amount of taxes that ultimately must be paid by your estate.  Failing to do so can be a very expensive omission.
  • For larger estates, you may consider the use of Life Insurance owned by an ILIT (Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust) , which can own life insurance on your life that is not taxed as part of your estate, and which can be later used by your heirs to satisfy estate tax liabilities generated by the assets they inherit from  your estate.
  • In formulating your estate plan, you must select Executors, Trustees and Agents for your Will, Trust(s), Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy documents.
  • If you have minor children, you should consider naming a “Standby Guardian” to make health care and other decisions for your children, in the event that you are unable or unavailable to do so.

Having an efficient Estate Plan in place not only ensures that your assets will be managed and distributed according to your wishes and directives, but  also alleviates burdens on your family members and reduces the likelihood of  disputes.  An efficient Estate Plan can ensure that your surviving spouse is adequately provided for; protect your assets from any creditors to whom your beneficiaries may owe money; and can shield assets from your heir’s spouses and divorced spouses.

space   What is an “Estate”?

Your Estate consists of everything you own, including Real Estate, Bank Accounts, Stocks and other securities, Business Interests, vehicles and watercraft, Retirement Plans, Life Insurance and Personal Property (e.g. jewelry, furniture and antiques).

Estate Planning Tools:

Various tools can be used to create an Estate Plan specific to your needs, desires and directives.  The most commonly known tool used in Estate Planning is the Will, also known as a Last Will and Testament.  Trusts are also commonly used, which can be either Revocable or Irrevocable. Both kinds of trusts avoid Probate. Properly drafted Irrevocable Trusts can also shield some assets from long term care expenses such as nursing home care costs.  

Our Estate Planning Toolbox includes Wills, a variety of Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills and Health Care Proxies, and Standby Guardian documents.

Who needs an Estate Plan?

 Regardless of your age or wealth, you should have an Estate Plan in place.  Most importantly, an Estate Plan allows you to appoint someone you trust to manage your assets and make health care decisions for you, if you ever become incapable of doing so, rather than leaving such decisions up to someone you did not select, and may not trust.

 

The Witecki Law Office
(518) 372-2827
8 South Church Street
Schenectady, NY 12305
[directions]

 
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