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Estate Planning Basics: What You Should Know

Planning for what will happen to your assets and property upon your passing can be daunting and many people do not want to think about it. However, estate planning is extremely important to ensure that your wishes for what you leave behind are fulfilled. There are many elements of estate planning that must be considered and various legal documents that must be completed properly in order for your wishes to be carried out.

The Last Will and Testament
A will is a legal document that asserts the decedent’s wishes and provides direction for the administration of the estate. There are many clauses that are required in a will and it will only be enforced by the court if it is drafted properly and legally. For this reason, it is imperative to consult with an estate planning attorney to help draft your will. Within the will, it is important to clearly describe all assets distributed in the will, appoint a personal representative, executors, and guardians of minors you may leave behind, a description of your family status, and if you choose to omit any family members who would otherwise benefit from the laws of succession. A will may also include the mention of any trusts and an executed power of attorney.

A valid will must be written and include the signatures of the testator (the person whom the will is for) and witnesses. It may also include an anti-contest clause that will help prevent family members from refuting the will in court.

Trusts are helpful in distributing assets before or after death. A trust essentially aids in the transfer of property from the creator of the trust to one or more people known as trustees. The trustees are granted the legal title to the property so long as he or she carries out the duties imposed by the creator of the trust to hold the property for the beneficiary, who ultimately will receive the property within the trust.

Essentially any property can be included in a trust and many people use them to provide income to family members, themselves, or even to donate to charity. However, only property that is capable of generating income may be the subject of a trust. The creator of the trust can decide whether he or she would like the trust to take effect during his or her life or upon his or her death.

Advance Directives and Power of Attorney
Appointing a power of attorney generally means that this person has the authority to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions yourself. An advance directive is similar in that it also grants decision-making authority with respect to health care to someone other than the patient. A patient may plan for the event that he or she becomes unable to make important medical decisions using the following types of advance directives:

  1. Health Care Proxy.This is a legal document that appoints another person to make medical decisions in the event that the patient is unable to do so.
  2. Living Wills.This legal instrument outlines a person’s wishes in terms of life support and organ donations if he or she becomes unable to make decisions for him or herself.
  3. Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Directive.When this document is signed, it states that the patient does not wish to receive life-saving emergency treatment or remain alive on life support systems should he or she require them to sustain life.

The documents outlined above are important legal documents that help to decide what will happen to you and your property upon your death or in the event that you cannot make decisions for yourself. It is crucial that you consult with an experienced Westchester estate planning lawyer who will help you draft these documents properly to ensure your wishes are fulfilled. For years, the New York lawyers at Martin Grossbach, P.C. have assisted clients in creating valid wills and trusts and appointing a power of attorney. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call (914) 631-6666.

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