Trusts and Estates
Whether you are reaching the latter stages of your life or a family member has recently died, it can be stressful and anxiety-provoking to confront death and issues like what will happen to your property and wealth after you are gone. New York City trusts and estates lawyer Jules Haas understands the sensitivity of these situations. He is experienced in matters related to estate planning, wills, trusts, probate, estate administration, the selection of an executor, estate taxes, estate settlement services, advance directives, and others. Sometimes out-of-state family members or relatives of New York residents must retain an attorney in New York State, and he also can represent out-of-state executors, administrators, and beneficiaries.Common Issues Related to Trusts and Estates
When someone passes away and leaves a Last Will, it will need to be probated in the New York Surrogate's Court, in the county where the decedent lived, in order to have legal effect. Probate is a complex process. It requires the filing of both the original Last Will and a petition that includes information about the decedent and distributees (heirs). The court will determine the validity of the Last Will, which must be properly executed. Sometimes, a family member challenges the validity of the Last Will in a proceeding known as a Will Contest.
Only after all of the issues have been adequately addressed will the Surrogate's Court issue a decree and issue Letters Testamentary to the person named as Executor in the Last Will. Letters Testamentary provide authority for the Executor to administer the estate by identifying property, having it appraised, paying taxes and debts owed, and distributing the remaining property as directed in the Last Will.
If a decedent passes away without a last will or trust, an administration proceeding will need to commence in court. The court will appoint an estate administrator to settle the estate. In some cases, it is necessary to determine a decedent's next of kin. Any assets that a decedent owns that would have gone through their Last Will are instead distributed according to intestacy laws.
Under intestate succession, if you die with a spouse but no children or grandchildren, your spouse inherits everything. If you die with both a spouse and descendants, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 of the intestate property, plus half of the balance, and the descendants inherit everything else. Other family members are eligible to inherit when you do not have a spouse or descendants. Certain assets that have beneficiary designations would not go through this process, such as life insurance proceeds, IRA funds, and property transferred to a living trust.
In general, it is wise to make plans for illness or death long before you actually face the need for those plans to be in place. Estate planning allows you to ensure to the extent possible that your property is distributed as you want after your death. It can also permit you to reduce the tax burden that your family will face. However, it is important to retain an experienced New York City trusts and estates attorney to help you minimize challenges to your estate planning documents.
When estate planning documents are improperly prepared, it is more likely that there will be a will or trust contest, which can result in delays and greater expenses. Only after the court is satisfied that a will is valid will Letters Testamentary be issued so that the executor can administer your estate.
Instruments that we may draft as part of your estate plan prior to your death include a last will, living will, living trust, health care proxy, or power of attorney. Often, it is wise to set up a trust for your property and set up a pour over will to handle any property not handled through the trust. A trust is a legal arrangement in which a property owner, known as a settlor, transfers their property to a trustee to administer for one or more beneficiaries or for a set purpose, based on the instrument terms that govern the arrangement. The trustee owes a fiduciary duty, which is a very high duty of care, to trust beneficiaries.
There are several different types of trusts that a trusts and estates attorney in New York City can draft, and which instrument is appropriate depends on your needs. For example, trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. If they are revocable, the settlor has kept the right, either unilaterally or with the consent of someone else, to revoke the trust and reclaim the assets within it. Revocable trusts can usually be amended by the settlor, even if they are not specifically described as such. By contrast, an irrevocable trust is any trust that cannot be undone.
A trust can also be classified based on whether the people involved are living. A living trust is created through a separate agreement between a living settlor and a trustee. However, a testamentary trust is part of a decedent's will, such that the will is the trust instrument. In New York, a trustee of a testamentary trust needs to get Letters of Trusteeship from a court supervising the administration of an estate before they can serve as a trustee.
After a person dies, there may be disputes about who gets what. Most probate cases do not involve estate litigation, but there are serious controversies at times. For example, a family member may not receive a share of the estate, or they may not receive the share that they expected. In some cases, it may be necessary to bring a will contest. In New York, you can file a will contest based on lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, duress, fraud, or improper execution of a will.Consult a Trusts and Estates Lawyer in New York City
New York City lawyer Jules Haas has more than 30 years of experience handling trusts and estates matters. He works diligently to find resolutions in complex situations. Our firm represents clients throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens, as well as in Kings, Richmond, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. Contact us at (212) 355-2575 or through our online form.