One of the most important things that you can do for your family is to make sure that your personal, financial and legal affairs are organized, to make certain that they are managed properly at the time of your demise or in the event of future incapacity.  This will not only save your family a considerable amount of time and money when handling your affairs, but also ensures that all of your wishes are carried out.

Regardless of your age or the size of your estate, as multi-generational estate planners, the Atlas Law Group recommends that you consider the following items so that you may have an effective estate plan in place:

Durable Power of Attorney

This document allows you to designate an individual to make decisions regarding your personal, legal and financial affairs in the event that you become incapacitated.  You should consider selecting more than one family member to act on your behalf, and make sure that the document is properly drafted to include a Statutory Gift Rider which can allow your agent to undertake asset protection planning and estate planning on your behalf if the need were to arise.

Health Care Proxy

This document allows you to designate a family member to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.  It is important that the Health Care Proxy contain some language regarding your wishes as to artificial nutrition and hydration (feeding tubes).  Additionally, you should discuss your feelings about this type of treatment with your family in advance to ensure that your wishes are carried out.

Another important provision that the Health Care Proxy should contain is the authorization to allow your agent to act as your healthcare representative for purposes of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  This authorizes your agent to obtain your medical records and information.

Last Will and Testament

A Will is usually an essential part of any estate plan.  It could be the primary document to establish who will receive your assets and in what manner those assets are to be received, as well as who will be in charge of distributing those assets (the Executor).  If you die without a Will, New York State law will determine the division and distribution of your property, which may not be in accordance with your wishes.  If you already have a Will, it should be reviewed periodically to ensure that it covers any changes in your personal and financial circumstances, as well as any changes in tax law.

Revocable Living Trust

This estate planning tool is not for everyone.  Depending on your personal and financial situation and estate planning goals, this type of Trust may be appropriate.  A properly drafted and funded Revocable Living Trust will control how your assets are distributed, and thus, take the place of a Will.  This document can enable you to avoid the probate process which can be time consuming and potentially expensive to your family.

Trusts for Children

If you have minor child(ren), not only should your Will provide for a Guardian, the person you designate to raise your child(ren) in the event of your unexpected and premature demise, but also provide for the a Trustee who will be responsible for managing a Trust created for the benefit of your minor children. A properly drafted trust is essential to ensure that your assets are used for the health, education, maintenance and support of your child(ren). Some of the important issues that have to be addressed are what individuals are best suited for these important roles of Guardian and Trustee (they do not have to be the same person) and what age do you think is appropriate for your children to receive the trust funds outright.

Additionally, there may be instances where an individual may have children who are not minors, but have some personal, legal or financial problems.  At the Atlas Law Group, we design special types of Trusts for our clients who have these types of concerns about their children, so that their children are well protected and provided for.

Estate Tax

Although the New York and Federal Estate Tax laws have dramatically changed over the past few years, if you anticipate that your family may owe estate taxes upon your demise, the Atlas Law Group can help you implement effective planning strategies to minimize or eliminate the impact of these taxes on your family legacy.

Review Survivorship Benefits and Beneficiary Designations

If you are soon to be retired and are going to receive a pension, it is important that you review your pension plan’s survivorship benefit options that are available to you and/or for the benefit of your spouse.  It is also recommended that you review your IRA, 401k, annuity and insurance policy beneficiary designations to ensure that the proper primary and contingent beneficiaries are named.

Schedule Regular Estate Planning Checkups

As a rule of thumb, you should have your estate planning reviewed every three to five years by a qualified elder law / estate planning attorney.  However, if there is a change in your personal and financial situation, or your health status, then a review is recommended at that time.