Summer’s Wave Goodbye
By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney
It’s hard to believe that summer is just about over. Now that you will be spending less time going to the beach and participating in other outdoor activities, perhaps you will spend some more time on your indoor to-do list, including getting your estate planning affairs in order. Here are some tips to help you make this happen:
Review your plan. If you already have an estate plan, take out your documents, read them, and make sure you understand how they work. Make certain that the people you have appointed to make decisions for you in case something happens to you are still appropriate. If you are satisfied with your choices, contact those people to confirm that they still wish to serve in the role that you have appointed them for. Make sure you know where your original will is located. It is usually advisable to have your lawyer hold onto this since, under New York law, if the will was in your possession at the time of your death and it cannot be found, it is considered to be revoked and this will complicate the probate process. You also want to ensure that your beneficiaries and family members are correctly named. Consider whether you want to make changes to your healthcare directives. For example, does your healthcare directive say anything about ventilators or machines that provide breathing assistance? Think about what kind of quality of life is acceptable to you.
If you have a trust, confirm that it is properly funded. Often, clients come to us with trusts created by others, and they think the trust is fully funded, but it is not. This is often overlooked since it was not clearly defined whose responsibility it was to fund the trust. You will need to check that new deeds have been done for real estate that you want the trust to own, as well as check titles on bank accounts and other financial assets. Beneficiary designations should also be reviewed to ensure they are up to date. If this is not done correctly, then the people who you want to receive your property when you pass away may not be the ones to get it.
Tangible personal property. Believe it or not, many of the disputes we see regarding wills and estates involve personal property or items with sentimental value. Sometimes emotions get the better of people and they fight over certain items, even if it doesn’t make financial sense to do so. This type of mindset can cost everyone more money. If you make your wishes clear in your estate planning documents, this can help minimize the chances of a dispute. You might even wish to consider speaking to your family members about how you wish to distribute certain items in your estate.
Funeral/burial wishes. Make sure your family knows what your wishes are in this regard. If you have purchased a prepaid funeral plan, let them know. If you have not purchased a prepaid plan, consider doing so. Prepaid funeral plans are a way for you to pay in advance for your funeral at today’s prices and make things easier for your loved ones when you pass away.
List of advisors. Prepare an updated list of all your advisors, including your estate planning attorney, accountant, financial advisor, insurance professional, clergy, etc.
Do a financial inventory. Prepare a list of all accounts, credit cards, insurance policies, income sources, real estate, and other assets that you own. Make sure to list the financial institution, the account numbers, and the approximate balance. For accounts with online access, include the username and password.
Start getting rid of your junk. You do not need to retain bank statements, pay stubs, utility bills, etc. for your entire lifetime. PLEASE do your loved ones a favor and start shredding all that excess paper!
If you don’t have an estate plan, what are you waiting for? The time to act is now. You can always make changes along the way if your life circumstances change.
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP. He was named 2021 “Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers in America® for excellence in Elder Law and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America since 2008. He was elected to the Estate Planning Hall of Fame by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC). Krooks is the past Chair of the Elder Law Committee of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC). Call 914-684-2100 or visit the firm’s website at www.littmankrooks.com.