Estate Planning & Elder Law

Estate Planning encompasses the documents that enable people to direct their personal and financial affairs in anticipation of the process of illness, aging and dying. Estate Administration encompasses the legal processes by which a person’s assets are distributed after death, either pursuant to a Will (Probate) or pursuant to the state laws of inheritance (Administration).

Estate Planning includes several areas of law that you might hear referred to as:

  • Elder Law
  • The law of Wills
  • The law of Trusts

Estate planning is the process that enables you to decide and direct, in advance, the following:

  • How to protect and/or distribute certain property and assets while you are alive;
  • How to protect, administer and/or distribute your property and assets should you become incapacitated;
  • How to protect, administer and/or distribute your property and assets when you die;
  • Health care decisions should you become incapacitated, including whether to limit treatment; and
  • End-of-life health care decisions, including whether to stop treatment in certain circumstances where you are terminally ill and incapacitated.

A comprehensive estate plan includes documents covering all the items in the above list.

Why is it important to make a comprehensive estate plan

You cannot pre-determine your health or when you will die, but in a comprehensive estate plan, you can decide, in advance, many issues relating to health care and distribution of assets before and after death. A comprehensive estate plan can include:

  • A will: A document directing how your assets are to be distributed when you die.
  • Trusts: Financial arrangements that enable you to set aside and manage/invest certain property for the future benefit of yourself and/or someone else, either while you are alive or after you die.
  • A durable power-of-attorney: A document that allows you to appoint someone to make financial, legal or other decisions for you if you become incapacitated.
  • A health-care proxy: A document in which you appoint someone to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated
  • A living will: A document that makes known your wishes about whether and to what extent life-extending medical measures should be taken in the event you have a terminal illness and are permanently incapacitated or unconscious.

If you don’t decide these things in advance, they will be decided for you by a New York Court applying the state’s guardianship laws and its Estates, Powers and Trusts Law. These laws direct what happens to people and property when someone dies without a will (called “intestacy”) or becomes incapacitated without having planned for it. The requirements of those laws may not coincide with your wishes; however, if you plan ahead and make your wishes known, New York law sees to it that your wishes are honored as much as is possible.

What can an estate planning lawyer do for me?

Regardless of your situation or your age, an experienced estate and trust lawyer can help you create a comprehensive plan for the protection and distribution of your assets during your lifetime and after you die. A lawyer can help you make a will, create a trust, and make other legal arrangements that give you control over difficult health and financial decisions that may arise during your life and eventual death. A lawyer can also gather and preserve information necessary to help your Executor complete the administration of your estate as quickly and easily as possible.

Additionally, an estate planning lawyer can help advise you in the event you are involved in the estate of a family member or someone else who has died.

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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