Why You Should Get Around to Making a Will
Few people enjoy thinking about the inevitable – death. That probably explains why more than fifty percent of American adults do not have a will. With the string of celebrity deaths in the recent years, people are becoming more aware of the effects of bad (and sometimes good) estate planning. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. Whether you are in your early 30’s or late 70’s, you need to make an estate plan.
Critics of estate planning are concerned that planning for death will “jinx” the person and increase their chances of dying. This concern is irrational and just plain silly. Regardless of your excuse, whether based on paranoia or lack of time, the fact is if you don’t invest in estate planning measures – you are only guaranteed to complicate matters. Just ask any NYC probate lawyer who has handled an estate of a person who died without a will or had to file for a guardianship because someone failed to invest in a simple power of attorney. Even if you don’t plan to die for a while, you should still make arrangements for your children and the people in your life so that they can be prepared in the event death or incapacity strikes. In the area of estate law, it pays to be well prepared.
The logistics of a will is simple. The legal document dictates how your property, whether real estate or personal property (cash, stock, ie), will be distributed upon your death. To most people it is important that their belongings end up in the hands of people they actually like – and not in the hands of estranged family members. And really, what’s the point in saving and acquiring assets if in the end, undeserving hands inherit your estate?
Dying without a will ensures that the law of New York State takes precedence. Details can always vary on a specific fact pattern, but assets are typically allocated among surviving family members based on a hierarchy. Assets are first split between a spouse and any children, if no spouse or children then to your parents, siblings, and so on, until the lineage reaches first cousins. Where the deceased is survived by no blood relatives, his or her estate escheats to New York State. Here are some questions and answers about wills:
Must I hire an attorney to draw up my Will?
Yes! The ideal method for drawing up a will is getting it done by an estate lawyer. Preparing your own will almost always ends up a disaster. It’s safe to assume that if your will is self-prepared, it will not be accepted for probate by the Surrogate’s Court. Some people have a hard time admitting they can’t do everything. But that’s exactly what professional competency entails. You literally cannot do everything trained professionals can do. Do you dry clean your dress shirts or have a professional drycleaner service do it? Replace your own bathroom tiles? Give yourself a haircut? Give your car an oil change? Theoretically, and according to YouTube, you can certainly accomplish these tasks on your own. Nonetheless, most people would rather pay a skilledprofessional to get it done for them. The same principle applies to will and estates. When your legacy is at stake, hire an estate lawyer to help you.
How much is a Will?
How much you should expect to pay for a will depends on where you are located and the complexity of your particular situation. In New York City, and the surrounding boroughs, a couple typically pays $1,500 to $6,000 for an estate planning package. A stand-alone one person will normally costs $500.00. If you’re willing to cough up the money, its always recommended to include a power of attorney, health care proxy and a trust in your estate plan.
It wouldn’t hurt to compare prices offered by big firms and small sized firms. Just make sure that the lawyer you hire knows a thing or two about estate planning. Don’t just run to the cheapest lawyer. If your estate documents are not prepared properly, especially in concern to a trust, be prepared to spend thousands of dollars to right the wrong.
Where should I keep my Will?
Many people consider the safe deposit box to be the best place to keep their original will. Unfortunately, that is not true. The account holder is the only person who has access to the safe deposit box. Once the account holder is deceased, you’ll have to get a court order compelling the bank to grant access to the box. Simply showing a death certificate to the bank will not do. Securing a court order involves court fees, attorney fees, and undue delay.
If your will is drafted by an estate lawyer, you have the option of keeping the original will in the attorney’s office. Some professionals advise against this route due to the fact that lawyers are mortal too, they may pass away or go out of business. Securing the original will is a big responsibility (or liability) which makes some attorneys unwilling to commit themselves to such a task.
So where should you keep your will? We suggest keeping it at home, possibly in a safe or a desk drawer. Make sure that the person you named as the executor in your will knows of the document’s existence and where it is kept, thereby eliminating the extra work and expense of searching for your will. Beware that if the original will cannot be found at your death, the court will presume that you never made a will or that you revoked it.
It doesn’t take much to implement the above mentioned estate planning principles. As basic as these principles are, a lack of planning or improper planning can be a recipe for disaster and can cost you and your loved ones significantly. Don’t ignore these basics. To discuss estate planning strategies or prepare a simple last will and testament, you can reach us at 646-233-0831.