An estate attorney has many roles. From a financial strategist, to a litigator, the estate planning lawyer holds an important role when it comes to securing the wealth of a decedent.
The main objective of estate planning is to make sure your property transfers to whomever you desire at the time of your death. This can be accomplished by drafting a Last Will and Testament. Aside from a will, you can also transfer your assets to a beneficiary (a person receiving the property of a decedent) using a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust. Trusts tend to be a bit more complicated and expensive, but they can ensure that the assets of the estate are safeguarded against any disputes between heirs.
Estate planning typically serves four main purposes:
- Ensures that the property passes to the designated important people in your life, and not individuals entitled to your assets by operation of law;
- Reduces and essentially eliminates the unpredictability that may come with administering a probate matter.
- Protecting one’s assets from court judgements, creditors, and ex-husbands/ wives.
- Reducing the estate tax liability if the estate exceeds the exempt amount.
The Estate Lawyer’s Tasks
Prepare for incapacitation: physical or mental incapacitation can substantially limit your decision making. We use various estate planning tools such as a healthcare proxy, living wills, trusts, and a financial power of attorney that specify what to do in the event an individual incurs a major injury. Some of the directives we specify cover the follow: who should be appointed as the guardian of the individual, how their expenses should be paid for, and what exactly should happen with their business (should the assets be liquidated? should the business ownership be passed on to an heir? etc…).
Avoid the possibility of probate as well as strife between family members: By setting up a trust for an individual, we avoid any reason to enter into the probate process. A will takes effect when you pass away whereas a trust takes effect as soon as it is created. That means all decisions are made by the individual who created the trust (as opposed to a judge). It is simply up to the trustee to follow all directives as stipulated in the trust. Trusts typically provide clear instruction as to who receives the property of the decedent, when they should receive the property, and under what conditions.
Prepare for will contests: If only a will is filed at Surrogate’s Court, be ready to get long lost relatives and friends appearing from the woodwork to contest it. It can become a real circus show. This holds true especially when a large estate is at play. A will contest is essentially the process in which a party attempts to invalidate the well. Our job entails contacting all of the witnesses to appear to court to validate the will, and sometimes even subpoenaing them to show up. Additionally, we litigate to ensure the rightful heirs are provided exactly as stated in the Last Will and Testament of the decedent.