Frequently Asked Questions And Answers About Estate Planning

Estate planning is one of those areas of the law that many people think about but often postpone. The best time to do estate planning is long before you need it. At Meier Law Firm, PLLC, in Latham, you have a valuable resource. Our friendly, experienced lawyers have helped many clients protect their legacies well in advance. We are ready to help you, and we will begin now by answering questions such as the following:

What is meant by the term "last will and testament," and how does it work?

A "last will and testament" is a traditional, formal term for a will — a legal document that allows you to choose how your assets are distributed upon your death and who will be responsible for administering your estate. The people who receive your assets are called beneficiaries. The person administering your estate is the personal representative or executor (executrix).

Is a will only about leaving my money and things to my beneficiaries?

Not necessarily. Other important provisions of your will may include appointing a guardian and/or setting up a trust for minor children, minimizing estate tax upon death, caring for a disabled spouse or child, and protecting your assets from creditors.

What will happen to my assets after my death if I die without a valid will?

If you don't have a will, the laws of New York will determine how your estate is distributed. The provisions of these laws may not be what you desired or in the best interests of your beneficiaries.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney form is used to give another person or persons (the agent[s]) the authority to act on your behalf in financial matters when you are unable to do so. The power of attorney does not give your agent the ability to make health care decisions for you.

Regardless of age or current health, every adult should consider executing a power of attorney. By doing so, you can rest assured that your financial matters will be manageable in the event of an unexpected and/or prolonged illness or absence or if you are unable to tend to your own affairs for another reason.

What is a living will?

A living will informs health care providers as well as your health care proxy of your wishes concerning life-sustaining treatment in the event you are unable to speak for yourself and have a terminal illness. The living will may also be called a health care directive.

What is a health care proxy?

A health care proxy is a person designated by you to make health decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. Appointing a proxy gives you the power to choose the person you believe is most likely to carry out your wishes for treatment, particularly in situations where life-sustaining measures may be discussed.

What if I am incapacitated and there is no living will or designated health care proxy in place?

If you do not appoint a proxy, New York statues designate who can speak on your behalf. This person may not be the best choice for you or your family. For example, the law could designate a brother or sister you have been out of touch with for many years, when a close friend, clergy person or neighbor who knows you well would be more likely to make decisions in your best interest.

What is an "appointment of agent for the disposition of remains?"

This document enables you to designate a person who will be in charge of making funeral arrangements for you. You can also set forth specific instructions such as where and how you want to be buried and whether you want your body to be cremated.

When are probate proceedings necessary and how do they work?

A probate proceeding may be necessary to transfer assets individually owned by you at the time of your death that does not name a beneficiary. An executor or administrator nominated by you will be appointed by the surrogate and will be responsible for gathering your assets, paying the bills, and distributing your assets either to your named beneficiaries or to those people entitled to inherit from your estate if you die intestate (without a will).

When does distribution of assets without probate apply and how does it work?

Assets that are jointly owned or have a beneficiary named on them generally can be transferred without the need for probate. Additionally, assets that are owned by a trust that contains provisions for the distribution of assets upon your death may avoid oversight by the Surrogate's Court. However, in the case of distribution from a trust it is important that the trustee properly administers the trust and distributes the assets properly because he or she is accountable to the beneficiaries.

What is the geographic range of Meier Law Firm, PLLC?

The region where most of our estate planning clients come from is sometimes called the Tri-County Area, consisting of Albany, Schenectady, Troy and other communities such as Latham, where our law offices are.

How can I get answers to my own questions about estate planning?

Call 518-313-0249, or send an email message to schedule a consultation at our law offices or another convenient location.