Do You Have A Will Yet?

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By Marian B. Phillips

Every adult, married or single, needs a will.  A wife and husband each needs their own Will.

Do You have a Will yet? the three tomatoesWithout a Will, state law controls who will get all your assets on your death, and a state judge will appoint an administrator – often someone you don’t know –  to distribute your property.  And that administrator will take a percentage of your property for doing the job.

If you have minor children, the language in your Will controls who will care for them in the event of your death.  WITHOUT A WILL, STATE LAW DETERMINES WHO GETS CUSTODY OF YOUR CHILDREN.

In addition to a Will, every good estate plan today should include:

  • a Power of Attorney,
  • a Health Care Proxy,
  • a review of your IRA & 401(k) beneficiary designations,
  • a review of your life insurance policies,
  • a review of the deeds and other title documents for your real estate,
  • a review of your internet assets.

New York State recently overhauled its estate tax rates and regulations.  If you don’t have a Will, now is a good time to do it.  If you have a Will that’s more than two years old, now is a good time to have it reviewed.

Where Do You Start?

An experienced estate planning attorney starts the process with a consultation with you and a thorough review of all the pieces of your financial estate – your home, your accounts,  your insurance, and any other property you own.

She will then recommend a comprehensive plan and prepare all the documents you need to complete that plan.   Completing an estate plan should only take a few weeks from start to finish.

Many Adults Today Have Special Needs:

Second Marriages bring additional issues to estate planning.   An experienced estate planning attorney will help you find the right balance between providing for your spouse and recognizing your children from an earlier marriage.

Older Adults, especially those living alone, may want to consider making a Living Trust, which is sometimes called a “Will substitute.”  A Living Trust is a document in which you choose the person who would take care of your basic financial affairs (paying your bills, overseeing your accounts, etc.), in the event you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

Unmarried Couples need to have special provisions in their estate planning documents in order for their partner to have any rights in the event that one of them is incapacitated or dies.

Retirement Accounts Don’t Pass Under Your Will:

The money in your IRA and 401(k) may well comprise the largest part of your estate.

But those retirement monies do not pass to the persons named in your Will.   On your death, your retirement accounts will be distributed only to the persons you named on the “Beneficiary Designation” forms you signed when you opened those accounts.  Most people have no memory of who, if anyone, they named on those forms!

The experienced estate planning attorney will obtain and review all your Beneficiary Designations and discuss with you the changes, if any, you want to make.

Estate Planning Is A Highly Specialized Area Of Law:

Years ago, any lawyer could prepare a Will for you.  Now, it should only be done by a specialist. Estate tax laws and regulations have changed enormously in the past few years.   You need the assurance that your new estate plan really does protect you in all the ways you want.

MARIAN B. PHILIPS is a New York attorney specializing in wills, trusts and estates.  Her highly personalized service draws on over 30 years’ experience with clients of varied ages and wealth.  Working alone and in coordination with the client’s accountant and other financial professionals, she meets the client’s full-service estate planning needs in a personal and cost effective way.  Her goal is to make the estate planning and estate settlement processes as easy as possible for the client. She can be reached at, (212) 355-3716.

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