New York estate planning: It's not just for the wealthy

Having an estate plan in New York used to be considered something for only the very wealthy. This, however, is far from the case. Nearly everyone can benefit from estate planning, and the sooner the process is begun, the better.

If an individual passes away or merely becomes incapacitated and unable to communicate their desires, having an established estate plan is the only way to ensure that his or her wishes are fulfilled. When a person dies without an estate plan in place – dying intestate – the state decides how the assets will be distributed to any surviving heirs, including children, spouses, parents or other relatives. The individual's assets and property may even revert back to the possession of the state.

While this may be acceptable in a very few circumstances when someone has no relatives and doesn't own a home, this is rarely the case. In the majority of other situations, most aging individuals wish to pass on their estates to those friends and family members to whom they are closest. An estate is comprised of real estate and property, yes, but also a lifetime's-worth of assets – both outright and jointly owned – including bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, vehicles, jewelry, and more. So how can elderly individuals ensure their life's savings doesn't simply become the property of New York state after their passing?

The most common – and often best – ways to ensure assets end up where the owners want them is to establish a will, a trust, or both. Wills are the simplest type of estate planning documents, telling the probate court what a New York resident wishes to happen to his or her assets after death. Trusts, while more complex and involved, skip probate altogether and so are sometimes preferable, depending on an individual's situation. While the process may seem complex, the guidance of a New York elder law attorney with experience in estate planning can help remove much of the guesswork and confusion, so that at the end of the day, everyone can rest easy knowing that their aging loved one's wishes will be fulfilled.

Source:, "A 4-Step Guide to Tackle Estate Planning in 2018", Cathy Cassata, Jan. 29, 2018

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