By Jennifer Corcoran, Esq.
The coming of a new year often has us reflecting back on things we meant to do but did not get done or looking forward to things we wish to accomplish. It is the perfect time to put an estate plan in place or review your existing estate plan for any changes that may need to be made.
In addition, major life changes such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, a death in the family or even an increase or decrease in assets or income warrant updating your estate plan.
You may have had the foresight to create an estate plan to ensure that your assets are distributed the way you want them to be after you are gone. However, each new year brings updates to laws and potential life changes, all of which should be reflected in your estate plan.
What if you don’t have an estate plan? The new year is the perfect time to create one, no matter how many—or few—assets you may have. Among the many benefits, an estate plan can help to protect families with children and ensure that heirs are not overburdened with debts or taxes. A good estate plan, created with the help of a knowledgeable estate planning attorney, allows you to control the distribution of your assets according to your wishes.
It is important that your will is in place and up to date, because without a will, your assets could pass under the intestacy laws to persons you do not intend or wish to receive them. You cannot pass assets to nonfamily members, and your estate cannot make charitable contributions without a will.
If you have minor children, they are not legally able to inherit directly, and your will should include a trust provision to provide for them financially until they are adults in the event that both parents are deceased. You should also make sure you that you have designated guardians, and that you have not had a change of heart about who will care for them if you die before they turn 18.
A will should also make provisions for the disposition of your “digital assets,” such as social media, online banking and shopping accounts such as Amazon.
It is also important to designate beneficiaries and backups for all of your retirement and pension accounts, annuities and insurance policies. Without designated beneficiaries, these assets could wind up in the courts or with someone you did not intend.
Additionally, the creation of advance directives, such as a power of attorney or health care proxy, ensure that you have a plan in place should you require assistance even while you are alive, and avoid the potential expense and delay of needing to have a court appoint someone to make these decisions for you.
A power of attorney allows an individual of your choice to handle your financial matters for you if you are not present or available to, or if you are incapacitated. New York state’s power of attorney form was updated in June of 2021, so be sure the form you are using was created after June of this year.
A health care proxy allows someone to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are not able to make them yourself. If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that your health can be fleeting and fragile, and it is important that you have appointed the person that you want to make those decisions on your behalf. Without a health care proxy in place, New York state law authorizes a hierarchy of blood relations to make those decisions, and it may not be the person(s) that you would choose.