Regardless of the stage of life you are in - whether a newlywed, a new parent, recently divorced or otherwise, you need to establish an estate plan.  Advance planning allows you to retain the greatest degree of control over your life and your assets.  If you neglect to create a Will, appoint a guardian for your minor children, designate a person to care for your finances or execute a healthcare directive, decisions regarding your estate, your children's guardians, your finances and your medical care will be made by the government and the courts, without regard to your personal wishes.  An estate plan offers you peace of mind, knowing that your long term needs will be met, that your assets will be protected for the benefit of the person or persons whom you choose and, most importantly, your family will be protected in the event of your incapacity or death.  Once incapacity strikes, it is usually too late to implement these mechanisms and your only option is a court proceeding.  You can never be too young, be too old, or not have enough assets to put together an estate plan.  It is never too early or too late to prepare.

If you already have an estate plan, we recommend that you review your documents periodically to ensure that they continue to meet your goals and comply with changes in the law, and whenever a significant life event occurs (e.g., birth of a child, death of a spouse, divorce, serious illness or purchase of a new home).  


Estate planning strategies involve more than just creating a Will.  You can plan for the accumulation and handling of your assets while you are alive and upon your death; draft trusts that will operate during your life and after your death to manage your assets in order to support your children until they are of age and to shelter your estate from taxes; protect your heirs from creditors and divorce; utilize gifts to individuals or charities to reduce taxes; incorporate life insurance in your plan to provide liquidity; and more.


Health Care Proxy

The health care proxy is used to appoint an individual (or individuals) to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so yourself.  In the event of your incapacity or incompetence, as determined by your physician, your health care agent would be authorized to make any decisions regarding your healthcare treatment which you could have made yourself if competent.  For instance, if you wish to have artificial life support terminated in the event that you are unconscious and there is no reasonable hope for your recovery, you may authorize your agent to direct medical personnel to discontinue any treatments which would unnecessarily prolong your life.



HIPAA Authorization

The HIPAA Privacy Rule introduced standards covering allowable uses and disclosures of health information, including to whom information can be disclosed and under what circumstances protected health information can be shared.

A HIPAA authorization is a consent that permits a covered entity or business associate to use or disclose protected health information to an individual for a purpose that would otherwise not be permitted by the HIPAA Privacy Rule. 


Last Will and Testament

One of the most effective ways to direct the distribution of your assets upon your death is to make a Will.  The primary reason for executing a Will is to provide written instructions regarding how your assets are to be distributed among your beneficiaries.  A properly drafted Will will also designate an Executor who is responsible for administering your estate, appoint a Guardian for your minor children, and establish trusts to protect assets.



Living Will

A living will is used to express your wishes regarding your healthcare, and may be used to evidence your intention to have artificial life support terminated.


Power of Attorney

A power of attorney allows you to appoint another individual to handle your finances.  A power of attorney gives an agent (called your attorney-in-fact) the authority to make banking, real estate and all other financial transactions on your behalf.


Revocable Trust

Probate is the judicial process of administering the estate of a deceased person.  During this process, the Surrogate’s Court decides the legal validity of the deceased person’s Last Will and Testament and grants its approval for the executor to act on behalf of the estate.  After probate is granted (which can take months), administration of the estate can take place, including the resolution of all claims and distribution of assets under the Will.  The probate of an estate is often an onerous, lengthy and costly process, as those who have experienced it will undoubtedly attest.  The best advise that I can give to a prospective client:  get out of probate.


A revocable trust may be used as a substitute for a Will and is often favored as a mechanism to avoid the probate process upon an individual’s death.  The revocable trust can also provide for the management of the assets of an individual (called the “grantor”) both during his or her lifetime and after death.  Like a Will, a revocable trust dictates the distribution of the grantor’s assets to his or her beneficiaries upon the grantor’s death.  The terms of this type of trust may be changed or revoked by the grantor at any time, and allows for the designation of any individual(s) or corporation(s) as trustee, including the grantor, his or her spouse, an adult child, a close friend, an attorney, a trusted advisor or a corporate trustee.  A revocable trust is beneficial in the event the grantor becomes incapacitated or incompetent, as the trustee (or successor trustee) is able to seamlessly and immediately manage the grantor’s assets and provide for his or her needs, without court intervention.  


A revocable trust can offer the following advantages over a Will:


  • manage and protect assets during the grantor’s lifetime, including in the event of incapacity or incompetence;

  • avoid conservatorship;

  • provide continuity in the management of the grantor’s financial affairs following his or her death;

  • control how, when and to whom assets are to be distributed;

  • avoid the costs and delays of probate;

  • provide added protection from court challenges (such as Will contests); and

  • ensure privacy in the handling of the grantor’s financial affairs and estate (a Will is a public document; a revocable trust is not).