Articles Posted in Estates and Taxes

Imagine the emotion of having a parent or relative die and then deal with the shock of being left a large sum of money as an inheritance. Many would not consider it a burden. However, without the proper plan to handle that kind of change in your life, you could be left mismanaging the money, fighting with siblings and wasting away money your family worked hard to save.

That’s why as previously discussed on New York Probate Lawyer Blog, it is imperative you select a proper executor or trustee in dealing with estate planning. A well-qualified New York Probate Attorney can help plan and manage an estate, including life insurance, stock options and real estate.For example, consider the trouble this Illinois woman had when her mother died of cancer in June 2007. She and her four siblings inherited their parents’ $1 million house, according to CNN Money.

While all siblings agreed to sell the house, it became a hassle because some believed the house was overpriced and others thought it was priced correctly. Eventually, the house sold, though for 9 percent less than their initial estimate. But in the meantime, the siblings had to pay utility bills, landscaping costs and deal with a house that was nearby to no one.

AS CNN Money points out, there are challenges to being a beneficiary. While it is comforting to be remembered and while there is likely a material benefit, there are challenges, including tax laws, family drama and complexity surrounding business dealings.

New York probate law requires court intervention, affidavits, petitions and notice to family members, all of which can be daunting for someone to do on their own. And, if done incorrectly, it can become an ongoing financial burden that relatives never intended it to be.

When dealing with an inheritance or a will, consider how an experienced New York City probate attorney can assist you in either planning your estate or executing the will of a loved one:

  • Planning your trusts and estates: You should start by taking inventory of your assets and deciding who should execute your will and to whom you want to leave your assets. An attorney is best able to assist you in making and executing a plan.
  • Choosing an executor: A New York State executor may be appointed when someone leaves assets after death. If you are chosen as an executor, you may need sound legal advice on how best to execute the will.
  • Dealing with contested wills: In New York, wills can be contested in court. These are often done by heirs who were left little in a will from a relative. There must be a valid legal ground for objecting to a will, but the process can be emotionally and financially exhausting. Consult a probate lawyer who can work to minimize the damage.

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It’s possible that the number of millionaires in the United States will double over the next decade as numbers reach and exceed pre-recession levels, CNN Money reports.

The wealthy tend to their money like one might tend to a garden: thoughtfully, frequently and with great care. A New York probate law attorney can help you plan for the future, deal with changing tax laws and maximize your financial potential.According to the article, overall, the United States and Europe have the greatest concentration of millionaires, while China, Brazil and Russia will grow at the greatest rate in the next decade.

In the U.S., California will have the greatest number of wealthy households in 2020, while New Jersey will have the highest density of millionaires. The study predicts New York will have the fourth-highest density of millionaire households in 2020, while Connecticut had the highest in 2010.

The study defined wealth as financial assets, such as stocks, bonds and other investments and non-financial assets such as real estate, automobiles and art.

Consult an experienced New York trust and estates lawyer who can guide you through the process of protecting your assets. For instance, New York state estate taxes are some of the highest and most complicated of anywhere in the United States. There are ways to save on taxes, but it will be difficult to navigate the law alone.

As the study suggests, more than three million millionaire families were knocked off the map between 2006 and 2008 during the country’s recession. Taking the steps to properly protect your money, whether through securing correct Manhattan real estate contracts or finding the right executor for your will in Brooklyn, choosing the right lawyer may be the most important thing you do.

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Under the new federal estate tax law, the exclusion amount, or the value of an estate that can pass free of federal estate tax, is increased to $5,000,000. This $5,000,000 exemption will end, unless extended or modified by new legislation, on December 31, 2012. One of the most significant changes brought about by the new law with regard to preparing a Last Will or an estate plan, is the portability or transfer of the unused portion of the $5,000,000.00 exclusion between spouses.

In a simple example, say a husband dies in 2011 and leaves his entire $5,000,000 estate to his wife but does not use any part of this $5,000,000 exclusion for estate tax purposes. If the wife then dies in 2012, she can use both her own $5,000,000 exclusion and the $5,000,000 exclusion that was unused by her husband. Thus, the wife can pass on to others a $10,000,000 estate tax free. In the present law, the death of both spouses must occur between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012.

As with all new statutes, particularly involving taxes, novel questions always arise. Suppose a surviving spouse has survived not just one but two (2) predeceased spouses. Could the survivor’s exemption possibly reach $15,000,000 by adding the unused exclusions of both of the two pre-deceased spouses to that of the surviving spouse. The explanation accompanying the law provides that the surviving spouse can only use the exclusion of the last deceased spouse.

In order to utilize the unused exclusion of a deceased spouse, the executor of the first deceased spouse’s estate needs to timely file an estate tax return for the deceased spouse, compute the unused exclusion amount and elect that it can be utilized by the second spouse.

As is true with many aspects of estate settlement and administration, an Executor or estate fiduciary must be aware of his or her options and obligations to secure the maximum benefits for the estate and estate beneficiaries. Preparing and filing estate tax returns is just one of many areas that requires the assistance of a qualified probate lawyer.

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Market Watch recently published some estate tax tips for married couples. New York City estate planning attorneys have been dealing with the changes to the estate tax and gift tax limits since they were implemented late last year.

As we reported in December on our New York Probate Lawyer Blog, Congress set the estate tax exclusion at $5 million and the lifetime gift-tax limit at $5 million. The tax exemption ends at the end of 2012. But for now, couples enjoy tax-free giving power and the vast majority of the nation’s estates may pass to heirs tax free.Unlimited Marital Deduction: For spouses who are U.S. citizens, there is no limit to the tax-free inheritance they can receive. However, it does not negate the need for estate planning in New York: Leaving your spouse a large estate could mean that he or she exceeds the limits, which would subject the estate to excessive taxation upon his or her death.

Portable Estate Tax Exemption: This year and next (2011 and 2012), you may direct the executor of your estate to leave any unused federal estate tax exemption to your surviving spouse. This includes your $5 million exemption and means a spouse could have a $10 million exemption for estates distributed this year or next. Unless Congress acts, these portable exemptions are set to expire at the end of next year.

Donate to IRS-Approved Charities:
Giving to IRS-approved charities as part of a comprehensive estate plan is a great way to get your estate down to the $5 million estate-tax cap — or $10 million for couples with both available exemptions.

Give Gifts to Relatives: The annual gift-tax exclusion is $13,000, which can be given without reducing your lifetime $5 million federal gift-tax exemption. If you had two children and four grandchildren, you and your spouse could each give $13,000 to each one, or $156,000 tax free for 2011. You could do the same thing next year and reduce your taxable estate by $312,0000.

Pay School Expenses or Medical Bills for Relatives: Aside from room and board, you can give unlimited amounts for these purposes,without reducing your gift-tax or estate-tax exemption. Payments must be made directly to the school or medical provider.

Give Away Appreciating Assets: Use your $5 million gift-tax limit to give away appreciating assets now — while they are worth less than they will be at the time of your passing.

Use an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust: While life insurance proceeds are usually income-tax free, they are included in your estate for estate-tax purposes. Policies held in irrevocable trust are free from estate-tax exposure. This is particularly critical for single people — married people can pass the proceeds to a spouse tax free using the marital deduction privilege (though they may then face taxation upon the death of a spouse). Such trusts are a terrific way to cover estate taxes upon your death.

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The Federal estate tax ceased to exist in the year 2010. At least for most of the year it seemed that the estate of a person who died in 2010 would not be subject to any Federal estate tax. However, since other provisions relating to the estate tax, particularly, “step-up” basis rules, also drastically changed with the disappearance of the tax, both confusion and potential hardship faced many 2010 estate administrators. In New York, the estate tax exemption remained at $1,000,000.00 which added even more complexity and uncertainty to planning and estate settlement in New York.

In late December 2010, Congress and the President finally passed legislation which provided at least some clarity to the void that had existed earlier in the year. Essentially, the new law reinstated the Federal estate tax for 2010 but raised the exemption to $5,000,000.00 for estates of decedent’s who died in 2010, 2011 and 2012. However, the $5,000,000.00 exemption for gifts does not apply until 2011.

Under the new law, the “step-up” basis rules again apply to estate assets. An estate is also given the option of opting-out of the 2010 estate tax and instead, accepting “carry-over” basis treatment for estate assets. Another interesting and beneficial feature of the new law allows portability of the $5,000,000.00 exemption between spouses. Thus, if one spouse dies in 2011 and does not use all of his or her exemption (say – $1,000,000), the unused portion can be transferred to and used by the surviving spouse thereby increasing his or her exemption above the $5,000,000.00 level.

The new Federal tax law does not change the New York estate tax exemption limit of $1,000,000.00. Therefore, the variance between the State and Federal tax laws and the unfamiliarity with the nuances of the just passed Federal legislation present challenges to planning a New York estate.

It should be remembered that the Federal and New York estate tax applies to a decedent’s gross estate. Generally, the gross estate includes all assets that pass through probate and are distributed according to a Last Will or by intestate administration as well as assets that pass by operation by law such as joint bank accounts or life insurance that has designated beneficiaries.

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Consulting a New York City probate attorney is always the best option when establishing estate plans, executing a Will or deciding upon the best course of action for distributing your estate after your passing.

For some, probate court is a good option. Others may choose estate planning options that permit them to bypass probate court. This is the third blog in our series. Recently we wrote avoiding probate court is not for everyone and about the many advantages to avoiding probate. Here we are going to look at some common issues with bank accounts. One option is to create a Totten Trust, tentative trust or informal trust. These are payable-on-death accounts. Adding a payable-on-death designation can be done for many types of accounts, including certificates of deposit, checking and savings. By listing the beneficiary on the signature card, you have established where the assets go at the time of your passing.

This is not the same as a joint account. A joint account frequently comes with “right of survivorship.” In these cases, a POD (Payable On Death) designation would only apply after the death of the second account holder.

Beneficiary issues for bank account inheritance in New York:

-Children: While you can name a minor child as POD beneficiary, you might want to explore appointing an adult to hold the money on a child’s behalf. Or make other arrangements to provide some restrictions and guidance. Appointing a guardian for the funds can be easily and inexpensively done through the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act. In New York, such custodianship would be good until a minor child turns 21.

-Multiple Beneficiaries: Can be designated on the appropriate bank documents. However, you cannot name an alternate payee.

-Your Spouse: May have rights to the funds in the account and a POD should not be used as an attempt to exclude them from collecting.

-Creditors: You can’t use a POD to empty an account and short-change creditors.

You may also run into issues by trying to use a Will to change a POD designation. In cases where you change your mind, you can simply close the account or you can go to the bank and change the paperwork.

And, like with most types of inheritance, you may owe New York estates taxes and federal estate taxes on the proceeds.

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New York and Federal Laws generally provide many advantages and protections for married individuals. For example, in New York a person may not disinherit his or her spouse. New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 5-1.1-A provides a spouse with a Right of Election to take a portion of the deceased spouse’s estate. This share is, subject to a complex formula, equal to the greater of $50,000.00 or one-third of the estate.

Similarly, when a spouse dies intestate (without a Last Will), Section 4-1.1 of the EPTL provides for the spouse to obtain the entire estate or at least $50,000.00 and one-half of the residue or balance if the decedent had issue (i.e., children). Also, New York Courts have given spousal status to the surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage performed in a jurisdiction outside of New York.

On the Federal level, the Federal (and New York) estate tax laws provide for a 100% marital deduction for assets passing upon death between spouses. However, the Federal estate tax spousal deduction has been denied to a same-sex couple. As reported in the New York Law Journal on November 12, 2010 by Victor Li, New Challenges To DOMA Filed in Connecticut and New York, the Federal 1996 Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) “defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.”

Thus, pursuant to DOMA, and as reported in the Article, the federal estate tax marital deduction was denied to the surviving partner of a same-sex marriage which resulted in a tax liability of $363,053.

As reported, a number of federal lawsuits are pending challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. As can be seen from this controversy, a person’s status as a spouse and as a distributee (next of kin) of a decedent can be the subject of contention and litigation in the New York Surrogate’s Court. The determination of these issues can effect the rights of individuals to inherit from a decedent as well as the tax liability of the decedent’s estate.

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The Huffington Post reports that the owner of a popular Upper East Side restaurant has left the business to its longtime manager.

New York estate lawyers frequently report here on our New York Probate Lawyer Blog about the challenge of leaving a business to heirs. Without proper estate planning, the results can be tragic. It is not unusual for heirs to be forced to sell a business to pay taxes and satisfy other obligations as a result of an inheritance.State and federal inheritance taxes, capital gains taxes and property taxes are just a few of the issues that can plague the transfer or sale of a family business. In some cases, life insurance is bought to assist with the cost but can have its own implications if not properly purchased and structured.

Business owners should do themselves and their heirs a favor and make visiting an estate planning attorney a resolution in 2011.

In this case, the New York Times reports that Elaine Kaufman’s death in December left many wondering what would become of “Elaine’s” the popular eatery on the Upper East Side. Turns out, the owner has left the restaurant to her longtime manager Diane Becker.

Kaufman also left much of her estate to Becker and to her longtime maitre d’hotel, Giovanni Adamo, known by regulars as Gianni.

The new owners promise to run the restaurant the way it has always run, saying “the only missing link is Elaine.”

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Once Congress passes the tax bill being debated in Washington, those with estate plans in place, and those seeking to begin the new year by consulting a New York estate planner, should seek the advice of a qualified attorney to discuss how the changes will impact their estate.

In addition to a two-year window for large, tax-free gifts made under the gift-tax exemption, significant changes to the estate tax rates could impact the options for best distributing your estate after your passing. The estate tax disappeared this year as the result of a phase-out signed by George W. Bush in 2001. It is slated to return Jan. 1 with a top rate of 55 percent on estates valued at more than $1 million.

Many are unaware that a New York estate tax exists. State and federal estate taxes are only two considerations. Property taxes (and the loss of exemptions in some states), capital gains taxes and other taxes and fees can quickly drain an estate. This can be particularly devastating for family businesses, which are often liquidated to settle the tax debt. In some cases, a family may buy life insurance, which can present its own tax complications without proper planning.

Because of the federal deficit, Democrats would like to see the federal estate tax return next year with a top rate of 45 percent — after a $3.5 million per-person exemption. However, the current plan would raise the exemption to $5 million and lower the top rate to 35 percent.

Also of note is the “step up in basis” clause, which may benefit those who die in 2010, 2011 or 2012. What that means, is that the sale of an inherited asset will be taxed based on its value at time of inheritance — not its value when originally purchased by the decedent.

CNN Money reports that the beneficiaries of those who die this year (2010) will essentially have their choice of which rules to follow. Under current rules there is no estate tax, but limited step up rules.

Too often, someone who has worked a lifetime does not put the proper planning into optimizing the distribution of his or her estate and minimizing the tax obligations. The second-most-common problem is failure to keep up with changes in the law — or changes in life, such as divorce, marriage or significant asset purchase or liquidation –after an estate plan is established.

With all of the changes passing through Congress, a resolution to visit a trusted New York City probate attorney would be an excellent start to 2011.

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The case of Billionaire Julian Robertson highlights an issue less frequently talked about when it comes to estate taxes: The presence of some state and even city taxes on the estate of a deceased and/or his or her income while still alive. In this case, Mr. Robertson recently won a tax case dealing with income while he is alive. But the decision might also impact any claim made that he owed New York income taxes upon his death.

We frequently report on our New York Probate Lawyer Blog regarding the ongoing saga of the federal estate tax — on hiatus this year but slated to return next year on estates valued at more than $1 million. But, as we discussed when Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner died, estate planning in New York must take into account much more than just the federal estate tax when it comes to proper tax planning.

The New York State estate tax currently applies to estates valued at more than $1 million.

In other cases, it is equally important to protect your estate from undue taxation while you are alive.

In the case of billionaire hedge fund pioneer Julian H. Robertson Jr., it all boiled down to where he spent a pair of days. The divided three-member New York State Tax Appeals Tribunal upheld an administrative judge’s decision that Robertson was not a resident of New York City in 2000, saving him $27 million in taxes, according to Forbes magazine.

A dissenting opinion said the decision could create “confusion and mischief” in the future by placing the burden on tax authorities, who under the ruling were required to prove Robertson was in the city on certain days rather than requiring Robertson to demonstrate “by clear and convincing evidence” that he was not within the city.

Robertson was warned by his advisor not to spend more than 183 days a year in the city or he’d be taxed as a full-time city resident since he lived in the city more than half the time. His legal residence is a 10-acre estate in Locust Valley, Long Island. Becoming a resident of New York City would have subjected his worldwide income to the city’s 3.88 percent tax. Robertson assigned an executive assistant to track his days and let him know when he was nearing the limit.

He spent additional time in the city in 1998 and 1999 when is late wife Josephine was being treated for breast cancer — and he willingly paid the city taxes. But, while publicly supporting the estate tax, the 78-year-old did not want to pay additional taxes on income he felt were not legally owed.

In 2000, Mr. Robertson claimed that he did not exceed the 183 days and no additional taxes were owed. The city challenged his whereabouts on four days that would have put him over his limit and lost the argument on two of those days.

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