New York Last Wills Should Express The Testator’s Intent

The preparation of a New York Last Will is an important part of a person’s overall financial plan. The initial step that should be taken is to fully assess and understand the goals that the person making the Will wants to achieve. This process can be summarized as formulating and clearly expressing the intentions that are to be spelled out in the Will provisions. For example, who are the persons that are to benefit from the Will provisions and in what manner or proportion are they to receive these benefits. Beneficiaries can vary from spouses and children to more distant relatives, friends and charities.

It is important at this juncture to keep the estate plan simple. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog recently discussed aspects of the Federal estate tax law such as “portability” of the marital deduction between spouses. While estate planning is essential, it is more important at the outset to develop the basic plan or intent regarding the individuals or organizations that the testator (the person to whom the Will belongs) wishes to benefit. The tax planning and Will structure can then be developed so as to promote or carry-out the basic intent. A Last Will that has complicated tax provisions and trusts may be a great legal document but it is not useful unless it gets the assets to pass to the intended beneficiaries in a clear and efficient manner. Simplicity has its virtues.

The recent death of pop-star Whitney Houston provides an example of a simple yet effective Last Will. It was recently reported by MTV in an article by Gil Kaufman dated March 8, 2012, that Whitney Houston’s Will was written in 1993. In the Will, Ms. Houston’s entire estate was left to her only child, her 19 year old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown. It seems that the Will provided for a Trust under which Bobbi is to receive some of the assets at age 21, then some at age 25 and the balance at age 30. Ms. Houston’s mother is named as Executor and her brother and sister-in-law are named as Trustees.

This type of plan is typical for persons with young children and provides a straight forward map for the Trustees to make periodic payments to a young person over time as they get aclamated to handling and being responsible for large sums of money following the death of a parent. I have drafted many Wills for clients which contained similar Testamentary Trusts.

Part of the process in planning is to consider an appropriate payment period since the ages at which Trust Funds can be paid to the Trust Beneficiary are completely within the discretion of the Testator to determine in the Will provisions. Trustees should also be given discretion to make additional payments to beneficiaries which allows the trust to have more flexibility and accommodate unforeseen events.

Last Wills, Health Care Proxies, Living Wills, Living Trusts and Testamentary Trusts all have provisions that express the intent of the creator of these documents. Formulating and then expressing one’s intentions is the first, and perhaps most important, step in creating an effective estate plan.

The extent to which a testator’s intentions can be measured has recently been the subject of a major estate litigation occurring in Massachusetts. As reported in the Portland Press Herald on February 25, 2012, a Massachusetts Merchant left a Will 351 years ago that provided for the nation’s oldest charitable trust in Ipswhich, Massachusetts to fund the local public schools. Recently, the trustees have attempted to forego the Will provisions and convert the local trust property comprised of cottages into condominiums. As reported in the article, the current residents have opposed this plan “saying it violates the sacred intent of Payne’s Will. . . .” As shown by this controversy, even after 351 years, a testator’s intent is still the foundation for the administration of the decedent’s estate.

An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will preparation and execution. New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Queens and Brooklyn and throughout New York State in Trusts and Estates matters and Surrogate’s Court proceedings for the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email:, for an initial consultation.

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