Like most things in life, estate planning in New York comes in all different shapes and sizes. Each person has their own unique situation regarding assets and desires concerning advance directives and post-death distributions.
When reference is made to a so-called non-traditional family, the reality is that in today’s world, nothing is really non-traditional. However, the reference is important for at least calling attention to situations that require extra care and scrutiny to fulfill estate planning goals.
In a traditional sense, a person will plan for a wife and/or children who are persons that are considered to be next of kin. Thus, even if there was no Will or other planning documents, such persons would inherit or have other priority rights as primary heirs. However, when the intention is to benefit others such as unmarried domestic partners or friends, the lack of a properly prepared Will, Health Care Proxy or Power of Attorney can lead to unintended results. This is due to the fact that the unrelated friend or individual would generally have no statutory priority rights to make lifetime decisions or receive a post-death inheritance.
In order to avoid these problems, a number of basic and easy steps should be taken. First, a Last Will should be prepared and executed which makes specific and unambiguous provisions for the individuals, related or unrelated, that the creator desires. Bequests of property to friends or partners should be clearly spelled out. The nomination of executors and trustees and also successor fiduciaries is an important part of a Will. Additionally, if there is a concern that a Will may be contested by family members, consideration should be given to creating a Living Trust. This can avoid a probate proceeding and potential estate litigation. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles regarding estate planning and the probate process.
Another area of concern should be a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney. A friend or partner should be designated in these papers as a primary agent to act on behalf of the creator. This may avoid confusion and disputes among competing individuals should the need to exercise these powers arise. A recent article written by Thomas W. Ude, Jr. on May 15, 2020 appearing in the Legal Intelligencer entitled “LGBTQ Health: Planning for the Unexpected,” provides additional insight into the concerns and considerations when non-family members and persons with particular desires and preferences need to plan for the future.
One additional avenue that might be considered is to include a person’s family and partners in the planning process so that none of them are surprised about a given result after the fact. This may avoid potential disharmony and offended feelings by all involved.
I have represented many individuals with regard to estate planning, probate and estate settlement and estate disputes. Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your concerns. We provide reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.
New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 40 years resolve issues relating to guardianship and probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau and Suffolk County. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.