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The Importance Of Clarity When Creating New York Estate Planning Documents

Estate Planning in New York can include the creation of a number of different papers such as a Last Will and Testament and Living Trust.  Also, a person may prepare a Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will and a Health Care Proxy.

At the outset of the drafting of these papers, it is important for the creator to fully ascertain the nature of his assets and the manner in which title to them is held.  Also, the creator should carefully consider his intentions so that decisions can be made regarding the dispositions to be contained in the documents.   The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed these matters in earlier postings.

The creator’s goal is to clearly and explicitly set forth his intentions and desires regarding his assets and his beneficiaries.  A Will or Trust may contain specific gifts of a designated amount of money.  There may be dispositions that provide for a beneficiary to receive a certain percentage of an estate or fund.  Percentages are a good way to dispose of assets since it may be difficult to determine a person’s exact monetary estate at death which may not occur for many years after the estate planning papers are prepared.

Also, a Will or Trust may have provisions for assets to be held and administered in Trusts.  All bequests and dispositions should have alternative provisions in the event the primary beneficiary pre-deceases the decedent.

As referred to earlier, it is imperative that the documents clearly state the intentions of the creator.  Any ambiguity may result in estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court and a delay in estate settlement.  When papers are prepared they should be reviewed so that any possibility of confusion is eliminated.

A recent Manhattan estate case, entitled in In the Matter of Estate of Morris, decided on February 28, 2019 by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson, demonstrates the problems encountered where Will provisions are ambiguous.  In Morris, the decedent’s Will left certain bequests to named beneficiary Joan.  The language in the Will indicated that in order to receive these bequests Joan needed to survive the decedent by 30 days.  Joan died 12 days after the decedent.  However, the 30 day survival language in the Will was not clear and a dispute arose as to whether this condition applied to many of the bequests made to Joan.  After extensive estate litigation in the form of a Will Construction proceeding the Court determined that the 30 day condition did apply to the dispositions.

As can be seen from Morris, it is important to leave no doubt as to the intentions of a creator in estate planning papers.  I have created numerous estate papers for clients and represented parties in cases where the validity of Wills and other writings are at issue.  Call me now for a free review of your estate problem or question.  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 30 years resolve issues relating to probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including Queens County and Brooklyn.   If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.

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