Estate Planning Involves More than One-Time Drafting of a Will

Many New York residents dread thinking about it, but we will all die someday. While we are alive, we need to think about where we want our assets to go. Estate planning involves many aspects. It is not just about drafting a will. We need to make sure that our wills are properly executed and that our estates are thoroughly planned to avoid a will contest after we die.

Many people fail to create a will, or fail to update one after major life events. This can lead to difficult legal messes for loved ones.

If a person dies without a will in place, state laws go into effect. Typically, the spouse and children have first rights to the deceased person's property. If there are no children or spouse, then siblings, parents and grandparents could be first in line. The state takes the property if there are no relatives. If there is no guardian appointed to any minor children, the state will choose one.

Although drafting a will is a good idea for protecting one's family, a will is not the final word in all circumstances. Sometimes a person's will states that a piece of real estate or a life insurance policy should go to a certain person, but that statement in the will won't hold up in court if the real estate is owned in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship by someone else, or if that life insurance policy names someone else as beneficiary.

Even if a landowner does share property jointly with rights of survivorship, it is still a good idea to have an updated will. Sometimes people forget to plan for large gains in assets, such as compensation from a lawsuit or an inheritance. Those with young children will need to assign guardianship to a friend or family member. Those writing wills also need to name an executor -- a trusted friend or colleague -- to carry out the wishes detailed in the will.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Planning an estate entails more than just drawing up a will," Elliot Raphaelson, Oc. 4, 2012

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