Legal Checkup: Your Will
This edition of the Koldin Report E-Newsletter begins a series on the importance of an annual legal checkup of your estate planning documents. Just the way you go to the doctor for an annual checkup, you should do a regular check up of your estate planning. In this newsletter we discuss why your Will should be reviewed on an ongoing basis. All prior newsletters are saved on our website. You can read them by clicking here.
At the initial appointment with our clients, the Koldin Law Center, P.C. reviews your current Will, Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. Even our current clients who meet with us for file review appointments often discover that their current legal documents need to be updated to meet changes that have occurred in the lives of their families. We also discuss what planning you have done in the event long term care becomes necessary either at home or at a nursing home.
Have Your Children Grown Up? Have Grandchildren Been Born?
Often new clients come to our office with old Wills that were written when their children were very young. These Wills fail to designate grandchildren to inherit if their children predecease them. These old Wills also often designate other relatives rather than the children to serve as Executors.
Have there Been Changes in Your Children’s Lives?
Children may now be married or divorced. Children’s lives may have developed issues such as disability, illness or financial problems. All of these changes might make it desirable to make revisions to your Will to address these issues.
Has Your Will Been Overridden?
A Last Will and Testament is a document expressing your wishes as to how you want your estate distributed at the time of your death. A Will only applies to those assets which are solely in your own name at the time of your death.
There are many ways to override your Will where your assets are left directly to beneficiaries without passing through your Will.
One common way that people override their Wills is by adding joint owners to their bank and brokerage accounts. Most joint accounts have survivorship language. This means that when one joint owner dies, the other owner then automatically keeps the entire account.
Another common way that people override their Wills is by adding beneficiaries to their bank and brokerage accounts. These accounts typically have language such as ITF (In Trust For), TOD (Transfer on Death), or POD (Payable on Death). For example, an account could be written, “Tom Jones ITF Mary Jones.” This account would be owned by Tom Jones and on his death, the bank would transfer ownership of the account to Mary Jones.
Therefore, when reviewing your Will, you must also review how you may have overridden your Will to make sure your intended beneficiaries receive your life savings. You may need to adjust your Will to make up for unequal distributions that are being made by savings being left to family members directly from financial institutions.
Since people periodically open new accounts at banks and brokerage companies, it is important to periodically compare your Will to your current financial institution accounts to see if any updates need to be made to your Will.
Is Your Spouse in Poor Health?
If your spouse is in poor health and at risk of needing long term care at home or in a Nursing Home, then assets you leave to your spouse could be lost towards the cost of care. You may want to take steps to either leave your spouse’s share in a special trust or you may want to remove your spouse as a beneficiary.
Are You Avoiding Probate?
Probate is a judicial proceeding to determine the validity of your Will and to carry out the terms of your Will. The need for judicial involvement can cause delay and unnecessary expense. As discussed above, Probate can be avoided or minimized by making financial institution accounts joint with someone else or by designating beneficiaries on the accounts.
Avoiding Probate with real property such as your family home can be done by adding joint owners or by transferring the property now to your children or other family members. There are many disadvantages to adding joint owners or transferring real property to another person. For a discussion of making gifts, see our website by clicking here. For a discussion of transferring real estate to your children and reserving a life estate, see our website by clicking here.
Both Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts are often a better or safer way to avoid probate for real estate. For a complete discussion of Trust planning, see our website by clicking here.
At the Koldin Law Center, P.C., located in East Syracuse, New York, we have over 50 years of experience helping individuals plan for immediate crisis and long term care. Our attorneys are available to discuss your estate planning options. We do not charge a fee for the initial consultation. We welcome your children, family attorney, accountant, and/or financial planner to be present at the initial consultation.
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We have been told by many clients who are in a crisis that they wish they had known about our firm much sooner. We are proud of the many families we have helped in times of crisis.
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We all share the responsibility for making our family and friends aware of the planning options available to them.
Your referral to the could make a major difference in the lives of your family and friends if they are someday faced with a long term illness.
Remember that the offers many services for clients of all ages. Our services range from basic estate planning such as a simple will to complex estate planning including asset preservation planning.
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