According to the Council on Elder Abuse, as few as one in 24-cases of elder abuse go reported to the proper authorities, an unfortunate reality that many across the state and country are actively trying to change. To fulfil the goal of eliminating elder abuse, June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month to help bring to light many of the issues facing our beloved elders enjoying their golden years with family and friends.

Unfortunately, elder abuse can take place in many different settings including at home by a caretaker or family member, a hospital or rehabilitation setting, or a nursing home by malicious or neglectful staff. According to mental and emotional health website HelpGuide.org, as many as half a million cases of senior abuse are reported every year, a number that pales in comparison to the estimated numbers of unreported cases.

Often times, elder abuse and neglect manifests itself in deep emotional suffering like depression or becoming withdrawn, making it difficult to report and stop elder abuse from the onset. No matter how secure you believe your elder loved one may be, you should always remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms of abuse or neglect. Armed with knowledge, you can be the advocate your loved one needs should he or she become a victim of abuse or neglect.

When someone passes away without creating a last will and testament or trust, the individual passes away in intestate, meaning his or her assets will be distributed to heirs based on a line of succession under New York state probate laws. While most of us plan for the time after we pass away, not everyone goes through the process of creating a will or trust and this can create some complex legal issues when the estate passes through probate.

 

Unless a trust is created, every estate must pass through probate court in New York, even if the deceased created a clear and concise will. However, there are a few types of assets that will not need to pass through intestate sucession if the decedent pases away without a will. These include:

 

  • Life insurance payouts
  • IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account
  • Securities from a transfer-on-death account
  • Bank accounts set up as payable-on-death
  • Property owned with someone else in joint tenancy

 

These types of assets already have beneficiaries named to them and therefore do not need to pass through any type of probate. However, other assets like homes, vehicles, personal possessions, other bank accounts will likely be subject to intestate succession.

 

Who receives inheritance in New York

 

New York Estates, Powers, and Trusts Laws lay out a clear line of succession when individuals pass away intestate. Typically, surviving spouses and children are among the first in this line of asset distribution. This table shows the full line of succession:

 

 

Children and no spouse Entire estate
Spouse and no children Entire estate
Spouse and children Spouse inherits first $50,000 of estate property & 1/2 balance. Children inherit remaining balance
Surviving parents, no children and spouse Entire estate
Surviving siblings only Entire estate

When can the state seize and estate?

 

The state of New York can actually take possession of an estate without a last will and testament in very limited circumstances. For the state to seize the estate, the deceased must pass away without creating a trust or last will and testament and must not have any surviving relatives.

 

Other surviving relatives eligible to receive assets from an intestate include half-siblings, adopted children, children conceived posthumously. Foreign relatives are also to receive assets from an intestate decedent, regardless of immigration status in the country.

 

While many of these scenarios are unlikely for your beneficiaries to go through if you created a trust or estate, you may find yourself in a position to inherit assets from a relative who did not create his or her own last will and testament. By understanding intestates and lines of succession in New York, you can advocate for yourself as an interested party in probate court and recover duly owed assets.

All grandparents want the best for their children and grandchildren and many take the initiative to set aside part of an estate to help future generations get a head start in life. Forward thinking grandparents should also be aware there are certain tax and entitlement benefits rules seniors need to follow to remain in compliance with the law in order to avoid jeopardizing many of their own assets.

First, grandparents need to know the Internal Revenue System (IRS) places a $14,000 limit on untaxable gifts each year to individual grandchildren. Married couples may each give up to $14,000 to each and every grandchildren without any taxes, making the total $28,000 per year. Grandchildren receiving these gifts will not have to pay any income tax of these gifts, unless the assets generate income.

Additionally, grandparents can make direct payments to doctors and educational institutions to cover services on behalf of their grandchildren. The IRS does not consider payments for medical treatment and education as gifts subject to tax and grandparents can still give up to $14,000 each per year to their grandchildren without worrying about gift taxes.

When deciding how to disburse assets in an estate, many individuals decide to create a trust over a last will and testament in order avoid probate court and create a public record of the events. The pros and cons of establishing a trust over a will depend on many circumstances, including what type of trust the grantor chooses to create and what types of assets fall into that particular trust.

Living trusts

One category of trusts is the inter vivos trust, created while the individual is still alive. Two main types of inter vivos trusts exist, revocable and irrevocable trusts. Revocable trusts allow the grantor modify, amend, or otherwise change any aspect of the trust as he or she sees fit.

The Erie County Department of Senior Services recently announced the date for its 17th annual Elder Law Day event. The program will take place from 2pm to 8pm on Thursday, June 22, at the Adam’s Mark Hotel, 120 Church St., Buffalo, New York. The event helps educates seniors and the greater public about many health, safety, and legal issues many of our beloved elders face in these modern times.

The free event will touch on such topics as Medicare, Medicare Supplemental and Managed Care plans, HMO’s, PPO’s, Part D coverage and long term care insurance to help seniors and their families make informed decisions about elder health care needs. Event Goers can also sit down with sponsors to discuss topics like Medicaid planning, estates, trusts, wills, housing, consumer, health insurance and much more.

“Elder Law Day is full of valuable information and is a great opportunity for seniors and caregivers to learn about their rights, get answers to their questions, and build a plan for the future. These events have been tremendously popular in the past and have proven to be a good way to get information into the hands of people who need it,” said Tim Hogues, Erie County Commissioner of Senior Services. “Elder Law Day brings together professionals from all around the aging spectrum to share their knowledge and actually help seniors right on the spot. I encourage seniors, caregivers, and anyone who needs the latest information on any aspect of senior life to attend.”

The passing of a loved one is never an easy event. While families take time to grieve and mourn the loss of a parent or spouse, many estate-related details that can greatly impact the estate’s financial situation may be overlooked. By taking some time to understand what types of benefits Social Security Insurance (SSI) recipients qualified for before their passing, surviving family members can more easily claim these benefits and relieve some of the financial strain of laying a loved one to rest.

Believe it or not, many people forget to claim SSI death benefits after the passing of a senior loved one. These benefits help provide funds towards the cost of funeral or burial for surviving spouses or children of SSI eligible individuals. The program is administered by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) and provides a $225 Social Security Lump Sum Death Payment (LSDP) benefit.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the administration in 1935 during his first term during the New Deal. The SSA provides benefits for the elderly, disabled, widows, and many other vulnerable citizens. The $225 is the original amount written into law and stands today to aid those in need.

Anyone with a spouse stricken by Alzheimer’s disease knows exactly how devastating the condition is on the patient and how taxing it can be on the person administering care. Often times, senior act as primary caregivers to their spouses battling Alzheimer’s, a testament to their love and commitment until the very end.

While the nature of alzheimer’s disease means afflicted persons do not often outlive their spouses, those acting as caregivers should nonetheless plan for contingencies such as these to ensure their surviving spouse is well taken care of. Depending on the disease’s progression and the overall health of each spouse, couples may need to plan differently to suit their individual situation.

First and foremost, elder spouses need to ensure their power of attorney is up to date and names the caregiver spouse as the primary decision maker for the individual afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, this document should give the caretaker the power to name another individual as the decision maker upon passing away.

When someone passes away, he or she typically has the estate in order by creating a will or trust and designating an executor to oversee the dispersal of assets to named beneficiaries, ensuring a smooth process during a time of grief. However, even the wills and trusts that seem cut and dry can face legal challenges to parties claiming to have a stake in the estate and are rightfully entitled to certain assets.

Fortunately, New York and other states have laws on the books known as “dead man’s statutes” that help to exclude testimony concerning conversations between the deceased and the individual challenging the estate. The main reason to exclude such conversations as evidence from probate proceedings is to prevent purgery and the introduction of evidence that cannot otherwise be verified.

While not limited to cases involving trusts and estates, New York Surrogate Courts often find themselves hearing arguments involving the dead man’s statute. There are three-exceptions to the exclusion of testimony by interested parties under New York law. These exceptions include:

Barring the creation of a trust, all estates must pass through probate court to certify the estate before assets may be disbursed to beneficiaries. In New York state, every one of the 62-counties has at least one Surrogate Court (New York and Kings Counties have two) to hear all types of matters related to decedents and their estates as well as certain types of guardianship proceedings and adoptions.

The law invests these powers to Surrogate Courts through the New York Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCP). The section pertaining specifically to probate cases is NY SURR CT PRO § 201.3 and reads:

“The court shall continue to exercise full and complete general jurisdiction in law and in equity to administer justice in all matters relating to estates and the affairs of decedents, and upon the return of any process to try and determine all questions, legal or equitable, arising between any or all of the parties to any action or proceeding, or between any party and any other person having any claim or interest therein, over whom jurisdiction has been obtained as to any and all matters necessary to be determined in order to make a full, equitable and complete disposition of the matter by such order or decree as justice requires.”

Getting remarried as a senior can have a whole host of important consequences from estate planning, retirement, and any future medical care needs, particularly if either spouse has children. Without careful planning and consideration before remarriage, seniors may find themselves in unexpected financial trouble and even create a fight in probate court over the estate if new will and testaments are not drawn up.

First and foremost, a remarriage affects the inheritance of the deceased’s surviving family members, even after the trouble of crafting a well thought out last will and testament. Under New York probate laws, surviving spouses are entitled to a portion of the estate, even if the deceased’s will explicitly divides the estate amongst his or her surviving children.

In this situation, each party should re-examine his or her will and consult with an experienced New York estate lawyer to draw up new plans for the disbursement of the estate. Without a revised will following a remarriage, the deceased’s estate may be held up in probate court due to legal challenges over beneficiaries looking to collect pieces of the estate they believe they may be entitled to.

Contact Information