Articles Posted in Caregiving

Creating a living trust is an excellent way to avoid having assets pass through probate courts and create showdowns for potentially messy challenges brought by individuals claiming to be “interested parties” to the estate. However, even living trusts must still settle up on certain types of debts incurred against the estate by the deceased. If you or a close friend or family member are named as a trustee, you should take some time to understand the estate laws governing these and other estate concerns.

First, it is important to know that not all debts expire upon the passing of the trust’s creator. For example, federal student loans are discharged upon the debtor’s passing but private student loans may not be vacated. Furthermore, debts held by two or more persons may not be discharged and the surviving debtor may carry the remainder of the responsibility.

Second, unlike estates handled by a last will and testament, public notices to creditors are not posted in the media. Again, this is because the estate does not pass through probate court. Instead, the trustee will need to contact known creditors and inform these entities of the trust maker’s passing. By informing known creditors right away, these entities only have a limited time to recover debts from the estate and the debt may be discharged should these creditors fail to act in a timely manner.

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Often times, elder abuse and neglect manifests itself in deep emotional suffering like depression or becoming withdrawn, making it difficult to report and stop elder abuse from the onset.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 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.”

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.”

Executing a will or estate through probate court can be a costly, time consuming process full of surprises and complex issues. On top of that, the probate process creates a public record of the proceedings that may reveal information individuals wish to keep private, including debts, real estate holdings, and prenuptial agreement agreements.

Fortunately, New York probate law gives individuals planning their estate options to avoid this burdensome process by creating living trusts, setting up joint ownership, and various transfer agreements. However, even these options come with various challenges that can complicate what is meant to be a less stressful process.

By thinking ahead, weighing options, and speaking to an experienced estate planning attorney, individuals and couples can tailor a plan that best suits their needs and ensures their final wishes are carried out with the greatest benefit to survivors. Here are some common ways to avoid probate court in New York.

As our parents age, many of us begin to take on greater roles concerning basic needs like overseeing finances, medical care, and other tasks. Often times, some form of guardianship is necessary to ensure our loved one’s best interests are executed by financial institutions, hospitals, and even local governments. Even loved ones capable of handling many responsibilities themselves can use assistance from family members.

Fortunately, New York elder law gives family members the right to step in and request guardianship as well as allow competent elders the right to agree to guardianship and allow a family member to make certain decisions on their behalf. Whether you find yourself in either circumstance, an experienced and dedicated New York elder law attorney can help the process goes as smoothly as possible and your beloved elder has his or her needs met.

New York guardianship elder laws

There are many estate planning tools that should be considered when writing a will. While the obvious includable provisions are for assets and property distribution, you should also consider how you want your life insurance policy distributed as well as any retirement benefit accounts. The policies you have subscribed to and pay premiums on will administer a life insurance policy or benefits as you have provided, however, many people forget to amend these policies when they go through events such as a divorce or if they lose a loved one.

Life Insurance Policies

Failing to update life insurance policies can end up benefitting a party you no longer intend to provide for, such as a former spouse who has since remarried, or a family member or friend you have been estranged from. Thus, it is certainly a good practice to amend and update your policy after a major event or to make sure it aligns with your wishes every few years. Making reference to the life insurance policy and the intended beneficiary in your will just goes to further support your claim to show whom you wish to receive the proceeds of policy.

How property and assets are distributed when you pass can be a sensitive topic that many people do not like to address, in fact, more than half of Americans die without a will every year. This failure to plan for the distribution of assets and property can leave many interested parties at odds and may not reflect what your last wishes were for your legacy. Depending on what you are leaving behind, there are some considerations that must be made regarding your assets.

Depending upon the state you reside in, your property may pass subject to probate or it may pass outside due to pre-documented rights of survivorship or trust language. If you live in a community property state, which means that all property acquired by you or your spouse during the marriage, regardless of who bought it is property of the marriage, then your property will pass subject to probate court. However, passing through probate may be avoided if you have left rights of survivorship language in your will or property ownership documentation. Property is then subject to the estate tax, which may not be the main concern of dissolution, depending on the assets involved.

Additionally, a trust can be set up that will either avoid probate or will continue to be includable in your estate. If you seek to avoid probate, you can form what is called an irrevocable trust, which allows you to put your assets and property in a  trust, to be held and owned by the trustee, who works to administer the trust under the governing trust and also make decisions in the best interest of the grantor and any potential beneficiaries. However, if you wish to form a trust but still seek to maintain control of your assets and property by amending or revoking the trust during your lifetime, you can form a revocable trust.

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