THE ESTATE PLANNING PROCESS
New York Estate Planning – Getting Started
Writing a Will and Related Documents
There are essentially three steps to this process: (1) information gathering and decision making, (2) draft documents, and (3) review and signing. We aim to make the process as smooth for you as possible.
Here’s How To Get Started:
Schedule an initial consultation online. We’ll meet for an hour or so to get to know each other and talk through your situation and your wishes. We will talk through any unique or complex circumstances you may have. There’s no charge for the meeting; by the end of it, we will settle on a flat fee for the project. Take a look at our Billing page for more information.
Download the initial intake questionnaire (PDF or Word). This is designed to be simple — it should only take you 10-15 minutes to fill it all out. Please answer the questionnaire as fully as possible before the meeting, and, if you can, email it back in advance. They help us to cover all the bases in our information gathering.
We don’t need exact information such as account numbers or dollar figures, but please do indicate the ownership of any property in a joint, corporate, or trust structure, as these are important legal details. If any questions are difficult to answer, don’t worry about it — we’ll discuss them in our meeting.
Estate Planning – After Signing
After you’ve signed your documents, there are some follow-up steps that we highly recommend, to ensure that your plans will be fully and smoothly implemented.
Storage of your documents. Our usual practice is to retain the original signed documents in our office for safekeeping and to deliver copies to you. We are happy to provide as many hard copies, or pdfs, as you wish. Our office information is written in all the documents so that people know how to contact us to obtain the originals. If you prefer to have the originals, that’s fine, too; just ask. The best place to store your documents is at home, wherever you keep other important papers. A safe-deposit box at a bank can be problematic since it can’t be readily accessed after your death, which is when your will would be needed.
Health care proxies. You may need your health care proxy in an emergency situation, so you want to make sure it’s readily accessible to others. We strongly recommend that you submit a pdf of your health care proxy to Docubank, where it will be stored securely and will be available in an emergency. For a small annual fee (discounted when you mention that our firm referred you), they will send you an emergency-contact wallet card, which will contain information on how hospital personnel and others can retrieve a copy of your document. Other documents, such as a power of attorney, can be stored with them as well.
Powers of Attorney. There are signature lines for your agents in the middle of the document, and Affidavit of Full Force at the end of the document. All these pages are to be signed by your agents, if and when they use the document. They can remain unsigned until then.
Your agents and doctors. It’s also a good idea to provide copies of your health care proxy to your primary doctor and relevant specialists. Copies of your health care proxy and your power of attorney can also go to the agents you name in the documents so that they will know their roles and will be ready to act if necessary. Your will and other documents are best kept private.
Assets and online accounts. The process of settling an estate after a death is mostly an exercise of figuring out what assets the person had, gathering them, and distributing them to the appropriate parties. You can get your estate into order by keeping records of all your financial accounts, credit cards, business agreements, homeownership documents, etc. in orderly files. Also, as our personal business is transacted increasingly online, our information leaves less of a paper trail and is less accessible to others. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you use One Password to gather your account passwords into a single secure place and write your master password in a sealed envelope stored with your estate documents.
Send things to us at any time. We are here to help you implement your plans, not just to write the documents. Whenever you open a new account or sell a home or change your beneficiaries or make advance funeral arrangements, please send us a copy of the relevant documents. We will keep your file updated so that all your information is in good order whenever it’s needed.
Check back in with us now and then. We write our documents with flexible provisions to address a range of changes that may occur in your life. But there are many things we can’t anticipate, so please check in with us every couple of years. We always love to hear from our clients and will be happy to review your documents in light of your current circumstances. We regard our connection with you as an ongoing relationship and we look forward to serving your needs as they evolve over time.
Revocable Trusts. If you have created a revocable trust, then it is very important that you take the next steps to activate it. As we’ve discussed in our meetings with you, the trust is only effective as to the assets that are owned in the name of the trust. Therefore, it is necessary for you to transfer your assets into the trust. Assets not in the trust will be subject to probate procedures and will pass according to your last will.
For financial accounts, you can contact the financial institution directly and ask to transfer ownership (also called “transferring title” or “re-titling”) of your accounts to a revocable trust. Be sure to emphasize that it’s a revocable trust, rather than an irrevocable trust and that you are the trustee. You can tell them the name of the trust, which appears in Section 3.2 of the trust document. They will likely ask to see a copy of the trust document — if you wish to protect the privacy of its contents, it may suffice to send the first page and the signature page. Note that you are named as the trustee in Section 2.2 of the trust document.
The financial institution should be familiar with this rather common process, and there should be only a few items for you to sign for each account, at no charge. Please contact us, or have the financial institution contact us, with any questions.
Note that retirement accounts — IRA, 401(k), and similar accounts — do not go into the trust. They are legally different from other assets and can remain as they are.
For real property or coop units, we can prepare the deed, or conduct the coop process for you. If we have not done so already, please contact us to discuss the next steps. Unlike the transfer of financial accounts, there are some transaction costs associated with these transfers.
We are happy to assist you with any of these processes, at the hourly rates stated in our engagement letter for the estate planning work.