Finance & Law

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq., li

Making medical decisions for a loved one is extremely difficult, but making end of life decisions for someone is legally impossible without proof of his or her wishes. In New York, nobody may make end of life decisions for another — such as to forgo life sustaining treatments which only serve to artificially prolong one’s life — unless there is “clear and convincing” evidence of that person’s medical wishes. A Living Will document is the standard manner in which that burden is met.

A Living Will is part of a trio of “advanced directives,” which include a health care proxy and durable power of attorney, that help people plan for incapacity. Although you may name an agent to make medical decisions for you under a Health Care Proxy, that person cannot use his or her own judgment to reject life prolonging medical treatment for you — even if you are in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

The agent must provide sufficient proof of whether you would want cardiac resuscitation, mechanical respiration, artificial nutrition and hydration, antibiotics, blood, kidney dialysis, surgery or invasive diagnostic tests. A Living Will document specifically states what medical actions should be taken if you are in a terminal state with no reasonable hope of recovery and cannot communicate your wishes. Without it, your family members may end up in court offering testimony of why you would not have wanted to be kept alive if your quality of life was so poor. A video, a letter, a Facebook post — any such evidence could meet the “clear and convincing” burden.

A standard living will refuses all life-sustaining procedures if such measures only serve to artificially prolong one’s life. Such treatments are limited to making the patient comfortable and maximizing pain relief. However, this is not a requirement. A Living Will can and should be tailored to an individual’s specific needs and beliefs, even if it means that person wants all life-sustaining measures to be taken. Before executing a Living Will, you should consider what medical treatments are to be administered and under what medical conditions. Additionally, a Living Will can state your preference to be kept at home, if possible, rather than in a hospital.

It is important that when deciding who will act as a health care agent, you choose an individual who not only understands your wishes but is also willing to carry them out. Religious beliefs, for example, may prevent someone from “pulling the plug” even though you specifically instruct your agent to do so. A loved one may have a hard time carrying out your wishes for emotional reasons.

Before appointing an agent, you should have a discussion with them to ensure they understand your treatment plan and agree to follow same. If you cannot find an agent to carry out your wishes, the living will can be filed with your doctor or the hospital so that it is on record and provides instructions to your attending physician.

As you can see, a Living Will is a crucial estate planning document that all individuals should have in place. It is important to discuss your wishes with an Estate Planning attorney to ensure that your preferences will be carried out are legally valid.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

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By Linda Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: My husband, Fred, died recently. We are both on the deed to our house.

THE QUESTION: Do I need to change the deed?

THE ANSWER: Whether you need to change the deed depends on how you and Fred took title to the property when you first purchased it. You and Fred were co-owners of your property but, the ownership interest of co-owners of real property can be expressed on a deed in different ways.

Two or more co-owners can each own a specific percent of the property For example, two owners can each have a 50% interest in the piece of property. Each owner can dispose of his/her 50% interest as he/she pleases. Owners with this sort of arrangement are referred to as tenants in common.

Two or more people can also own property jointly with the right of survivorship. Such co-owners are referred to as joint tenants and the deed to the property will include the words “joint tenants with the right of survivorship” or “jt. tenants WROS.” Each joint tenant has an interest in the entire property and generally cannot dispose of their interest in the property without the consent of the other joint tenants.

Finally, when a married couple takes title to real property, they can do so jointly as tenants in the entirety. This designation is similar to jt. tenants WROS but, is only an option for married couples.

If you and Fred took title to your home as 50/50 tenants in common, a new deed should be prepared by which the executor or administrator of Fred’s estate transfers his 50% interest in the property to the person he named as the beneficiary in his will or the person entitled to his share under the intestacy statute. The new deed must be signed by the executor/administrator and filed/recorded in the office of the county clerk in the county in which the property is located.

If you and Fred held the property as joint tenants WROS or as tenants in the entirety, there is no need to change the deed. You became the sole owner of the property upon Fred’s death by operation of law. In other words, Fred’s ownership interest in the property was extinguished when he died and you automatically became the owner.

If you sell the property, you will need to provide proof that Fred died. Without such proof, the deed bearing only your signature will not be accepted for recording. If your house is not sold until after you die, the person selling your house will have to provide both Fred’s death certificate and letters testamentary or letters of administration from the surrogate’s court to establish that he/she has the authority to sell the property.

If you are still uncertain as to whether a new deed is needed, you should contact an attorney with experience in real estate who can review your deed and advise you as to how to proceed.   

Linda M. Toga, Esq provides legal services in the areas of real estate, estate planning and administration, small business services and litigation. She is available for email and phone consultations. Call 631-444-5605 or email Ms. Toga at [email protected] She will respond to messages and emails as quickly as possible.

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

Incapacity and death are usually topics that one attempts to push off to a future date or sweep under the rug. We rationalize — “I am young” or “I am still handling my affairs” or “I will worry about it later.” It is not until we are faced with a lifechanging event that propel us on a path to deal with the situation at hand.

Usually these lifechanging events are individual to the person — a catastrophic health condition, an accident or maybe seeing a close family member or friend going through some event. It is rare that we are faced with a national health crisis that make us all stop and consider this type of planning. In the light of recent events with COVID-19, the world is faced with an epidemic that has many people scrambling to have their affairs in order.

In the uncertainty of becoming incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs, it is more important than ever to have basic advanced directives in place. Anyone over the age of eighteen should have the following documents: Health Care Proxy, Living Will (if desired), HIPAA release form and General Durable Power of Attorney.

The health care proxy is a document that states who you would like to make your medical decisions in the event you are unable to make them for yourself because you have been deemed incapacitated by a doctor. The living will states your wishes regarding the withdrawal of treatments. This document can direct that certain treatments be stopped if they are serving to prolong your life without any reasonable expectation of recovery.

A HIPAA release allows the listed individuals to be able to obtain copies of your medical records. A power of attorney authorizes your agent to control your financial life — including but not limited to banking, pension plans, life insurance, etc. Your agent would step into your shoes and be able to handle all of your financial affairs.

Absent having these documents in place, no one would have the authority to act on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated. If you are hospitalized or quarantined, no one will be able to access your bank accounts on your behalf — pay bills or ask for relief in payments. If you are incapacitated and cannot make your own medical decision, you will not be able to choose your agent.

This is typically where we explain to our clients that this could result in a guardianship court proceeding which is costly and invasive. However, in light of COVID-19, the court system is not even available due to the closure that started on March 17, 2020. Without the proper documents in place and not being able to turn to the court, this could result in a huge delay of anyone acting on your behalf.

As we continue to forge ahead in this worldwide crisis, take the time to speak with your family members and come up with a plan. Estate Planning attorneys in your area are available to explain your options and set up a comprehensive plan to ensure that your loved ones are not scrambling to assist you.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

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By Linda Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: I am starting to work on my estate plan and am having trouble deciding who I should name as guardian of my three children in the event I die when they are still minors.

THE QUESTION: Can you provide some guidance on what factors I should consider when making a decision about an appropriate appointment?

THE ANSWER: I can certainly provide guidance about choosing a guardian but I want to first commend you on planning ahead. So many people put off estate planning and the end results are often less than optimal.

After many years helping clients develop their estate plans, I have come to the conclusion that the decision as to who will serve as guardians of their children is the most difficult decisions my clients face. This is particularly true when the client does not have family in the area. That being said, there are certainly situations where friends may be more suitable guardians than family members.

When choosing a guardian, you want to name someone who is willing and able to raise your children in an environment similar to the one they are familiar with and one in which they can thrive. Whoever you chose as guardian should have values that are similar to yours and be willing to love and nurture your children.

Not only should you look at the relationship between the person you are considering as guardian and your children but also the relationship between that person’s children and your own. Are the children similar in age? Do the children get along? Do they have common interests? If the proposed guardian does not have children, is that because she doesn’t want children? These are the sorts of questions you should be asking yourself.

Since you will likely want your children to continue to have a relationship with your family regardless of who is appointed as guardian, the relationship between the guardian and family members may be a factor.

Where the proposed guardian lives and her living arrangements also come into play. Does the guardian live locally so that your children can stay in the same school district or will they have to relocate out of state? Does the guardian have room to take in three children or will the guardian need to build an addition or move in order to welcome your children into her home? If the guardian’s living arrangement is not suitable, does she have the funds to remedy the situation?

While money should not be the overriding factor in deciding on a guardian, if the person you want to name does not have the means to take in and care for your children, you can address this issue in your will. By setting aside assets in a testamentary trust which can be distributed to the guardian to cover certain costs, you can decrease the chance that the guardian will suffer economic hardship as a result of caring for your children. Funds that remain in the trust when your youngest child is no longer a minor can be distributed to your children.

While the discussion above is far from exhaustive, it sets forth many of the things you should think about when deciding on who to name as guardian of your children. However, do not assume that the decision is yours alone. Ask the person you would like to name as guardian if she is willing and able to accept the responsibility of raising your children. Upon your death, you don’t want the person you named as guardian to be surprised.

Linda M. Toga, Esq provides legal services in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, small business services and litigation. She is available for email and phone consultations. Call 631-444-5605 or email Ms. Toga at [email protected]

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

Federal and state funding of COVID-19 related relief will likely require major budget overhauls and could potentially change the estate and gift tax landscape.

On the federal level, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the estate and gift tax exclusion from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000, as adjusted for inflation, for decedents passing away between 2018 and 2025. However, the increase in the exclusion amount is temporary and is scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2025 and revert back to $5,000,000 (adjusted for inflation).

Currently, the federal 2020 lifetime exclusion amount is $11,580,000 per person, which can be utilized to transfer assets during life or upon death, free of federal estate or gift tax. In New York, the current estate tax exclusion is $5,850,000. New York does not impose a gift tax, although gifts made within three years of death are brought back into the estate for estate tax purposes.

Portability on the federal level allows a surviving spouse to use the deceased spouse’s unused federal lifetime exclusion. Therefore, if the first spouse to die has not fully utilized his or her federal estate tax exclusion, the unused portion, called the “DSUE amount,” can be transferred to the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse’s exclusion then becomes the sum of his or her own exclusion plus the DSUE amount. 

To take advantage of the DSUE amount, a timely filed federal estate tax return must be filed within 9 months from the deceased spouse’s date of death, or within 15 months pursuant to an extension request. Many surviving spouses may not be aware of this requirement or fail to see how filing a return would be beneficial at the time of the first spouse’s death with the current exclusion amount being so high. If ignored, upon the death of the surviving spouse, his or her estate is unable to utilize the DSUE amount unless other specific actions are taken. New York State does not currently have portability.

With the looming sunset, practitioners were concerned with what exclusion amount would be used to calculate the estate tax for a decedent dying after January 1, 2026 who made gifts between 2018 and the end of 2025, or the DSUE amount for the spouse that died between these dates that filed a return for portability. Finally, on November 26, 2019, the Treasury

Department and IRS issued regulations clarifying that the estate tax and DSUE amount will be calculated using the increased exclusion amount that was in place between December 31, 2017 and January 1, 2026, confirming that there will be no “claw back.”

Increased spending associated with COVID-19 will likely leave the government searching for revenue. One such avenue could be a reduction in the exclusion amount on the federal and/or state level, even prior to the current federal sunset date. It is more important than ever for an executor to file a federal estate tax return on the death of the first spouse to lock in the higher DSUE amount. 

Additionally, individuals with high net worth should consider gifting assets now to reduce their taxable estate on both the federal and state levels. 

With so many political and social changes on the horizon, it is of paramount important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss these issues, review your estate plan and potentially revise your current estate planning documents to include provisions for estate tax planning on the death of the first spouse. The potential to be subject to estate tax could increase for a significant number of individuals if the exclusion amount is lowered in the future.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office. 

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By Linda Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

With the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone’s mind, many people who have not engaged in estate planning have contacted me about how best to proceed with the development of an estate plan. 

It seems that the fear of the virus has made people understand the need for estate planning. However, even if you have a will or a trust, a power of attorney and/or a healthcare proxy, now is a good time to review your documents to confirm that they still express your wishes and meet your needs. Advanced planning is not something you think about once and forget. Successful planning requires that you periodically review and possibly revise your documents to reflect changes in your life circumstances. 

Some things to think about are:

Your beneficiaries: Have any of the beneficiaries named in your will or trust passed away? If so, you may want to name some new beneficiaries to share in your estate. Even if a beneficiary is still living, you should ask yourself if that person is still someone to whom you wish to leave a bequest. Relationships change over time. Are there new people in your life who are important to you? Are there beneficiaries named in your documents with whom you now have little or no contact, perhaps as the result of a divorce or relocation? Did you name a charity that no longer exists as a beneficiary? Are any of the beneficiaries now disabled? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should consider making changes to your will or trust. 

The bequests: If you financial situation has changed since you created your estate plan and you can now make more generous bequests, you may want to revisit the size of bequests made to certain individuals. The converse is also true. If your estate is likely to be significantly smaller, perhaps you want to limit the bequests you are making either by removing some beneficiaries or decreasing the amount or percent of your estate going to each beneficiary. 

Your fiduciaries: The word fiduciaries refers to the people you have named as executor, trustee, agent and/or guardian in your estate planning documents. If any of the people you named as a fiduciary have passed, you should name a successor. If you named a sibling as an executor because your children were minor and now they are responsible adults, perhaps you want to name one of more of your children as the executor(s) of your estate.

Many clients revise their estate plans and name their children as agents on their powers of attorney or healthcare proxies when their children are older, more responsible and in a better position to make important decisions. This may be something you want to consider. If you named guardians to care for your children in the event you die when the children are still minors, it is very important to revisit this appointment. Perhaps your children have attained the age of majority and no longer need a guardian in which case the provision naming a guardian can be deleted. 

If a guardian may still be needed, you should consider the relationship the named guardian has with your children. Perhaps the person you named no longer has a good relationship with your children, or they have moved out of state and could only serve if your children are relocated. Has the guardian’s financial situation or living arrangements changed to the point that taking in and caring for your children will be overly burdensome? Since the guardian you name may be raising your children, all of these issues deserve serious thought. 

Although there are many issues to consider when reviewing your estate plan, the points mentioned above can provide a good starting point. Retaining an experienced estate planning attorney to review your documents with you and to discuss any changes you may want made will ensure that your estate plan will once again reflect your wishes. 

Linda M. Toga, Esq provides legal services in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, small business services and litigation. Call 631-444-5605 or email Ms. Toga at [email protected] to schedule a consultation. 

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

Community Based (homecare) Medicaid is a program that can assist families in paying for the cost of home health aides as well as other programs, supplies and equipment, to help people age in place. Medicaid, unlike Medicare, is a need-based program with certain asset and income requirements.

These separate requirements for Medicaid eligibility must both be met by the applicant. To meet the Community Medicaid asset requirements, an individual is permitted to own a home, have liquid non-retirement assets that do not exceed $15,750.00, retirement savings in any amount, an irrevocable pre-paid funeral account and one car. With respect to income, an applicant may retain a monthly income of $875.00 plus a disregard of $20.00. The recipient must continue to take required monthly minimum distributions from retirement accounts.

Unlike nursing home Medicaid, any excess income can be directed to a Pooled Income Trust for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant and the monies deposited into that trust can be used to pay the household expenses of the Medicaid applicant. These household expenses are not limited to shelter but can include food, luxury items and any non-covered medical expenses.

Until recently, under the New York Medicaid guidelines, there has not been a look-back for Community Medicaid, meaning an applicant for Community Medicaid could transfer an unlimited amount of assets in one month and be eligible the 1st day of the following month. Soon, this will no longer be the case. 

An amendment was made to New York Social Service Law Section 366 subd.5 under the 2020-2021 New York State Budget, wherein a thirty (30) month lookback was instituted for Community Medicaid coverage. The change is set to roll out on October 1, 2020. 

This means that an individual applying for Community Medicaid post-October 2020, will have to submit 30 months of financial disclosure for eligibility purposes. To the extent there are uncompensated transfers or gifting, the applicant will be penalized and not enrolled in Community Medicaid for a specific period. The divisor currently used is $13,407.00, meaning that for every $13,407.00 the applicant transferred for less than fair market compensation, he or she will be penalized for a period of one month.

For example, if it is determined that an application gifted $60,000.00 within the 30-month lookback, the applicant will be ineligible to receive Community Medicaid for approximately 4.5 months, requiring an out of pocket payment for care received for those months. This raises the question of where the money for that care will come from. 

What if you gifted the money without an expectation of receiving it back and without taking into consideration your own care needs? It is still unclear how the penalty period will run, from which date it will be calculated and how applicants will be able to mitigate any transfers they did make during the lookback. 

Similarly, it is not clear if the 30-month lookback will affect those currently enrolled in the Community Medicaid program. The law does not address whether transfers made prior to the change in the law will be exempted from the lookback and whether there will be a post eligibility lookback assessed to those already on the program. 

To remain eligible, a Medicaid recipient must recertify their Medicaid benefits annually. Under the current regulations, only financial documents showing assets and income as of the date of recertification need be provided. However, in light of the new lookback, it is uncertain if the recertification process will now require a 30-month lookback. Likewise, it is unknown whether the local department of social services will discontinue benefits for those recipients who had transferred assets in the last 30 months.

The Community Medicaid program in New York allows our seniors to remain in their home, receiving care. With careful planning this program can still allow many individuals to age in place. The changes to the Medicaid qualification process highlight the need for sound estate planning that includes consideration of asset protection planning.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

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By Linda Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: My father died in September, 2018. This April I received a check from the United States Treasury payable to my father in the amount of $1,200. The check reflects the Economic Impact Payment or stimulus check authorized for many citizens as part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act. My family could really use the money since I lost my job when the business I worked for closed in March but, I’m not sure if I should I cash the check.

THE QUESTION: Are deceased individuals or their families entitled to Economic Impact Payments?

THE ANSWER: There has been a great deal of confusion concerning stimulus checks that were sent to deceased individuals. I have received quite a few calls from clients asking whether they can cash checks sent to individuals who died recently, as well as individuals that died well before your father. 

Adding to the confusion is the fact that some of the checks in question include the notation “DECD”, short for deceased, on the payee line. This certainly suggests that the Treasury knowingly sent checks to deceased individuals and has lead a number of people to conclude that the checks can be cashed. Other callers have suggested that since their loved one either died from the coronavirus or suffered financially from the virus before passing that their estate should be entitled to the stimulus funds. Unfortunately for the families of the deceased check recipients, the government does not see it that way. 

On May 6, more than a month after checks were first mailed out, the IRS tried to clarify the situation by stating on its website that funds that were sent to deceased individuals should be returned. They provided instructions for how that should be done. 

However, rather than bringing clarity to the issue, the posting on the website added to the confusion. That’s because the posting states that if the payee died “before receipt of the payment,” the payment should be returned. If all payments were made by checks that were mailed to the recipients and delivery times throughout the country were the same, the IRS post may settle the question. 

However, since the time it takes for mail to be delivered to different places varies, and since some people received checks through the mail while others had the funds deposited directly into their bank accounts, a rule that relies on receipt of the payment rather than the date the payment was authorized inevitably favors those people with slow mail service. 

For example, if Mr. Smith’s check is mailed on April 11 and received on April 14 and Mr. Cooper’s account is credited on April 11, and both men die on April 12, the IRS post suggests that Mr. Smith’s estate can keep the money but, Mr. Cooper’s estate is expected to return the funds. It seems unlikely that the Congress intended the CARES Act to discriminate against people with direct deposit but, absent further clarification from the IRS, they will suffer that unintended consequence. 

Although it is clear that the Treasury expects checks payable to deceased individuals to be returned, some people point out that it may be premature to return funds to the IRS at this time. That is because Congress is debating additional relief packages that may provide that the families of deceased recipients of stimulus checks are entitled to retain the funds. 

Even if the family of an individual who died years ago and was not impacted by the coronavirus may not be entitled to a keep the stimulus check, provisions may be made to help the families of those who died from or suffered financially from the pandemic. There is precedence for such relief since the government did not require that funds payable to deceased individuals through the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 be returned. Then, as now, the goal of the stimulus checks was to stimulate spending and specifically to boost consumer spending.

At this time, it may be prudent to take a wait and see approach, especially with respect to checks that were sent to individuals who died recently. That is especially true since it is unclear how the government will get back the stimulus money that was given to deceased individuals. Collection efforts by the treasury cannot be started until death records are compared with the list of payees and the list of estates that already returned checks. That will take time. 

In addition, Congress may yet decide that the funds need not be returned. Considering the confusion surrounding the initial issuance of the stimulus checks, the prospect of getting a returned check reissued in the event Congress authorizes payments to deceased individuals is poor. That being said, once the question of eligibility is conclusively resolved, stimulus checks that were sent to deceased individuals who are found to be ineligible to receive the funds will have to be returned. 

As far as the check sent to your father is concerned, I would be surprised if Congress decided that your father or his estate is eligible for stimulus funds relating to the pandemic. However, I recommend that you monitor the situation closely so that you can make an informed decision as to whether you need to return the check. 

Linda M. Toga, Esq provides legal services in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, small business services and litigation. She is available for email and phone consultations. Call 631-444-5605 or email Ms. Toga at [email protected] She will respond to messages and emails as quickly as possible. 

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

Congratulations! You’re going to be graduating from high school very soon and are (fingers crossed) heading off to college in the fall. In preparation, you are shopping for school supplies, bedding, a new wardrobe, and researching the best classes to take. What you’re likely not thinking about is ensuring you have the proper estate planning documents in place before taking that next step in your life.

Drawing up a will or advanced directives for a college student may seem like an unnecessary task and expense, but once you turn 18, you are considered an adult under New York State law. Since you are no longer under your parents’ care, they do not have an automatic right to make decisions on your behalf. While this may seem like your long-awaited initiation into the freedom of adulthood, the reality is that situations may arise where a parent or other family member’s input is crucial.

Students are especially prone to getting sick or injured and, combined with living on their own, make it necessary to put certain legal directives in place. The three documents every college student needs are a health care proxy, HIPAA release form, and durable power of attorney.

A health care proxy allows you to appoint an agent to make medical decisions for you if you cannot do so for yourself. You can only name one agent but can nominate alternate agents in case your primary agent is unable or unwilling to act. The HIPAA release form further authorizes your agent to obtain your medical information. Without these documents, your parent (or whomever you designate to make such medical decisions) is going to face resistance when it comes to inquiring about the status of your health or providing care instructions to your doctor.

The power of attorney names an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf. The power of attorney does not strip you of your financial powers but rather duplicates them so that your agent can act in your stead if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to act. A power of attorney can be beneficial if you need someone to pay a bill, apply for financial aid, or hire a professional on your behalf, such as an accountant or lawyer.

Beyond the aforementioned documents, you may also consider a last will and testament and a living will. Although they sound similar, they are very different documents. Depending on the extent of your assets, either saved or inherited, you may want to designate beneficiaries in a last will and testaments or trust. A “living will” documents end of life decisions, such as whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means if you have an incurable disease or are in a persistent vegetative state.

Although these are questions that you will hopefully not face for decades, planning for your future is an important way of taking control of your life. Any new graduate — or eighteen-year-old for that matter — should make time to seek the advice of an Estate Planning attorney to discuss what documents should be in place as you enter the world of adulthood.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office. 

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Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: My father recently died at the age of 98. I am 78 and not well. My oldest brother is the executor of my father’s estate. In his will, my father directs his executor to distribute this estate in equal shares to me and my siblings. My brother strongly dislikes my wife and has made it clear that if I pass away before my father’s estate is settled, that he has no intention of distributing my share of the estate to my wife.

THE QUESTION: Can my brother legally withhold my share of my father’s estate from my wife?

THE ANSWER: As executor, your brother is legally bound to honor your father’s wishes whether he likes it or not. Regardless of whether you are alive at the time of distribution or not, your brother cannot change the terms of the will. 

If you had died before your father, how your share of his estate was to be distributed would have depended on the language in your father’s will. For example, if your father’s will said his estate was to be divided equally amongst his children, per stirpes, and you predeceased your father, your share of his estate would pass to your children, not your wife. If your father’s will stated that his estate was to be divided equally between his then living children, your share would be distributed, pro rata, to your siblings who were alive when your father died. However, since you were clearly alive when your father died, you have a vested interest in your share of his estate. 

If you are still alive when your father’s estate is settled, you are obviously entitled to receive your share of his estate outright. You can then do with your inheritance whatever you wish. If you pass before your father’s estate is settled, your share of his estate will pass to your estate. 

Once an executor or administrator is appointed by the court to handle your estate, that person will have the authority to distribute your inheritance in accordance with the provisions of your will. If you do not have a will, the intestacy statute will dictate how your estate will be distributed. 

If your wish is to have your estate, including the inheritance from your father, pass entirely to your wife, you should retain an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare a will that reflect your wishes. This is particularly important if you have children since, without a will, the intestacy statute would require that your children receive a share of your estate. 

Linda M. Toga, Esq provides legal services in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, small business services and litigation. She is available for email and phone consultations. Call 631-444-5605 or email Ms. Toga at [email protected] She will respond to messages and emails as quickly as possible.