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Daniel Dunaief

am in the news business. I also write columns. Today, I’d like to conflate the two, tackling the ubiquitous topic of “fake news.” Don’t run away, figuratively speaking! I’m not going to write about politics or politicians. I’m going to share fake news from my world.

10. I am a Yankees fan.

What makes that fake? It’s accurate, but it’s also fake because I’ve always been a Yankees fan. While the statement isn’t false, it’s not news because news suggests that it’s something new. It’s not fake per se, but also not news and that’s what makes it fake news.

9. I enjoy the time my kids are away.

What makes that fake? The fake element to this is that I enjoy the time they’re home, so I don’t exclusively enjoy the time they’re away. I may have smiled at and with my wife and, yes, I’ve found myself laughing out loud now and then for no particular reason in public, knowing that no one will glare at me, but it’s fake news to suggest I only enjoy this time.

8. I reveled in the movie “Rocketman.”

What makes that fake? While the movie was compelling and it offered details about superstar singer Sir Elton John’s childhood, it was a look behind the curtain at his early pain. I sympathized with him as he dealt with family challenges and personal demons, but I can’t say that I reveled in the biopic. I felt moved by his struggles and I appreciate how much he had to overcome to live the balanced life that he seems to have now. The gift of his musical genius may have been enough for the world to appreciate him, but not to give him what he wanted or needed when he was younger.

7. I have a wonderful dog.

What makes that fake? My dog has wonderful moments, but I wouldn’t characterize him as wonderful. He needs training, chews on furniture, jumps on people and barks at things I can’t see, which isn’t so wonderful when I’m conducting interviews with people in other states or when I’m in the middle of a delicate peace negotiation between children who don’t seem to have missed each other all that much when they were apart.

6. I detest logic.

What makes that fake? I enjoy logic. It follows rules and patterns. It only appears that I detest logic in this column because I’m trying to make a point about fake news.

5. I’m worried about the Earth.

What makes that fake? I’m not just worried about the land: I’m also concerned about the air, the water, biodiversity and a host of other limited resources.

4. I use real words.

What makes that fake? People who rely on a computer spellchecker will find numerous words that appear to be incorrect or that are underlined in red in my science columns. Words like nanomaterials, which are super small structures that hold out hope for future technologies such as medical devices or sensors, don’t register at all. If you asked a spellchecker, my columns are rife with fake words.

3. I use fake words.

What makes that fake? I love the double negative element to this. It’s fake to say I use fake words, because I also use real words.

2. I only use small words.

What makes that fake? I categorically refute the notion that I only use minuscule words. Check out the word “ubiquitous” at the top of this column.

1. I always lie.

What makes that fake? If I always lied, that would make the confession true, which would mean I don’t always lie, which would make the statement fake.

The flexible and logic-challenged fake news has become a tool to dismiss information, opinions and realities that people find disagreeable. It provides a convenient way to ignore news that may have more than a kernel of truth to it.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? I recently asked that question of staffers at the news media office, and this is what they answered. I’ve grouped the responses by department, wondering if there was a common thread that ran through their common work. Answer: There wasn’t, at least not one that I could see. You judge.

The Sales Department

“Go to college.” I also asked this person if that advice had changed her life. “Yes, it was a positive thing for my future. College changed my life, with its new ideas — and independence, both socially as well as academically.”

“No matter what, trust that God has a plan for everything. For something good to come out of whatever seems bad now.” Right around then, I started to ask the source of the advice. “My mother,” she explained.

“One day, when I was about 12, my mother and I were disagreeing. ‘You need to remember the world does not revolve around you.’ That thought helped me be a much less self-centered person. I became more aware that what was going on around me was often more important.”

“Never look back or to the future. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet come. Live for today. That came from my Aunt Doris.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up. That came from my mother and was especially true for my dancing. Another is: Always trust your gut. Go with it if something doesn’t feel right.”

The Business Department

“See the humor in things. It’s only just recently that I have begun to see that and be on the positive side of things. That has made me a happier person since I turned 50.” I forgot to ask who told her that.

“Expect the unexpected. That may sound pessimistic but it has made me ready to cope. That advice comes from life’s experiences.”

“Treat others as you want to be treated. That came from my father.”

The Copyediting/Proofing Department

“Have a sense of balance. That’s good because often I don’t have that. When I think about that, it always works out for the best. And that came from my sister.”

“Probably two things. First, never stop learning. At the dinner table, if there was something that came up that I didn’t know, my father would take down the ‘World Encyclopedia’ after dinner and we’d look it up. Be curious, educate yourself. Read about it. Second, be kind and treat other people with respect. Again the source was my father.”

“Learn to cultivate a sense of urgency. I tend to be too laid back. That’s from Dr. Who, the sci-fi character.” [That thought came from the sister, above.]

The Art and Production Department

“Try not to care what other people think. It’s a constant struggle because I am a Libra, a people pleaser. That came from my mother, who oddly enough was always critical.”

“Stop worrying. My husband told me that, and I find I’m not as uptight as I used to be.”

“Having low expectations is a good strategy. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. That may sound pessimistic but the message is that things will always be better. The source: Stefan Sagmeister, who wrote a book that included things to be learned.”

The Editorial Department

“Don’t listen to outside people. If you think of something you really believe in, just go for it.”

“This paraphrased quote from Maya Angelou: ‘People will forget what you did, what you said but never how you made them feel.’ My first-grade teacher made me feel mutual respect and that is what I show others.”

“Keep swimming — no matter what’s going on in your life, never give up, keep going. I never gave up on dating [points to engagement ring] or careerwise. From ‘The Road Less Traveled,’ life is difficult and once you realize that, life becomes easier.”

“Always clean stuff from the top down. Don’t do anything over again — from my father.”

“I will quote what a priest told my father when he was diagnosed with cancer. ‘All you can do is be grateful for what you’ve had. Otherwise it’s too difficult.’”

And from my mother: “You don’t have to answer every barking dog.” Not a bad piece of advice for a future newspaper publisher.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A recent article in The New York Times asked, “What is your oldest or most cherished grudge?” Everyone holds grudges, I guess, and they can range from some perceived slight or cutting remark to deep hurt or betrayal. While we all know that forgiveness is a lot healthier than anger, still there is something immutable about a deeply held grudge. However hard and sincerely you try to let go of it and go on with your life, it’s impossible to entirely discard the pain. Some people even admit to tending their grudges like a garden.

“Holding onto a grudge really is an ineffective strategy for dealing with a life situation that you haven’t been able to master,” said Dr. Frederic Luskin, founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, as reported in separate Times articles by Tim Herrera and Katherine Schulten. The psychological study suggested that “skills-based forgiveness training may prove effective in reducing anger as a coping style, reducing perceived stress and physical health symptoms, and thereby may help reduce” the stress we put on our immune and cardiovascular systems. Carrying anger into old age can result in higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness.

So how do we discard grudges? How do we forgive?

Luskin urges that we recognize three things. First that forgiveness is for you, not the offender. Second that it’s best to do it now. And finally that forgiveness is about freeing yourself.

Then to continue the process, change the story about the source of the grudge. Rather than being a victim, think of yourself as heroic. Then think of the good things in your life so as to balance the harm. And remember that life doesn’t always turn out the way we want. Luskin emphasizes that forgiveness is a learnable skill. It just takes a little practice, he advises.

Now all of the above sounds good but I have another track to suggest. To sooth a grudge, there is nothing quite as satisfying as revenge. And the best revenge? A life well lived. It’s an old adage but true.

So what makes for a life well lived? I guess there are as many answers as there are people, but I can tell you mine. Make your home a happy and comfortable place by creating a room or a corner just for yourself. All you need is a special chair with a fluffy pillow or a bedside table with your latest reading choices or music source, and of course a picture you love on the wall. Take an aromatic bath. Welcome friendship and love in your life. If all else fails, get a dog.

When the weather is glorious, take a guilt-free walk, even for five minutes. Say hello to strangers in the post office or the supermarket aisle and watch a smile appear on their faces. Make yourself something you really like to eat, and if you shouldn’t be eating it, just eat a little. Do some kind of work that is worthy of you, then take pride in the way you carry it out. Clean out just one desk drawer and feel like you have your life under control. Remember to laugh at life’s little incongruities.

Go see a good movie. Or a play. Or attend a concert. These can all be found locally. Plan a trip, even if it’s only for a Saturday afternoon to the East End. Then go on it and see how many new things there are to see. Buy a shirt or an ice cream cone. Celebrate every possible occasion and even celebrate just for the heck of it. Take a nap, if only for 20 minutes.

And for Pete’s sake, read a newspaper, preferably a hometown paper because that tends to have more good news!

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Despite the hours we work to consistently get this paper into your hands and the local news to your eyes and your ears, we cannot be everywhere at once. Our budgets are ever-more limited, and our attention is pulled to all parts of our coverage areas. News outlets having to cut staff and resources means there are gaps of information. We do our best, and we hope you agree it is well worth the buck you paid for it, but perfect coverage is impossible in this day and age.

Something will move in to fill the gap — it’s the nature of these things. Surprisingly, that hole has been filled with something that was once used for college kids to learn who was dating whom, that being Facebook.

It’s amazing how much information is parsed and spread through individual Facebook pages, along with both private and public groups. You have community pages, moms pages, VFWs, even small municipalities like fire departments and villages all using their pages to get messages out. For us journalists, Facebook has become a tool to gather stories, sources and even occasionally to conduct interviews.

But for residents, Facebook is a razor-barbed rose. Disturbingly, to professional journalists who do their absolute best to get to the heart of the truth, the opposite is regularly proliferated through these same Facebook pages. Rumors fly across social media faster than any one person could hope to actually investigate each post.

At meetings, we often hear officials complain about the rumors spread online, though we journalists condemn any elected official who should ever truly complain about a community becoming engaged, looking at the overall low polling numbers across the spectrum. However,
this activism on the community’s side is not helped with false facts.

Taking journalism classes in college, students are often first made to take a media literacy course, which helps students identify false information when it’s presented to them. One phrase, which became a tagline at the media literacy course at Stony Brook University, was “open the freezer,” relating to a media report back to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans back in 2005. One broadcast claimed the bodies of those who died during that traumatic storm and its aftermath had been stacked in a walk-in freezer as they were waiting for transport. However, the news report was false, there were no bodies in the freezer. The problem? The reporter never bothered to open the freezer and see
for themself.

Don’t take what is on Facebook for truth automatically, as each one of us can be a little journalistic even without a degree. Try researching online, try calling the people referenced in these stories. Don’t take any information presented for you at its face value. Skepticism is healthy for the eager news junkie.

Never let what you read on Facebook be the end to a story. Be sure to take a peek inside that proverbial freezer.

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Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

We generally don’t have to look too far to find difficult marriages. But what about the unions that reside inside us?

Determination and doubt travel together when we’re making a decision, when we’re confronting the naysayers and when we’re preparing for the next steps in our lives.

Sure, I could take the harder assignment, prove something to myself or my boss, venture into the unknown in my area of expertise, or I could stick with what I know, take jobs that will be manageable and remain in my comfort zone.

Determination is often considered the more admirable member of this marriage. Such fortitude pushes us to set new expectations and to venture into arenas where the risks we take could cause physical or emotional bruises.

We see determination when we look at the faces of people running up a hill, returning home late from work, or practicing their musical instruments until they develop rings on their lips or red welts on their necks.

When we’re seeking inspiration, we read about or consider the determination of others, who overcome financial, emotional or logistical limitations and exceed everyone’s expectations but their own. Determination is akin to an off-road vehicle that we maneuver into untrodden or difficult terrain, hoping our suspension and alignment can handle the sudden and unexpected contours of a landscape better suited for pictures or studies of nature than for travel.

While it has a bad reputation, doubt, like the blue girl Sadness from the movie “Inside Out,” also has its place. Doubt can, of course, make the determined part of ourselves even more steadfast, as we seek to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we can and will accomplish anything.

Doubt is the rain that can make the sunshine that much sweeter.

Doubt also can spring from reason and understanding, as in, “I doubt climbing to the top of that tree, when I haven’t maneuvered to the top of a tree in years, is a good idea.” Yes, doubt can and does save us, not just from embarrassment but from injuries, discomfort or dead ends.

Reflexively ignoring doubt as an unwelcome voice whispering in our ear carries risks that may be unnecessary, such as ignoring a “Beware of the Dog” sign before jogging through a stranger’s yard.

So, how do we deal with this married couple? Do we let determination rule the day most of the time, while we periodically give doubt the chance to share concerns about obstacles and consequences?

The answer depends on the circumstance. What is the downside to acknowledging, understanding and appreciating the origin and potential benefit of a doubt?

This doubt shouldn’t need to hide behind the punch bowl, sit in the dark with the coats in a back bedroom, or wait in the car while determination gets to run wild, pushing our limits.

We should consider doubt — whether we or someone else expresses it — in the open, allowing ourselves to ponder and plan for the difficulties ahead, giving ourselves a chance to make informed decisions and to see a few steps into the maze of our future.

Our doubt may help us find a better course of action, redirecting and refocusing a determination that enables us to persevere over the course of a future filled with potential but riddled with uncertainty.

If our determination makes a better case than our doubt, at least we’ve benefited from the marriage that lives in us. Indeed, at its finest, determination should not only understand and appreciate doubt, but this tenacity should also use concerns and objections as motivation, giving determination the opportunity to win over the concerns doubt expresses.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Incredible as it seems to me, it was exactly 50 years ago that we started packing for our move to the North Shore of Long Island. We were on an Air Force base in Texas at the time and had originally not planned to come here. It was 1969, the Vietnam War (a part of our everyday life in the military) was raging, both Kennedys and Martin Luther King had been assassinated, the country was being ripped apart by riots, and until that moment we had intended to settle permanently in San Diego. My husband, who loved warmer weather, had researched the climate throughout the nation and decided that when his tour of duty ended, we should live on the southern California coast.

So we were taking our two sons, the third still in utero, to settle on the other side of the country from the city in which we were both born. But our families were still in New York. And when the time came for us to declare our intentions to the movers, we couldn’t go through with the decision. In those chaotic times, family seemed the most important element of our lives. My parents were our children’s only grandparents, my husband’s parents having both passed away some years earlier. Our children were my parents’ only grandchildren, and they all adored each other.

To everyone’s surprise we changed our plans at the last minute and wound up in Stony Brook, attracted by the coming medical center, which my husband felt would enrich his ophthalmology practice. The rest is history, our history interacting with our hometown, and after half a century I will say that the community never disappointed.

We discovered St. Charles Hospital, where our third son was born and where I was cared for like royalty. After a nomadic year of renting, we found a beautiful piece of property in the middle of the woods and borrowed to the hilt so that we could build a modest ranch house there. My husband started his solo practice—that’s what physicians did in those days—in a small medical building in Port Jefferson, and after six months we could afford linoleum to cover the subflooring in the kitchen. A year later we were able to pave the driveway. We regarded those as personal high water marks.

Meanwhile we loved, loved, loved the beaches, the creeks and the rivers within easy drive. We swam, collected all manner of shells and identified them for our children, we rode tire tubes into the harbor as the tide swept us out of the creek and we rented kayaks to paddle on the Nissequogue River. Our big expenditure was a Sailfish that we kept on the rack at the beach, and we sailed across Stony Brook Harbor to the Smithtown beach.

We were pleased to join the Historical Society, the Environmental Center, the Emma S. Clark Library and the Civic Association. People welcomed us, we found friends—or rather our children found friends and we then became friends with the parents—and we enjoyed the social and cultural scenes thoroughly.

Our children were educated in the local school district well enough to continue in life and thrive. We thank the many teachers, administrators, counselors and other personnel who every day delivered that fine effort.

My husband’s practice grew, and so did our children, so that shortly after the youngest started first grade I was able to realize my dream: starting a hometown newspaper to serve these villages. Again, our work was welcomed and our lives blossomed. I am thrilled every time I meet new residents and visitors to our area. Those contacts are invariably enriching, and we take our mission to provide impartial information and protect the community to be a noble pursuit. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to be joined by highly committed colleagues.

After 50 years, we can look back and know that we made the right choice.

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

We live in a modern world where blended families are becoming more and more common.  

A blended family is one made up of two spouses where at least one spouse has children from a previous marriage or relationship. Blended families can also include two spouses, their children and grandchildren from multiple relationships. Because of the complexity involved in a blended family, proper estate planning is essential to ensure a client’s goals are met.

Spouses used to create what we refer to as the “sweetheart will,” which distributes assets from the first deceased spouse to the surviving spouse, and then to their children upon the death of the surviving spouse. A sweetheart will does not adequately provide for individuals who have been married multiple times and have children from previous relationships for whom they want to provide.  

For example, Joe and Molly get married and have three children together. Molly dies and Joe gets remarried to Cindy. Cindy has two children from a prior relationship. If Joe and Cindy were to create sweetheart wills, upon the death of the first spouse, assets would be transferred to the second spouse, and upon his or her death, assets will only go to the children of the second spouse.  

If Joe were to be the first to die, his children would effectively be disinherited. Joe and Cindy may instead want to provide for all five children in both of their wills, or in the alternative, ensure that each spouse’s assets go to their children from their prior relationship.  

To make matters even more complicated, under New York State law, a surviving spouse has an automatic right to take a one-third share of their deceased spouse’s estate. This is something to consider when deciding what type of plan to have and for whom you want to provide. Additional considerations should be given to the likelihood of an estate plan being contested, since members from different families may be involved and may not be happy with the new relationship.  

As elder law attorneys, we are always thinking ahead and how to protect assets down the road from Medicaid. If there is a good chance a spouse will need long-term care in the near future, we will want to protect any funds that may affect eligibility. Therefore, a transfer of all assets to a surviving spouse may not be the appropriate plan under these certain circumstances. 

Beyond the blended family, similar issues may arise in nontraditional family situations, such as partners who decide not to get married; spouses with no children, but instead have close friends for whom they want to provide; and those who have a desire to leave assets to pets, charities or the like.

A family can come in all different shapes and sizes. It is therefore important to meet with an estate planning and elder law attorney to discuss your specific goals and come up with a creative way to accomplish the best estate plan for you.   

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

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

It’s still the same old story, only 60 years later. When I was an undergraduate at Barnard, the college president, Millicent McIntosh, who was well ahead of her time, urged the women — actually we still called ourselves “girls” then — to prepare themselves for a career and not just for marriage. “Statistics tell us that you will be alone during some parts of your adult life, whether from widowhood, divorce or not finding a mate. You may have to support yourself and your children, should you have them.” We giggled at the message.

The question then became: Who will take care of the children while we are working, and what will be the effect of a working mother on those children? In short, the issue was how to balance a career and motherhood.

Although she didn’t say it, the answer for President McIntosh, our role model who had several children, was to have help in the home. That was made possible by the fact that she and her physician husband made a sufficient living to pay for that help. That meant for women to have a career was a luxury, and we resolved the career/motherhood dilemma by assuring ourselves that it was quality time spent with children, not quantity, that would make the difference in their lives.

How pat an answer. How innocent. How ridiculous.

This was just before the world changed, just before Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and the invention of birth control pills. Within the following 20 years, certainly by the early 1980s, women poured out of the kitchen into the workplace, and the two-paycheck family became the norm. Values in America had changed, family income had improved, but the conversation was the same: Who will take care of the children and how will women and men — and the children at home — cope?

So how have we coped?

For starters, women can pursue success in the workplace much more readily, if not yet with pay equality. Women can also support themselves rather than stay in a marriage they may deem difficult. The other side of the coin is that the frustrations of balancing the workplace and motherhood that we imagined early on have indeed come true. And lots of other changes have taken place in society that weren’t imagined.

The relationship between men and women inside marriage has changed. The drive for equal pay in the workplace continues. The rate of divorce has soared in the last half-century. And fewer Americans are even getting married than ever before. 

In 1960, 82 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were married, but in 2010 that rate had dropped to 44 percent. By 2018, the reproductive rate in the United States had fallen to a 32-year low, which will of course have all sorts of implications for the future workforce and economic consequences on Social Security, among others. Remaining in the middle class now depends, for most people, on two incomes.

And the work-life balance question? Well, that problem still hangs in the air. Someone has to take care of the children, but who? I can honestly say that almost every career-successful wife I have ever interviewed and asked how she managed the home-workplace situation has expressed frustration with the outcome even as she loves her work. 

Couples today work out their own arrangements. Those fortunate enough to have the funds hire help. Roles in marriage have sometimes reversed, with the husband staying at home for the family. Some corporations have realized the benefit of offering paid family leave, so that infants are not left to third-party care. Grandparents have been pressed into service to care for their grandchildren. 

But the bottom line is that the choice to work has now become the necessity in most cases for both partners to support the family. 

The choice is still a luxury.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Many of us sit through meetings of one kind or another: business meetings, community meetings, even social gatherings. But did you know that the air we breathe in those closed spaces might not be so healthy for us? If you come out of such a gathering and the air around you then feels fresher and cooler, consider this: “Small rooms can build up heat and carbon dioxide from our breath to an extent that might surprise you.”  So explained a recent article in the Science Times section of The New York Times.

When we breathe, we exhale carbon dioxide. That gas, which we might characterize as stale air in such a situation, can actually affect decision-making as a result of its impact on the mind. Some eight studies over the past seven years have considered the effects on cognitive function in small, airless rooms over a couple of hours. The results suggest that perhaps we should not entirely trust decisions made there.

Carbon dioxide, when inhaled, dilates blood vessels in the brain and reduces activity among cerebral neurons, thus decreasing communication between brain regions. We know this to be true when a large amount of the gas is inhaled but we don’t know so much about the effect of smaller amounts. If student test results are compared in rooms with 600 parts per million (ppm)  of CO2 and similar rooms with 2,500 ppm, the scores of the test takers with the high concentration are significantly lower. It is interesting to note that carbon dioxide levels can be twice that high in some classrooms.

Such studies were repeated in the workplace, with workers taking problem-solving and strategy tests, and the results were the same. In today’s energy-sensitive world, many office buildings are better sealed, with less fresh air seeping indoors. Another interesting fact was that not every type of test showed that same result.  Less complex test material, like some proofreading, for example, did not show a comparable shift.

So the next time you are in such a situation, open a window or keep the door ajar. Perhaps the intellectual level of the conversation will rise.

Now here is another tip for better living that is also from The Times, although published a different day. For those of you who, like me, love to sit around sometimes and do nothing, here is exoneration from the charge of laziness in an otherwise busy world. The Times tells us that the Dutch call this “niksen.”

What is doing nothing, exactly? A psychologist named Doreen Dodgen-Magee, who studies this matter, likens it to a car whose engine is running but isn’t going anywhere. It’s “coming to a moment with no plan other than just to be,” she writes. She calls that boredom, which she doesn’t intend in a negative way.

But the idea of niksen is to take conscious time to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. I like that, although it flies in the face of our always-be-productive American culture. According to some experts, “the benefits of idleness can be wide-ranging.”

Daydreaming, “an inevitable effect of idleness — literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas,” according to Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in England, who has done research in this area. “Let the mind search for its own stimulation. That’s when you get the daydreaming and mind wandering, and that’s when you’re more likely to get the creativity,” she explained.

It’s not easy to do nothing and certainly to do so and not feel guilty about it. We have to set time aside deliberately to disconnect — and not just from our devices. The reward is that we can refocus with more energy. I have a chair in my living room that I can sink into and just have my mind go blank. It’s even tempting to fall asleep there, and sometimes I do for a few minutes.

Delightful! 

By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

The best way to manage your own affairs while you are alive and to provide properly for your beneficiaries at your death is to have an estate plan. There is a distinction between having a “plan” and having documents. The close attention to detail, knowledge of the law and past experiences of the attorney you are dealing with should help you create the plan that fits your own circumstances.

The first step of the process is to gather a comprehensive list of your assets. Since everything in the plan is different depending on the personal circumstances, it is important for the attorney advising you to know what type of assets you have and in what quantity. An individual with a home worth $400,000 may require a very different plan than an individual with the same amount of assets that are held in cash or retirement accounts. 

Once you have your list of assets together, you can review it with the attorney and discuss the goals of the representation. For many clients, the primary goal is to make sure they are taken care of during their own lifetime with the maximum amount of control over their assets without concern for what happens upon their death, while others may have concern for those they wish to benefit at their death.  

Take the single mother with a disabled child; while she is concerned about her own well-being, she would likely consider the well-being of her child to be equally as important. By contrast, a single person with no children will have different concerns and, therefore, a different estate plan. 

Discussing your goals with an attorney is the greatest value the attorney can provide. Estate planning attorneys are more than just document drafters. They are advisers. With your attorney, you should be running through the different scenarios that may occur at the time of your death and making sure that you are satisfied with the outcome of each based on the plan you decide to create. 

The estate planning attorney can flag for you other issues that may be of concern. Depending on your age, income and assets, it may be prudent to discuss long-term care insurance or asset protection planning for Medicaid purposes. You can discuss whether or not your beneficiaries will need a trust for any reason, including creditor protection, protection of government benefits or protection from themselves if they overspend and undersave. 

After you have discussed your assets and goals with the attorney, they can recommend options for you. Often, there is more than one option available. A description of the pros and cons of each plan and the cost to you should help you determine what is best in your circumstance. This is the point at which the documents can be created in draft form. If you are satisfied with the documents as written, they will then be signed with the attorney. Each document will have its own signing requirements for validity that will include the presence of witnesses and/or a notary public.  

If you have never created an estate plan or have not reviewed it in the last five years, you should reach out to an attorney to start the process.  

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