In Westchester, "estate planning" refers to all of the decisions affecting how a person's property is going to be disposed of after their death, as well as the process of implementing those decisions when the time comes.
Estate planning usually requires professional legal and financial advice, because of the complexity and importance of the issues involved. A poorly-executed estate plan can often end with survivors suing each other, and prevent your intentions from being effectuated.
In addition to deciding what to do with your assets after your death, your estate plan should also include things that might become relevant during life. Power of attorney is a big one. Power of attorney is an arrangement in which you give another person the ability to make decisions for you, if you become incapacitated. Also, effective estate planning can help reduce the effect of taxes and court fees on your final disposition to your chosen beneficiaries.
If you want to maximize the odds that your wishes will be followed after your death, you should do everything you can to make them legally binding. While this is not always possible, a Westchester attorney will be able to make sure that, where it is allowed, it is done.
Common Features of Westchester Estates
Will: This is the centerpiece of most estate plans. A will is a document written by a person (the "testator"), usually with the help of a lawyer, which says what is to be done with their property after they die. Most provisions in a will are legally binding, to the extent that ownership of the property legally passes to the named beneficiary. However, a will cannot compel a person to do anything against their wishes (though it can certainly state your preferences on the matter, phrasing them as requests).
Living Will: This is a document which lays out instructions for your medical care, should you become so sick or badly injured that you are unable to express your wishes. It should state under what circumstances you want to remain on life support. A well-drafted living will can prevent you from being kept alive in a permanent vegetative state (if that is not what you want), while ensuring that you receive medical care as long as you have a chance at recovery.
Power of Attorney: Power of attorney allows you to grant someone else (usually a trusted family member or friend) the power to make certain decisions in your place, with the same legal effect as if you had made them yourself, in the event that you become unable to do so (usually due to mental or physical incapacity). If you decide to give someone power of attorney, you should make your wishes known to them in advance, so they are more likely to make the same decisions that you would make, if you were able to. And, of course, you should only give this authority to someone with whom you would trust your life because that is, in some cases, just what you're doing.
Funeral Arrangements: What do you want done with your body after you die? Do you want to be cremated? How about buried? Or maybe you want to be cremated, and have your remains shot into space? Whatever your preference, you won't exactly be able to tell anyone when the time comes. Therefore, you should make your desires on this matter known well in advance. You also shouldn't make your will the only place where these instructions are contained, since it might not be read for weeks after your death, when it will probably be too late.
Do I Need a Westchester Estates Lawyer?
A good estates lawyer in Westchester can make the estate planning process much easier. He or she can maximize the chances of your wishes being given effect. Furthermore, a good and clear estate plan is far less likely to result in litigation in the future, since disputes of this nature are almost always the result of ambiguity.