What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning allows you to provide for your family’s future by controlling how your wealth and assets will be transferred to your heirs and beneficiaries.

A personalized estate plan will help you to:

  • Effectively plan for retirement
  • Provide for your family
  • Minimize the risks associated with aging
  • Reduce costs and taxes
  • Distribute your assets in accordance with your wishes

Proactive planning by creating a comprehensive estate plan will save your family from turmoil in the event of your incapacity or death.

Have you appointed trusted individuals to handle your financial and health care decisions if you are unable to? Do you have a plan to protect and preserve your hard-earned assets from creditors and taxes, and to keep your family out of court?

At Pierro, Connor & Strauss, we can help you create or update an individualized estate plan to achieve these goals and to avoid the costly process of probate, as well as preserve your wealth for children and grandchildren. This process is called estate planning. It’s not just for the wealthy or people heading into retirement, although these two groups often think about it more than others. Everyone at the age of 18 and older can benefit from proper planning.

Why should you get your planning done now? The COVID-19 global health crisis certainly taught us about the unpredictability of life. As we say on our weekly radio show, “Life Happens. Are You Prepared?” It is crucial to have a plan in place to manage your income and assets both during your lifetime if you are unable, and after your death; to appoint surrogate decision-makers for health and financial matters; prepare financially for medical and long-term care needs; and to protect your spouse, children and loved ones while keeping them out of the court system to settle your affairs.

At a minimum are four documents that need to be in your portfolio. We call them “The Core Four.” This powerful combination includes a Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney, Disposition of Remains Appointment. Our team of experienced attorneys will make your wishes known and design a solid plan to provide for yourself and your family. In addition to the Core Four, we’ll also help evaluate if establishing a “trust” would meet your goals for asset protection and avoid the lengthy and costly process of probate. In addition, we’ll counsel you on the ways legal planning can assist in preserving assets to cover the exorbitant costs of long-term care. And, if the value of your estate is over $5,930,000, we will discuss ways to plan for and reduce your estate tax.

Our goal is for you to leave our office with a comprehensive, state-of-the-art estate plan that you understand, that will cover all your future needs and will provide peace of mind.

Estate Planning Team
Louis W. Pierro
Aaron E. Connor
Peter J. Strauss
Caryn B. Keppler
Anthony K. Khatchoui
Hanna R. Dameron
Kristen A. Peck
Bethany Van Pelt

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Types of Estate Planning Lawyer Services Covered

  • Disposition of Remains

  • Living Trust Planning

  • Revocable Trusts

Strategies of Estate Planning

By following our strategic planning steps, you may be able to minimize or even eliminate estate taxes and settlement costs while ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Those steps are as follows:

Goal Evaluation

Determine who you want to inherit your assets and how you want your property distributed. Once your objectives are clear, you can incorporate strategies designed to help meet your individual goals.

Estate Inventory

List all of your holdings and place a fair market value on the assets. Subtract the sum of your debts from the value of your assets to determine your net estate. This is the maximum amount you can leave to your heirs, before taxes.

Will and Trust Preparation

Your Will or a Revocable Trust is the cornerstone of your estate plan; it will determine who will receive your assets and how those assets will be distributed.

Gift Tax Exemptions

Starting in 2021, the lifetime gift tax exemption and the federal estate tax exemption is $11.7 million dollars per person. If you are married, this amount applies to each spouse so long as you elect portability on a timely filed estate tax return.

Family Gifts

Lifetime gifts to your family can reduce your taxable estate and provide personal satisfaction. An individual can transfer up to $15,000.00 per person each year, indexed to inflation, without paying taxes, as will be discussed

Charitable Giving

Contributions to a qualified charity may result in a current income tax deduction, can be made gift tax free and may reduce estate

Estate Planning FAQ’s

No, a Will does not avoid probate. Probate is the process of having the court review your Will, approve your selection of an Executor, and overseeing the distribution of your property.

The most basic plan you can put into place to reduce estate tax is to adopt a Credit Shelter Trust or Bypass Trust Plan. Simply stated, this plan creates a Credit Shelter Trust, also known as a Bypass Trust, in each spouse’s will, to utilize that spouse’s full exemption amount. The surviving spouse has access to the funds in the trust, yet the trust funds are not included in the surviving spouse’s estate on his or her death. For individuals with larger estates, there are many more tax planning opportunities available that we would be happy to discuss with you when you come in for a consultation.

You can make annual gifts to your children and other beneficiaries of $15,000 per individual, without having to file a gift tax return or pay gift tax. This means that a married couple can gift $30,000 to each child and grandchild, annually. You may gift more than $15,000 to an individual, but you will not have to pay gift tax until you have exceeded your lifetime exemption amount. In 2021, the federal gift, estate and generation skipping transfer tax exemptions are set at $11,700,000, indexed for inflation.  This means that a couple can pass wealth of $23,400,000 over their lifetime to their heirs free of federal gift and estate tax in 2021.  New York State does not impose a gift tax but will add gifts made within 3 years of death into the New York State estate tax base.

A Will allows you to decide who is to receive your property when you die, and how much each person is to receive. Your will appoints an Executor, who will oversee everything and distribute your property to the individuals you have named.

If you die without a Will, your property will be distributed to your heirs according to New York intestacy law. If you have a spouse and children, your spouse will receive $50,000 plus one-half of your property and your children will receive the other one-half of your property.

A Disposition of Remains Appointment is a legal document that appoints another individual to make funeral and burial arrangements for you, and contains your wishes with regard to such arrangements.

A Health Care Proxy is a legal document that appoints another individual to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself. This document may be combined with a Living Will, which contains your wishes with regard to end of life care.

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that appoints another individual, called your agent, to handle your financial and other matters for you when you are unable to handle them yourself.

A Revocable Living Trust is a trust that you establish during your lifetime. You are the trustee and beneficiary of your own Revocable Living Trust. The primary reason for establishing a Revocable Living Trust is to avoid probate.

A trust is an agreement between you and another individual, called the trustee. The trustee holds the property, manages the property, and makes distributions to the individuals named in the trust, also called the beneficiaries. You can be the trustee and beneficiary of your own trust, or you can name other individuals to be the trustee and beneficiary.

An estate tax or “death tax” will depends on the size of your gross estate and year of death. A federal filing is required for estates with combined gross assets and prior taxable gifts exceeding $11,700,000 in 2021, with a maximum tax rate of 40%. In 2021, New York State imposes an estate tax on estates worth over $5,930,000, with a maximum tax rate of 16%. New York State does not impose a gift tax but prior taxable gifts made within 3 years of death will be added back into the New York State estate tax base and if your New York State estate tax base exceeds $6,226,500 (including prior taxable gifts made within 3 years of death), there is no exemption and New York State will tax every dollar of value in your estate.  If your estate is close to these asset thresholds, Estate Tax Planning may help to reduce, or even eliminate, the tax due upon your death.

Avoid the Costs and Frustration of Probate

The goal of estate planning is to transfer your assets when you die to whom you wish, when you determine, and in the manner you want with the lowest taxes and fees possible. If you die with a will, there will be a probate court proceeding that is required to prove that the will is valid before the executor has the right to distribute the assets to the known heirs. Unfortunately, the delays and financial costs that are often associated with probate make it less desirable for most of our clients and their heirs. With proper planning, probate can be avoided.

Planning with a Trust

A central tenet of estate planning is ensuring that you and your loved ones avoid probate, which is accomplished by the creation of a trust. In the world of estate planning, trusts are the most powerful weapon in the arsenal, providing asset protection, tax reduction, probate avoidance and many other uses. While Trusts can sometimes have more upfront costs over a traditional Will, there are many benefits and cost savings to consider. For most clients, trusts are a valuable addition to the Core Four. While there are many kinds of trusts, here are two that fit many clients’ needs:

Advantages of Revocable Living Trusts

With that in mind, one option is a revocable living trust, as it does not necessitate probate upon your death and has therefore become an effective alternative to wills. An experienced Albany estate planning lawyer or New York estate planning lawyer can explain several other advantages of revocable living trusts, such as:

  • Manage and protect assets during your lifetime, including upon a disability

  • Provide continuity in the management of your affairs after your death

  • Control how and when assets are to be distributed

  • Avoid the costs and delays of probate

  • Ensure privacy in the handling of your affairs

  • Reduce taxes and/or expenses when properly designed

Planning with a Beneficiary Controlled Trust

A Beneficiary Controlled Trust allows you to protect assets going to your adult children (or other beneficiaries), while at the same time giving them a measure of control over the assets. Typically, a Beneficiary Controlled Trust will be established by your Will or Trust for assets that you leave to your beneficiaries after your death. Utilizing this type of trust provides protection for your children in the event of divorce, lawsuits, or bankruptcy, and protection from creditors and predators. Your child can be a Co-Trustee of the trust and allowed to make limited distributions to himself or herself, but an Independent Trustee will also be appointed that can make unlimited distributions. You can have your grandchildren also be beneficiaries of the trust, and give your child power to leave the assets among the grandchildren.

Overall, the Beneficiary Controlled Trust combines the best in asset protection while allowing your child to have as much control as possible over the trust assets.

Advanced Estate and Tax Planning: Protect Your Assets and Minimize Tax

Advanced estate planning can be highly effective for people with valuable, taxable estates. Pierro, Connor & Strauss can counsel you beyond the foundations of basic estate planning to provide strategies for minimizing or even eliminating estate taxes. With potential tax policy changes coming with a Biden presidency on the heels of the Secure Act, we will explain how advanced estate and tax planning – including charitable giving – can maximize wealth, minimize tax and protect assets for the benefit of future generations.

New York Estate Planning Lawyers

Protecting what you have. Maximizing income while reducing taxes. Leaving a legacy to your family and supporting your community. It can all be accomplished with a well-designed estate plan. At Pierro, Connor & Strauss, LLC, our mission is to empower our clients to achieve their goals and protect their families. Since launching in 1999, our estate planning attorneys have taken pride in providing a high level of service to our clients.

To speak with an experienced Albany will planning attorney or New York City estate planning lawyer, and have your estate planning questions answered, call today to schedule your free consultation.

Life Happens…..Are You Prepared?

Contact us today for a FREE consultation and we’ll be happy to help take the worry out of tomorrow so you can live today.

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