Many couples who have just married may see their matrimony as a lifelong partnership and the beginning of a new family. What they may not consider is what happens when the inevitable happens. It is something we definitely do not want to face or think about, but it is important to consider, and this is why estate planning is advised.
Estate planning involves legal documents such as a Last Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney, Living Will, and a HIPAA release. These documents are prepared to outline your wishes in the event you lose competency or pass away. The documents allow you to appoint agents that will follow your wishes and also allow you to appoint guardians of your children.
Claudia T. Salazar, Esq. is the owner of the Law Office of Claudia T. Salazar. Her firm specializes in estate planning, elder law, Medicaid planning, and estate administration. Her main office is located in Huntington, Long Island, and her secondary office is located in Fresh Meadows, Queens. She has been assisting families for over a decade with preparing for the inevitable and understands that it is important to ensure wishes are met.
The main importance of estate planning is managing one’s assets. Assets may include but are not limited to a house, personal bank accounts, and investments. With estate planning, couples will designate an agent or fiduciary to make important decisions for them both while they are alive and after passing away. An example would be designating someone to pay daily living expenses should you lose capacity or appointing a guardian to take care of your minor children. Families with special needs children have additional considerations with their estate plans.
Ms. Salazar recommends that couples should consider setting up an estate plan as soon as they get married. There is a misconception that if someone dies with a spouse and children, their assets will go directly to their spouse. This is not the case. In New York, the first $50,000 will go to the surviving spouse. The balance of the estate is then split fifty percent to the spouse and then fifty percent to the children, even if they are minors. This will obviously pose a problem with minor children as they cannot clearly control monies. For those couples without children, this may not be ideal if one may want a parent or another family member to inherit their money.
“If you have assets or a disabled child, estate planning is essential to ensure your wishes are met,” Salazar says. “If you lose capacity or should you pass away, there will not be any questions. Whomever you are appointing has guidelines and it makes it much easier than having to figure out what you would have wanted. No one will know that.”
Some families opt for a living trust in lieu of a will. A living trust is a legal document that allows your estate to avoid probate and directs a Trustee to distribute your trust estate pursuant to your wishes. This option avoids the process of probate, which is the lengthy and costly process whereby the court appoints an executor nominated in a Last Will. It could take months or years before an executor is appointed. This may not be ideal if you want your spouse and children to have immediate access to your assets.
Salazar says that unfortunately the majority of her clients begin estate planning over the age 50. She says it’s not a good idea to wait this long because accidents or unforeseen events can happen. Even if you do not have kids, it is still encouraged to make sure there is an agent to make proper arrangements for you and your partner.
“It is something that you don’t want to think about, but you need to ask the questions: what if this happens to me? How can I make this easier for my loved ones?” Salazar says. These are questions that no one wants to think about but ones that we really should.
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