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The uncertain times that we’re in have resulted in a flurry of people concerned about making a last will and testament or estate planning documents. The pandemic has been a wake-up call for many people to address issues of mortality. But there’s much more to estate planning than preparing to die. In fact, planning for death can be life affirming.

People make estate plans for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s at the urging of younger family members or because they’ve reached an age where they just feel “it’s time.” Often times, we see people in our office after a particularly harrowing life experience, like a severe illness or automobile accident, which has put them in touch with their own mortality. While there is no wrong reason to make an estate plan, there are some other motives that emerge from inaccuracies or misunderstandings.

People are frequently concerned that if they don’t have a will

(1) The state will take their money or

(2) There will be high taxes on the estate. Both of these scenarios are quite rare. The former would only happen in the complete absence of any family or next-of-kin, and the latter would occur only if the estate was over the New York State estate tax exemption $5.85 million, and if that’s the case, even making a plan does not always entirely eliminate these taxes.

Regardless of what actually pushes someone to put pen to paper on an estate plan, it can be a freeing feeling to complete a will or trust. Confronting death in such a way lets you live your life with less worry. While deathbed wills are popular in the movies, most of our clients live many good years – even decades – after making an estate plan.

An estate plan can do so much more than mechanically transfer your money on death. You can protect your assets for yourself and the next generation. You can leave money in trust to your kids so that it lasts a lifetime and is protected from any creditors, lawsuits, and divorces that they may experience. You can provide for the care of your pets after you’re gone. You can give generously to the charities that you have been meaning to support.  Ask about the probate process.

Estate planning is not about death. It is about making a secure plan that will protect you and your loved ones for many years to come. And there’s no wrong time to do it. In recent months, we have done estate planning for young college students headed away from home, as well as some octogenarians contemplating these subjects for the first time. Regardless of age, they move on with the peace of mind that they have a plan for death, disability and other contingencies.  Because people tend to live on in good health for a long time after making an estate plan, it’s a good idea to pull it out of the drawer and review it every few years to make sure it’s as accurate, up-to-date, and reflective of your wishes as possible on an ongoing basis for the rest of your life.

This article appeared in the August 21, 2020 edition of the Sullivan County Democrat.

This is not intended to be legal advice.  You should contact an attorney for advice regarding your specific situation.  


Michael Wagner is senior counsel concentrating on elder law and estate planning, wills and trusts.  He conducts several Estate Planning Seminars and Webinars throughout the year.
He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.
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J&G Law, LLP