As an experienced NY estate lawyer practicing in Forest Hills, Queens, I have learned to become highly protective of my clients and their needs. For this reason I am always hesitant to draft durable powers of attorney for new clients unless I feel comfortable that it is necessary and being executed for the right reasons. While other NY estate attorneys may not share this sentiment I would much rather err on the side of caution on this NY estate issue.
For example, when you go to Cracker Barrel you do not expect your waitress to bring her estate lawyer to your death bed and have you hand over everything you own. But that is exactly what happened. In this recent South Carolina case, a waitress at Cracker Barrel, Angela Godfrey, completely looted and defrauded a man’s estate. In the months preceding his death, the widower, Charles Deal, Sr., had eaten at the Gaffney County Cracker Barrel six times where Godfrey had waited on him during December of 2012. Charles Deal Sr., had lived in South Carolina with his wife until her passing in 2010. Charles Deal, Sr. had one child, Charles Deal, Jr., who had suffered a massive stroke leaving him partially disabled.
What is troubling for a NY estate lawyer to read is that in January and February of 2013 Charles Deal, Sr. had been placed in hospice care for congestive heart failure. Thereafter, on February 25, 2013, Charles Deal, Sr., suffered a massive heart attack and was readmitted to the hospital. The very next day, wasting no time, on February 26 th, 2013, Angela Godfrey had her estate lawyer draft and execute a death-bed will and durable power of attorney at Charles Deal’s bedside. This February 26, 2013, will made Angela Godfrey, the Cracker Barrel server, the sole beneficiary and executor of Deal’s entire estate completely disinheriting his disabled son and namesake. If this predatory behavior was not bad enough, Godfrey’s estate attorney went a step further, having the infirmed decedent execute a durable power of attorney. Godfrey, would immediately use her new found powers of attorney to steal all the assets of Deal’s estate and loot his home prior to his death.
Deal’s sister, the aunt of his disabled son, is currently challenging this purported will in surrogate’s court. Unfortunately as an experienced NY will contest lawyer I can see the end before the beginning. While challenging the will to prevent the Cracker Barrel server from becoming executor is a good start it may already be too little too late. Often times NY estate lawyers are called upon to challenge fraudulent wills such as this one. However if the criminal removed all the assets of the estate prior to the decedent’s death using a durable power of attorney, it may be futile. Once assets of a NY estate go missing it is often very difficult for a NY estate lawyer to get them back.
For NY estate clients thinking about executing their wills or durable powers of attorney, I hope they give the matter some thought. For the vast majority of us probate is the best way to distribute our inheritance after we are gone. Currently the amount of estate tax liability on both Federal and State estate assets is lower than it has ever been. In 2013, less than .16% of all estates in this entire country were subject to the Federal Estate Tax. As of April 1, 2014, New York State implemented a new State Estate Tax schedule mirroring the federal amounts by 2019.
While instances like the Cracker Barrel server are few and far between, it does happen. The best way to insulate yourself from such instances is to avoid drafting durable powers of attorney until they are absolutely necessary, utilizing effective alternatives such as convenience accounts and by having a trusted NY estate lawyer help protect your estate.
If you or a loved one are thinking about planning their estate, feel free to speak with a NY estate lawyer at the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our NY probate lawyers have more than 40 years of combined legal experience handling estates for New Yorkers like you in the counties of New York, Queens, Kings, Bronx, Orange, Dutchess, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and even New Jersey.