How do I plan my estate? Get a will; Estate of Sonny Bono

From my experience as a NYC estate lawyer I find most people spend more time thinking about their New York estate planning than they actually spend planning their NY estates. In my opinion this leads to a whole lot of procrastinating and NY estates left unplanned.As a NYC estate lawyer with extensive knowledge and experience in the drafting, probating and even contesting of NY attorney drafted wills I can tell you myriad of reasons why NYC estate planning always begins with an attorney drafted, supervised will. Having a NY attorney drafted, supervised will is analogous to flying first class while not having a will is analogous to flying in the cargo hold of the plane with the pets and luggage. For those who elect to go with a non-attorney drafted will, it is probably no better than not having a will at all and many times even worse.A NY attorney drafted and supervised will is granted great deference by the Surrogate’s Court insulating your family and personal affairs from issues which can easily arise without such an instrument. Wills drafted by NYC attorneys are given strong presumptions of validity by Courts while non-attorney drafted wills are treated with skepticism and unwanted scrutiny.One of the most important features contained in your NY attorney drafted will is the executor. This is your appointed fiduciary charged with carrying out your affairs after you pass. Without such a will, an administrator may be randomly chosen among your next of kin and forced to qualify for a bond. A bond is an insurance policy that a fiduciary is required to post under the NYS Estate Powers & Trusts Law unless the requirement is waived within a duly executed will.The above almost always creates a plethora of NYC estate problems. First, without a will your NY estate passes to your next of kin, whether you like it or not. So if your only surviving family consists of a brother in Wyoming you have not seen in 40 years guess what, he just inherited your entire NY estate. Secondly, without a will your NY estate is up for grabs among your surviving heirs who can each petition the N.Y. Surrogate’s Court to become the administrator of your estate. This creates a real problem when none of your next of kin are solvent or they all have derogatory credit making them unbondable. In such instances where the Courts deem your next of kin unfit to administer the contents of your NY estate, they may choose to appoint the Public Administrator who will then liquidate all of your NY estate assets, maintaining the proceeds in a segregated account until which time your next of kin come forward to prove their kinship and entitlement to your estate. That is right, your next of kin may have to hire attorneys to represent them at trial to determine whether or not they are entitled to your estate.

Thirdly, should your next of kin be solvent and bondable what happens if they do not get along, as is often the case? What happens is each party files a cross petition for letters of Administration clogging up the Court’s calendar for years before someone ever gets appointed while all the estate assets are wasted in NY Estate attorney’s fees. Or in some cases, Surrogate’s Courts can decide that none of the living relatives are fit to administer the estate and appoint the Public Administrator to act as the fiduciary.

In any event these are all unwanted consequences easily avoidable with a $300 document known as a NY attorney drafted, supervised will. And if you think these stories only happen to “other” people you would be mistaken. In fact some of the largest estates in the country have passed through Administration when there was no will. One of the biggest offenders was Sonny Bono. An accomplished entertainer and elected official to The United States Congress as a representative of California in 1994 he should have known better. But when Bono died in a skiing accident in 1998, he died intestate without a will. And it was not long before alleged children of extramarital affairs and ex-wife Cher came claiming their share of his estate as well. This mess could have easily been avoided with an attorney-drafted will.

As an experienced NYC estate lawyer I know that there is one certainty in life among all others, death. While nobody knows exactly when and how they die I can tell you as a NY estate planning attorney what happens to your estate. The last thing anyone wants is to die without a will. It is both an economical and emotional hardship that can easily be avoided. The Administration process is both frustrating and time consuming not to mention wasteful. Perhaps the worst part of passing without a will is you have no control over your estate after you are gone leaving your life’s work up for grabs.

If you or a loved one would like to speak with a highly experienced NYC estate lawyer to discuss your affairs feel free to call The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.

Our qualified NY and NJ estate lawyers handle estates in the Counties of New York, Queens, Bronx, Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Westchester, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, Bergen and Richmond.

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