| Read Time: 3 minutes | Estate Planning

Planning for the end of your life can be intimidating even before you factor in trusts and estates law. Before you dive into discussions about Totten trusts or spendthrift clauses, you need to know the basics. What is trusts and estates law? Wills and trusts are at the core of estate planning, where you make provisions for your care as you age and what happens when you die.

A comprehensive estate plan usually requires the guidance of an experienced estate planning lawyer. If you are ready to take the next step, consider contacting the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin. Our firm is located in Plainview, NY, and is led by an attorney with nearly 20 years of experience.

What Is Estate Law?

An estate is all the property a person owns when they die. That property may be tangible or intangible, for example:

  • Real estate,
  • Financial accounts,
  • Investments,
  • Physical items, and 
  • Intellectual property.

When you create an estate plan, you direct what should happen to your property upon your death using estate law. Often, this involves creating a will and establishing one or more trusts.

What Is Probate?

Probate, the process of satisfying debts and passing property after a person dies, is an essential part of wills and estates law. Property passes through probate by will or intestate succession. 

Intestate succession laws, which vary from state to state, set priority for property inheritance absent a will. Typically, surviving spouses and children have the highest inheritance priority. If the deceased leaves no surviving spouse or descendants, the process moves outward on the family tree from the deceased until you locate a survivor.

What Is a Will?

Your will directs who should receive your property when you die. Wills are typically only valid when the creator (“testator”) is 18 or older and of sound mind. Additionally, the will must be:

  • In writing,
  • Signed by the testator, and
  • Signed by two disinterested witnesses.

State laws vary on whether these requirements can be waived. For example, in California, a will written in the testator’s hand may be valid as long as the testator signs it. However, in New York, such wills are only valid temporarily and in extremely limited circumstances.

What Are Trusts?

Trusts law has its own vocabulary, including the following terms:

  • Beneficiary—the person or group that benefits from a trust;
  • Grantor—the person or group that establishes a trust, sometimes called a settlor or trustor;
  • Irrevocable trust—a trust the grantor does not have power to revoke;
  • Living (“inter vivos”) trust—a trust created and funded during the grantor’s lifetime;
  • Revocable trust—a trust the grantor has the power to revoke;
  • Testamentary trust—a trust created and funded after the grantor dies; and
  • Trustee—a person or group bound to faithfully administer the trust according to its terms.

As dynamic tools, trusts allow you to:

  • Bypass probate,
  • Protect your assets,
  • Provide for loved ones, and
  • Contribute to charity.

A customized trust may allow you to do all these things and more.

What Else Might Your Estate Plan Involve?

Estate planning also involves planning for aging, including:

  • Living wills. Also called advanced directives, a living will sets out your medical wishes in advance should you become incapacitated.
  • Powers of attorney. Financial and medical powers of attorney allow you to name someone to manage your financial or medical affairs should you become incapacitated.
  • Medicaid planning. Typically accomplished through trusts, with careful planning, you may qualify for Medicaid long-term care without spending down your assets.

You may also address business succession planning, life insurance designations, and taxes.

Getting Started on Your Estate Plan

If you are in the Plainville, NY, area, consider contacting the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., to discuss your estate planning options. We can review your affairs, explain your options, and provide recommendations on how to get started with your own estate planning.

Author Photo

Andrew Lamkin is principal in the law firm of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., where he focuses his practice in the areas of elder law, estate planning and special needs planning, including Wills and Trusts, Medicaid planning, estate administration and residential real estate transactions. He is admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey.