Tell me a little about getting started?

Prospective clients usually begin with a free initial phone consultation during which we discuss your situation and your goals. Then we can set up a strategy session, after which I can usually quote a fixed price for the proposed package of services.

What do I need to do to prepare for a meeting with you?

All you need to do is call me so we can discuss some basics - marital status, number and age of kids, rough balance sheet, likely executors/guardians/trustees. After our call, I'll send you a set of questionnaires to review before our meeting, but there’s no need to have the questionnaires "filled out." For parties who are time/mobility challenged, we can make arrangements for a housecall.

When do I pay you?

After our initial consultation, I will send you a proposal, in which I'll quote the price for work we've discussed. I typically ask that you pay upon engagement as a refundable retainer. For larger projects, I am happy to consider staged payments or other arrangements. We accept cash, checks, and credit cards.

What if I need additional legal advice once we’ve completed my documents?

I offer an ongoing legal relationship for my clients. I will call you to follow up periodically. You’re always welcome to call me with any questions you have about our work or about other legal issues. If I can't give a short answer, we'll schedule time to talk further or I'll make a referral recommendation.

What sort of "estate planning" do I need? (Especially if I'm not expecting to pay estate taxes!)

A typical set of documents for a couple first approaching estate planning includes a will, a health-care proxy, a living will, and a durable power of attorney. More sophisticated planning can include irrevocable life insurance trusts, revocable lifetime trusts, personal residence trusts, and vehicles for structured charitable giving.

Do I need a will?

Heck yeah – anyone who cares about how their assets are handled or who wants to take care of their family after they die needs a will. If you die without a will, the state's provisions for intestacy will probably not match up with the plan you would choose.

Can I write my own will?

Technically... yes. But if you're serious about protecting your family and finances, I'd advise you to at least consult with an attorney who specializes in this area.

Whom do you work with?

I work with a range of families, individuals and small business owners with various estate planning needs. Most of my clients come to me for a will and/or a life insurance trust; others do more extensive planning involving multiple life insurance trusts, gifting trusts, and more complex tax-planning structures.

Most of my clients require my expertise in estate planning and tax law for one reason or another. Some recent clients include:

• A couple with no obvious good choices for guardians for their children
• A couple with one partner who was a non-US citizen
• Family with a special needs child
• An unmarried couple with children
• Second marriage in which each partner had children from prior marriages

How does a will work?

In addition to setting forth your wishes about who should receive your assets, a well-drafted will answers several other crucial questions about your estate, including:

• Who do you want to be the Executor – that is, the person responsible for identifying and collecting the assets of your estate, paying your just debts and expenses, dealing with your surviving family and other relatives, dealing with the probate court, and filing appropriate tax returns?
• Who you want to be your minor children’s Guardian? Or back-up Guardian, if your guardian is unable or willing to care for your minor children?
• Who will be the Trustees of your assets, if they are held in trust for your minor children, or if you create trusts for tax-planning purposes?

A well-drafted will can significantly improve your estate’s tax position, often substantially reducing the imposition of tax not only on your estate, but also on the estate of your surviving spouse.

What's the point of having an irrevocalbe life insurance trust (ILIT)?

A well-drafted irrevocable trust can hold life insurance policies that will NOT be subject to estate taxes on death. This can be an exceptionally powerful structure for reducing the impact of estate taxes.

What is a Living Will and how does it work?

A Living Will expresses your desires with regard to health care treatment if you become incapacitated and/or physically incapable of expressing those desires. It can include, but need not be limited to, instructions concerning the termination of life support. New York law requires clear and convincing evidence of what the patient would want, which is why it makes sense to use a standard form, properly executed. A Health-Care Proxy can be included as part of the Living Will document.

What is a Health-care Proxy?

A Health-care Proxy allows you to appoint someone you trust – your spouse, other family member, or a close friend – to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself.

Your agent can also decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes, and your agent’s decisions will be binding on hospitals, doctors and other health care providers as if they were your own. You may allow your agent to make all health care decisions or only certain ones, and you may provide instructions that he or she has to follow (for instance, in a living will).

What is a Durable General Power of Attorney and how does it work?

A Power of Attorney allows you to appoint an “agent” or “attorney in fact” (usually your spouse or other close relative). The Power of Attorney grants your agent broad powers to manage your affairs, including making legal and financial decisions, but not including health care decisions – the Health-Care Proxy grants that authority.

You would use this document to cover the case in which you become incapacitated and you want someone to be able to manage your affairs for you; a “Durable” Power of Attorney is so called because the it remains in effect even after you become incapacitated. It can be revoked at any time.

How does the estate administration process work?

When a person with a will dies leaving any property at all (including real estate, financial assets, money, and personal property), a probate court is involved in confirming the validity of the will, confirming the authority of the executor to handle the decedent’s assets, overseeing the payment of debts and taxes, and approving the distribution of assets to the beneficiaries.

When a person dies without a will, the probate court will typically appoint an “administrator” to handle the same kinds of tasks an executor would have handled.

In New York, the probate courts are in each county and are called Surrogate’s Courts; in Connecticut, the probate courts are in most larger towns and cities and are called Probate Courts. Most probate courts have helpful guidance for the handling of small estates, but executors for larger estates will almost certainly want to engage professional advice, usually an experienced estate administration lawyer and sometimes also tax counsel.

Most states have good introductory information about their probate courts on the web. See, for example, the pages for the New York Surrogate’s Courts (link) and the Connecticut Probate Courts (link).