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New York Legal Issues Blog

How IRS changes may affect probate administration

Estate executors may not be familiar with the obligations they are saddled with in administering the estate of a loved one. Indeed, the responsibilities center on making sure that all debts and liabilities are paid before property is distributed. Depending on the size of the estate, one of the largest obligations could be estate taxes.

For the uninitiated, it is important to know that estates valued at $5.43 million or more are subject to a federal estate tax. However, there are a number of applicable deductions that could lower the taxable value of the estate so that steep federal estate taxes will be pushed to the waste side.  

Three tips to avoid will contests

Headlines about high-value litigation cases commonly occur when a lawsuit is filed and when verdict is rendered, but few take into account the time that passes between those seminal events. For estate litigation (otherwise known as will contests), a “quick” settlement may occur 16 to 18 months after a suit is filed. For contested matters that reach a verdict, the average time is 2 to 3 years.

Because of this, it is critical for your estate plan to be written carefully in order to avoid conflict among beneficiaries. This post will provide a few tips. 

The difference between benign and undue influence

People create estate plans for the purpose of passing on assets to heirs and beneficiaries according to their own wishes. While we generally believe that people express their own desires in writing wills or creating trusts, instances may arise where a will was constructed through undue influence.

Under New York state law, this concept does not necessarily have a precise technical definition. Rather, case law has developed a set of criteria that judges can use to distinguish benign influence (i.e. lawful influence) from undue influence. 

Disinherited? How can I claim my share of the estate?

Perhaps an elderly grandparent or even your own mother or father recently passed away. When that family member died, you may have expected to inherit part of the estate. You may have felt surprised and disappointed to learn that your relative did not include you in the will.

Was it an oversight? Was it a mistake? Your mind may entertain dozens of reasons why the will did not mention you. If you were counting on an inheritance that didn't come through, you may even consider contesting the will, but how do you even begin?

The continuing evolution of retail centers

In our last post, we highlighted how retailers are trying to find additional ways to reach consumers given the proliferation of online shopping sites. Indeed, traditional brick and mortar retailers must adjust in a new marketplace, which means that developers and real estate owners must adjust accordingly. One way that they have met this demand is by giving consumers more than one reason to visit malls and shopping centers.

A recent globest.com report gave a few prominent examples of this trend. It cited how millenials have more buying power, vastly different shopping and lifestyle habits compared to baby boomers and genX’ers. It also explained how traditional shopping centers were 90 percent retail, including stores, a food court and large department stores to anchor the center. With that, the development of shopping centers have focused more on lifestyle centers than customary retail. 

Is mobile real estate the next big thing in retail?

The commercial real estate industry is indeed in a precarious position. The rise of online shopping has essentially stunted growth in this industry, especially with retail outlets. But with every industry disruption, there may be new opportunities for growth.

While there may not be much news about it now, expect more stories surrounding the growth of mobile retail outlets. Yes, online shopping gives consumers the chance to purchase what they want without leaving the comforts of home, but it may not be appropriate for all forms of commerce. After all, you can’t touch, feel or intimately inspect something online. 

Prevent probate litigation with planning and communication

For many in New York, the purpose of making an estate plan is to avoid conflict or confusion after their death. With a will or trust in place, they assume their assets will be divided according to their wishes. However, understanding the common reasons why families resort to probate litigation may help one avoid those pitfalls that create chaos out of the best laid plans.

Choosing one child over the other siblings to execute the estate can create feelings of mistrust or resentment. People can avoid this possibility by naming co-executors or by simply informing the siblings of the reasons one person was chosen over the other. Sometimes frank discussions ahead of time can resolve conflicts before they occur.

Is 'purposeful' estate planning right for you?

It is natural for people to either create or modify estate plans so that they can take advantage of tax laws that can result in substantial savings. However, with the best financial intentions, a person’s overall purpose in setting up trusts or modifying them may be lost.

A New York Times article highlighted this phenomenon. Essentially, there is a growing movement entitled “purposeful estate planning” which is to be different from traditional estate planning in that it focuses more on the testator’s wishes and purposes more than financial benefits.  Basically, this form of estate planning answers questions about “why” a particular course is taken (i.e. a purpose) instead of “how” something can be done (i.e. a means to an end). 

Is your home still on the market due to Fair Housing Act breech?

The New York housing market fluctuates as do all other areas of sales and purchases in the nation. Some years, economists consider it a buyer's market while other times seem to benefit the seller. As an immigrant who has worked hard to build a new life in the United States, you likely want to implement all available options to successfully sell your home when you choose, for whatever reason, to relocate. The last thing you need is to face complications regarding real estate laws.

Like millions of other immigrants, when you first came to this country, you probably faced several challenges regarding your legal status, perhaps a language barrier or issues related to a visa or green card. Seeking clarification of real estate regulations ahead of time may help you avoid further problems as you navigate the process of selling your home.

Do I always transfer assets through probate court?

If you learn that you are tapped to be an executor, the responsibilities that come with administering an estate can be overwhelming. After all, the process of legally transferring property and assets from the deceased to heirs or beneficiaries (and even creditors) is not something that people do every day. Also, if there are disputes over who is entitled to receive the property, this can be daunting.

However, it may be comforting to know that not everything identified in a will must be probated (i.e. declared transferable, or transferred, by order of the court).  This post will identify some common assets that need not be probated. 

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