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Leaving It All Behind

A briefing on the importance  of estate planning

By Saira Toppin

2014 is steadfastly approaching. Why not make a New Year’s resolution that you need to keep? Create a living will, begin to put your life after death in order. Do not place your family in a stress-induced situation if you do not survive the next season. Start your estate planning now.

Begin by meeting with your family lawyer. If you do not have one, look for one. Ask family and friends for recommendations. If you fall short, you can search for a lawyer by contacting your local bar association. Estate planning involves creating a will, trusts, beneficiaries, executors, power of attorney, property ownership, gifting, medical practices and more.

One of the biggest components to estate planning is your will. If you pass without a will, the New York State Surrogate Courts will distribute your assets. The rules governing intestate succession are as follows: If you are married with children, your spouse gets the first $50,000 and half of the remainder and the other half to your children. Children and no spouse, the children get it all. No children and spouse, the spouse gets it all. If no spouse or no children, the parents get it all. If no parents, no children and no spouse, the siblings get it all. If no parents, no children, no spouse and no siblings, the grandparents get it all. It goes on a few more rounds until at least one living kin is identified. YOU decide where your money goes, not the courts.


With the presumption of regularity, you have a leg up when it comes to the distribution of your assets. However, even with a will, a spouse, child, etc. can contest, e.g., if a will dictates that monetary assets go to a charity, the children can object the will. They may not win, but they have the right to objection. Beneficiary designations are outside of the surrogate’s court, e.g., life insurance or Roth IRA. Make sure you leave these dividends to someone trustworthy.

Get started with this important life (or death) matter. Educate yourself, start your wealth-building and prepare for your future.  For more information visit: or e-mail

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