Estate Planning

How Are We Different?

First, we understand that you are busy building a family, a career and a prosperous future. You want to be sure that you're planning the right way for yourself and your loved ones, and that your plan will absolutely work when it's needed. You want to know that your children will be taken care of if anything happens to you.

We make sure to use the best systems to provide you with the advice you need to build and maintain a life of prosperity, and to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from having a proper plan in place for the future. We don't charge for every phone call or email. We bill on a flat-fee basis, with the fee agreed to ahead of time.

Also, we keep your plan up to date, to consider changes in your family, your finances, and the law itself. We coordinate funding of trusts, if you choose that form of planning, to make sure that your assets are safe during your lifetime and immediately available for your loved ones after you pass away.

Finally, as part of your estate plan, we include your values, your hopes for the future and that of the people you love, and other "non-asset" matters.

We look forward to serving as your lawyers for your lifetime.

Three Levels of Planning

We do not do “one-size fits all” planning. We know that every family (or individual) is different and you have goals, assets, family structures that are unique to your family. We help plan for your family whether it’s the traditional two parent family, individual, blended family with “his,” “hers” and “our” children. We help families that are non-traditional in some way.

We help families who have large assets and businesses, as well as those with very little in the way of assets. Everyone needs an estate plan because your never know when something will happen to you, whether our inevitable death or possible incapacity.

The levels of planning are reviewed at our initial consultation. The planning may center around a “will” or may also include a “revocable living trust.” Sometimes, an “irrevocable” trust may be the best option. The “funding” of the trust must also be considered, and you may choose to have us coordinate that process.

In all situations, we educate you as to what would happen if you have no plan (called the State of New York plan) and go over the options available for your unique circumstances. You choose which plan works best for you.

Leaving a True Legacy - Who You Are & What's Important to You

My late fiancée had left me a voicemail a short time before his accidental death. After his death, I would listen to it from time to time, just to hear his voice. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted it after purchasing a new cell phone. I was never able to hear his voice again.

As part of every estate plan, we encourage you to record your insights about the world, your advice, funny stories, and more. We record this right here in the office. Your loved ones will have an audible memory about you after you pass. This way, you pass on more than just your assets. You pass on your love and ability for them to hear you and remember you that much better.

Planning for the Lifetime Care of Your Children

Your estate plan must absolutely include taking care of your children after your death or incapacity. You don’t want them to end up in foster care, even temporarily. We help you choose both temporary and long-term guardians to take care of them the way that you would want.

This planning should be done outside of a will. You can plan that your children will not have to wait for the often-lengthy probate process or family court proceeding to determine who will be their guardian. Your choices are recorded in separate estate planning documents and the chosen guardians will know who they are well before anything happens to you. This pre-planning can avoid lengthy custody battles and other court proceedings, although a family court must ultimately still formalize the guardians. But your children will then never end up in the care of strangers.

Planning for your children can also involve making sure that they do not receive their inheritance outright when they turn 18 years old. Their inheritance can also be protected from their future creditors and spouses, if that is important to you. You can choose trusted family members, friends or even a trust company to handle distributions from your estate.

How to Get Started

We start the process with a Planning and Design Session. You will receive a Consultation Inventory & Assessment (“homework”) before the session, to get your finances organized so you know what you have and to have a more meaningful Planning and Design Session. You can absolutely call us for help in filling out the homework.

The actual session lasts up to two hours because it’s a working meeting. We will start to design your estate plan after you are educated about the options and have decided which type of planning is right for you and your family. We try to make it as easy and stress-free as possible for you to make the important decisions.

This session alone is worth $750.00. It’s possible to get this session without charge in some circumstances.

Call Marianne S. Rantala, P.C., at (631)627-3433 to schedule your Planning and Design Session now, to get that peace of mind in knowing that you’ve planned properly to take care of yourself and your family in the best way possible.

Schedule Your Planning & Design Session

Call our office at (631) 627-3433 to schedule your personal Planning and Design Session. We will schedule the most convenient appointment time available for you with our intricately trained Estate Planning Lawyer. We see clients on Monday through Friday, and we even have limited evening or weekend appointments available, to make planning as convenient for you as possible.

When you schedule your personal Planning and Design Session, we block 2 hours on our calendar so we can focus entirely on you and your family during this time. We will send you a package of information to complete before our time together, which will help you begin the process of getting your legal and financial life in order. During our meeting together, we will guide you to gently look at what would happen for your loved ones and to your assets if something were to happen to you. And then, we'll look at what you want to happen and help you create a roadmap to get that plan in place as easily as possible. Clients routinely say, "wow, if we had known how easy this would be, we would have done it years ago!" after meeting with us.

Probate and Estate Administration
What Should You Do After Your Loved One Passes?
First Things First

First of all, focus on yourself and your family. Don't worry about legal issues during those first crucial days, unless it's something very serious like a minor child left living with someone dangerous or someone with a power of attorney who is cleaning out the deceased loved one's bank accounts. Otherwise, wait until after the funeral to consult with an attorney.

Clarity in the face of grief is important not only to keep moving forward in your life and process your emotions in a healthy way, but it's also necessary to be able to make the important decisions often faced when someone dies - and often not considered until it's too late. The unfortunate result is a tough transition when a loved one dies. For that reason, it's sometimes necessary to seek grief counseling to get that clarity to move forward in your life.

So What are Your Next Steps?

Find out whether your loved one had a will or a trust prepared during life. If there is a trust and all your loved one's assets are properly titled in the name of that trust, then a court proceeding likely will not be necessary. When there is no trust, or only a will, and your loved one's remaining assets are significant, then a proceeding must be filed in Surrogate's Court. In any event, it would be helpful to have the help of an attorney in dealing with the administration of the estate whether there is a will, trust or neither one. Attempting to go to Surrogate's Court without legal counsel would be a difficult task while dealing with the grief over the recent loss of your loved one.

Call MARIANNE S. RANTALA, P.C., at (631)627-3433, for help with all post-death legal matters in order to create peace of mind as quickly as possible after the loss of your loved one.

What is Probate?

Probate is the public Surrogate's Court process where your loved one's Last Will and Testament is reviewed and approved by a judge, and your loved one's property and possessions (the "estate") are distributed to beneficiaries after all debts are paid off. The Surrogate's Court appoints an "executor" through legal documents called "letters testamentary." Generally, only an estate over $30,000 must be probated, but there are certain "family exemptions" that allow distribution of minimal assets to family members without court intervention. Certain assets, like life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts and jointly-titled assets, are not subject to probate. However, if any beneficiary is under 18 years of age, the court must appoint a "guardian" to handle the assets until the beneficiary reaches the age of 18.

The executor, usually named in the will, must file a petition in Surrogate's Court, with the original will and certified death certificate. The petition must include the name of returns and all beneficiaries, legal heirs, and an estimate of the value of the estate. All beneficiaries and legal heirs are notified of the probate proceeding, which is open to the public. The judge of the Surrogate's Court will decide whether the will is valid, was properly executed and that your loved one was of sound mind and was not unduly influenced or coerced to make the will. If someone contests the will, it is usually because that person believes your loved one was subject to some sort of undue influence, fraud, or was not of sound mind.

The executor may be paid for work done during probate, depending on the value of the estate. Some of the executor's work includes marshalling and inventorying all your loved one's property and assets, transferring them to the estate, paying all of the estate's bills, filing any necessary tax returnsand paying income and estate taxes, collecting debts owed to the estate, investing and managing your loved one's assets during probate and distributing the remaining estate to the legitimate beneficiaries. The probate process can take from nine to 15 months or more, especially in the case of a large estate, will contest or fighting beneficiaries. If everything is in order, the estate may be closed, usually with the filing of an inventory, or other documents proving that the beneficiaries have been paid and are accepting of their inheritance.

What is Intestate Administration?

An Intestate Administration is a Surrogate's Court proceeding when there is no will or trust, or when the Surrogate's Court judge decides that a will is not valid. Since there is no valid will, beneficiaries are the legal heirs according to New York's intestacy laws. Heirs are the surviving spouse, any surviving children of the decedent, parents, siblings and other more remote relatives. The proceeding is usually filed by the surviving spouse, or children (if no spouse), parents, siblings, grandchildren, etc.

In all other respects, an administration is similar to a probate proceeding, except that the Surrogate's Court will appoint an "administrator," rather than an executor. The judge will issue "letters of administration," which allow the administrator to carry out the various duties, which are identical to that in a probate proceeding. Again, if everything is in order, the administration can be closed after distributions are made according to the Surrogate's Court order.

What Does an Executor or Administrator Need to Know?

The job of an executor or administrator can be daunting and sometimes very complicated, especially in the case of a large estate or contests among the beneficiaries or those left out of a will. Complicating the job is that the executor or administrator can be held personally liable should something slip through the cracks. Some tips for an executor or administrator include the following:

  • Obtain a tax ID number from the IRS for the estate, after receiving the appropriate "letters" from the Surrogate's Court, and opening a bank account in the name of the estate. Never mix your own funds with those of the estate. Use the estate bank account to pay any costs incurred during the estate proceeding.
  • Have and maintain a good accounting system to keep track of everything you do for the estate. An executor or administrator has the duty to keep accurate financial records, such as expenses and a detailed inventory of estate assets and debts right from the beginning. Sometimes it will be necessary to employ a professional accountant or probate attorney or both, to effectively handle the estate.
  • In addition to a good accounting system, maintain detailed notes and written correspondence pertaining to any and all communications you have with anyone involved with the estate, including beneficiaries, opposing attorneys, financial institutions, and the like. You may find that sound advice from a probate attorney will be very helpful in this regard, in order to avoid you being held responsible for any inadvertent mistakes.
What is Involved in Trust Administration?

If your loved one prepared a Revocable Living Trust or any type or Irrevocable Trust during his or her lifetime, and all assets were properly titled to that trust, it's most likely unnecessary to deal with the Surrogate's Court. If your loved one was a trustee (like a manager of the trust) while alive, someone must now take the reins as a successor trustee and continue to manage the trust. This successor trustee must follow the rules contained within the trust to either continue to manage the trust's assets and distributions or to distribute what remains of the trust. Sometimes, the trust will be split into two or more separate trusts or trust shares, which the trustee must understand and manage. If your loved one had a Revocable Living Trust, it is likely that at least a part of the trust will become irrevocable and cannot be changed. Whatever the type of trust, the successor trustee must pay any existing creditors and beneficiaries, file any necessary income and/or estate tax returns, pay funeral expenses, and adequately account for the trust's assets.

This area of post-death administration can be very complicated at times and fraught with possible liability for the trustee if he or she doesn't follow the rules of the trust with care.

Call MARIANNE S. RANTALA, P.C., at (631)627-3433, for help with either the Surrogate's Court probate or administration proceedings, or for help in administration of a trust.

Wrongful Death Claims and Litigation

What if your loved one's death was caused by the negligent actions of someone else? Surviving family members can file a lawsuit against that negligent person, company or other entity. Some of the claims may include automobile accidents, consumer products liability, medical or pharmaceutical negligence, or workplace negligence. The executor or administrator of your loved one's estate must handle that litigation. Marianne S. Rantala, P.C., can make a free referral to the best wrongful death litigation law firms in the area. Keep in mind that there is limited time in order to file any wrongful death claims or they will be lost forever, so this should be pursued shortly after your loved one's funeral.

What About Your Own Estate?

Estate planning really should be considered as soon as you acquire your first asset, have a child, or step into adulthood in any truly meaningful way. And yet many of us put it off for far too long, leaving ourselves and our families at risk of getting stuck in the court system in the event of an unexpected accident, illness, or injury.

Once you (or your parents) reach senior status or a loved one passes away, you can no longer pretend that estate planning is something you can put off. The effects of aging become impossible to ignore, and the fact that you're not going to live forever moves to the front of your mind. If your loved one had little to no estate planning, you are no doubt feeling the effects of that right now. Now may be a good time to review your existing estate plan or have one put into place that will work for your loved ones when something happens to you.

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you're really prepared for when something happens to you:

  • Who will manage my affairs when I die or become incapacitated?
  • Who do I want to leave my property and possessions to when I die?
  • What happens if I need long-term care; i.e., assisted living or nursing home?
  • Will my estate have to pay estate taxes, income taxes, or capital gains taxes, unnecessarily when I die, reducing distributions to my loved ones?
  • Do I have enough life insurance to take care of my loved ones and are my beneficiaries properly listed on the policies?
  • What happens to my bank accounts when I die?
  • What happens to my retirement accounts (IRA & 401K, etc.) when I die?
  • How can I pass on what's really important -- not just my money, and make sure future generations benefit from my values, stories, insights and experiences?
Estate Administration Matters

If a person dies and had prepared an estate plan that includes any type of “trust” we can help administer the terms of the trust. This process usually does not need to go through the court. It is called “trust administration.”

However, if you are facing having to probate an estate, we can guide you through every step of the process. You are not alone. We are here to help.

Consultation Inventory & Assessment Worksheet

The Consultation Inventory and Assessment is designed to help you focus in on the important information and questions that are necessary to get your legal and financial house in order.

We ask you to fill it out and return it to us in advance of our appointment so that we can have the most productive time together.

  1. Print the Consultation Inventory & Assessment worksheet.
  2. Fill in as much as you can.
  3. Make an appointment with us to discuss your plan.
  4. Return the Consultation Inventory & Assessment worksheet to us approximately 3 days in advance of our appointment.

If the worksheet does not open, you may need to download the 'Free' Acrobat Reader here

Trust Administration

Trust administration is a process that happens after a loved one dies, if the person (called a decedent) created a trust during his or her lifetime. Trusts are mostly created to have assets handled outside of the probate process. Trust administration is both quicker and easier than a probate process, so beneficiaries can inherit faster. However, there are certain things that must be addressed during trust administration to either transfer assets to the beneficiaries or to keep the assets in trust for their benefit.

Marianne S. Rantala, P.C. can help you with trust administration. We understand what is involved in working with trusts and strive to make the process as easy and streamlined as possible. We represent both trustees and beneficiaries with trust issues.

If you suspect that a trustee is not acting in good faith, we can also assist in taking the proper legal action, if need be.

Please call us at (631)627-3433 to find out how we can help with trust administration.

What Happens During Trust Administration

The trust administration process can differ depending on the type of trust and the trust assets. Therefore, it's always best to get legal help to guide you in this process.

It's most likely the trustee, who may need legal guidance, since the trustee has the most responsibility for administering the trust. The trustee has what's known as "fiduciary duty," which is a high level of responsibility in acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries in a timely manner and maintaining careful control over the trust's assets. Some of the trustee's duties include:

  • Inventorying the trust assets, which involves identifying all of the assets and figuring out title issues, finding any accounts and insurance policies payable to the trust.
  • Valuing the trust assets, which may be required for tax purposes.
  • Filing any necessary tax forms, possibly including both State and Federal returns for estate and transfer taxes, capital gains taxes, and income taxes.
  • Notifying beneficiaries about the trust administration process.
  • Distributing trust assets according to the trust's rules, including possible splitting of the trust into separate trusts or shares.

Marianne S. Rantala, P.C., is here to help with all of the above steps. Even though trust administration is easier than the probate court process, it can become complicated and you may need legal representation.

Please contact us at (631)627-3433 for more information.