Estate Planning

Download Intake Form (pdf)

The firm has provided clients with estate planning services spanning four generations of attorneys and over six generations of clients. The very personal nature  of estate planning has resulted in the firm maintaining close relationships with and providing counsel to families over multiple generations.

The primary purpose of estate planning is to insure that the client’s intentions are realized in the transferring of wealth to family and future generations. Through estate tax planning, principally through the use of trusts, the most wealth may be transferred free of or with the least amount of estate tax being paid. The use of trusts also provides a vehicle for investment management, protection, and a distribution process that can maintain flexibility over time.

Charitable giving can also be part of the estate planning process. Charitable gifts either during life or at a person's death can provide tax deductions for the client while benefitting the charities of the client's choice.

The estate planning process is one of discussion with the client to determine the intended goals and the development of the plan using the appropriate techniques to implement the desired results. A plan for a couple may be as basic as the execution of reciprocal wills, powers of attorney, and health care declarations. More sophisticated planning may be implemented using the methods most suitable to the client's particular intent and circumstances, both family and financial. There is no standard plan, as each client's and their families' situations are different requiring discussion and analysis to allow the attorney to produce the most appropriate plan or alternative plans to best suit the client's needs.

Our comprehensive approach includes options involving living trusts and trusts under wills, asset preservation trusts, lifetime gifting, family business succession planning, charitable gifting, generation skipping transfer tax trusts, life insurance trusts, and IRA planning to stretch benefit payments, including the use of pass-through (conduit) trusts. In addition, we take particular pride in providing appropriate planning for clients or their loved ones who may need special attention because of a disability and who will benefit from preserving assets under those conditions.

The firm's decades of experience and clientele have enabled it to develop and maintain a very high level of expertise in the estate planning practice area. We have one legal assistant fully dedicated to our estate planning effort. As a result of all the foregoing, we have been at the forefront in implementing the most current techniques and reacting to changes in the law to insure the optimum effectiveness of our client's plans. The estate planning practice has been and continues to be in a state of change due to major revisions of both state and federal tax laws, which situation will continue under the changing political climate at both the federal and state level. We are committed to sustaining our high level of excellence.

Estate Administration

Following the passing of a loved one, families must not only deal with the emotional loss, but also the tasks required to assure the proper distribution of assets and payment of bills. This process of managing a person's affairs after death is known as estate administration.  We are there to bring our expertise to the many facets of resolving issues surrounding a recent death. These situations are often intensely disruptive and disorienting. We understand the need for guidance and availability during such a stressful period.

We bring four decades of experience to the field of Estate Administration.  It has been a major part of our firm’s practice since its inception and we have two paralegals dedicated to this area of our practice.  However, as important as the legal and technical aspects of estate administration are, we are also well aware of the emotional component.  We do our very best to be readily available throughout the process to answer questions and provide guidance in a comforting and compassionate manner. 

Upon the death of a loved one, banks and other institutions where the deceased held accounts will not deal with you simply because you are a family member.  A personal representative (i.e., Executor or Administrator), officially referred to as a fiduciary, must be appointed by the Surrogate’s Court to manage these affairs, usually in the county where the person lived.  

In the instances where the decedent died with a Last Will and Testament, it is presented to the Court for Probate via a Petition for Probate.  The petitioner is usually the nominated Executor under the will and the Court decree formally appointing him or her as Executor is called Letters Testamentary.  In the instances where the decedent did not have a will, a family member may Petition the Court for Intestate Administration and an Administrator is appointed.  The Court decree appointing that person is called Letters of Administration.  We will prepare all court documents required for the Petition for Probate or Administration, depending on existence or absence of a will.

Once appointed, we will assist the fiduciary in gathering and appraising the assets, attending to the finances of the estate, paying the decedent’s creditors, and distributing the assets, pursuant to the directives in the will or the laws of intestacy.  In estates holding real estate, we assist in all aspects of the transfer or sale of property.   It is also important to keep in mind that an estate has tax obligations for both reporting and often paying a tax.  Resolving all tax issues is an important component of our work during the administration process.

Before distributing the assets, the attorney for the estate will prepare an accounting reflecting all the financial aspects of the administration process, including the proposed distribution.  If beneficiaries agree with the account, and execute the documents necessary to release the fiduciary from any further liability, then the estate is “settled” and the assets are distributed.

Further, we are experienced in Estate Litigation in Surrogate’s Court related to will contests, trust disputes, beneficiary claims, fiduciary liability claims, estate and trust mismanagement, and probate matters.  We will work diligently to institute the required proceedings to obtain court approval for the resolution of any litigation arising out of the death of the deceased and the appropriate distribution of any recovery in the action.

It is a privilege for us to serve our clients in the administration of an estate during this time of such profound loss.  Placing the estate administration process in our hands provides a sense of comfort, knowing that all aspects will be handled professionally and compassionately.