The Most Important Components of an Estate Plan

The Most Important Components of an Estate Plan

Estate Planning Lawyers New York.

An estate plan need not be complicated, but it is something everyone should have. Each individual’s estate planning needs may differ depending on their assets and family situation, but all New York estate plans should contain at least four components: A last will and testament, a durable power of attorney for finances, a document directing health care, and a health care proxy. In some cases, an estate plan may also include one or more trusts.

The Last Will and Testament

In its most basic form a will does two things: It designates beneficiaries to receive your property after your death, and it names an executor to carry out your instructions. If you do not make a will, New York law will make both of these decisions for you. Under what is known as intestacy law, an estate without a will is distributed to the deceased individual’s surviving relatives in a specified order. A will allows you to overrule or ignore that order completely. Similarly, a New York probate court will name an executor for your estate if you do not do so through a will.

A legal will in New York should be typed and signed by at least two witnesses. The witnesses must be in your presence when you sign the will, although they do not need to read the will or have any awareness of its contents. The purpose of the witnesses is to prove the will’s validity to a probate court should the need arise.

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The Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

A will only deals with your assets after your death. But if you become incapacitated during your lifetime, a financial power of attorney names someone to manage your assets on your behalf. A person holding a power of attorney effectively acts as a stand-in for you, meaning they can pay your bills, make bank deposits, oversee your investment portfolio, and so forth.

A power of attorney can take effect when you sign it or following a doctor’s certification you cannot make decisions for yourself. The power of attorney then remains in effect until you revoke it, a court invalidates it, or you die. Upon your death, the executor of your estate assumes responsibility for your assets.

Document Directing Health Care & Health Care Proxy

A document directing health care is commonly known as a “living will.” This document allows you to instruct your health care providers and family members of your medical treatment wishes should you become incapacitated. For example, a living will may include a “do not resuscitate” order.

You should also have a health care proxy. This is similar to a power of attorney in that you name an agent to make decisions for you should you become incapacitated. In this case, a health care proxy allows someone to oversee your medical care and make decisions regarding life-sustaining treatment.


A trust is an estate planning tool normally used to bypass the probate process. With a trust you transfer assets to a trustee who must use or distribute the assets according to your instructions. Since the assets technically do not belong to you when you die, they are not considered part of the probate estate that passes under your will.

Need Help With Estate Planning

This is only a brief overview of the basic components of an estate plan. An experienced New York City estate planning attorney can offer more in-depth advice with respect to your needs. Contact the offices of Menicucci Villa Cilmi PLLC in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Staten Island if you would like to speak with an attorney today.

New York Estate Planning Attorney. If you or a loved one is in need of a Estate Planning Law Firm or have questions regarding Elder Law, Estate Administration, Contested Estates or general Estate issues contact the Law Firm of Menicucci, Villa, Cilmi PLLC for a no cost case evaluation. We are a Estate Law Firm with offices in Staten Island, Brooklyn and New York City.

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