Estate Lawyer Offers Advice on Reddit; Interesting and Useful Legal Talk Ensues

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A New York estate/real-estate lawyer who’s goes by the Reddit username “SpiffySpacemanSpiff” offered up his expertise for free to the massive online community. While most of the users took advantage of his real estate and business forming advice, he offered lots of interesting and down-to-earth insight into estate planning and other topics often ignored by typical websites that traffic in Corgis and, um, more Corgis.

We’ve picked a few of the best nuggets, did a little editing, and compiled them below (click here for the full Reddit post):

Question: I am in my 30s and have been working since I was 14. I don't have a whole lot but would it still be in my interests to set up a living will or something to that effect?

SpiffySpacemanSpiff:  Oh dear god yes.

I cannot tell you how many estates come across my desk where something simple could have saved people years of wasted time.

Typically, when you've hit thirty, you have something you want to protect, and people you want to care for. So, although it may not be apparent to you, having your estate properly settled at a young age can prevent any unexpected nightmares from popping up here and there.

For example, a client of mine, who had inherited a few things from her grandmother passed away rather unexpectedly, and we had to complete her will, trust and personal planning documents in a matter of days, in order to keep her estate from going through the inherently arduous and slow moving procession that is the NYC surrogates court!

Question: Should "normal" people (i.e., the 99%) consider transferring their homes to trusts (be they QPRTs or otherwise) if the total value of their estates will never trigger federal estate taxes? Or are these things that only people with estates valued above several million dollars should be concerned about?

SpiffySpacemanSpiff: I recommend transferring homes to trust for the purposes of simplifying the asset's transfer upon death.

Question: If I wanted to place my fiance, not yet spouse, on a Trust/Will, is it more complicated than if we were married? And how do I go about updating that after we get hitched?

SpiffySpacemanSpiff: It is possible to do an estate plan before the marriage, that contemplates your marital relationship. It is important however, to work with an attorney who can help you think through the specifics of your individual circumstances, both before and after the marriage.

Question: If someone would have inherited a sum of money in 2010 from life insurance, but due to court proceedings and what not, the funds weren't made available until 2013, which year's estate tax applies? I know 2010 was a 0% year, so we're hoping we'll be able to claim under those rules... Any thoughts?

SpiffySpacemanSpiff: The estate tax is filed in the year of the death.

Question: What recourse do I have/what do I do when the executors of a will in which I was named have seemed to completely drop off the face of the Earth. If it matters, I live in NYC, the executor(s) live in St. Louis, and the deceased person lived in Las Vegas. She passed away nearly a year ago and I've heard nothing from the executor, and she seems to be dodging my attempts to contact her.

SpiffySpacemanSpiff: First, Estates are handled by the courts of the state where the decedent lived (sorry for your loss btw) you must first find out which state the proceeding is in, and then contact a lawyer there to help you!

That said, you definitely have the right to pursue this, and one year is an appropriate time! The will is a public document, so you should be able to access it to see if you are a beneficiary of the estate.

Bonus comment from a user going by the name 10b-5, who discusses the pros and cons to having a will. He was asked how people who don’t have much money can still help their family when/if they die:

10b-5: Life insurance would seem most apt in that scenario, which is also exempt from probate so it wouldn't matter if you had a will.

In essence, there's a few pros and cons to having a will. The main benefit is that you can fully control who gets what, and you can even impose conditions on the gifts.
The negative is that:

1. you need to actually make the will

2. probate might take a lot of time

3. there might become disputes between the heirs over who gets the loot.

It also needs to be said that writing a will does not require you to get help from a lawyer. If you do not have a lot of assets or complicated family issues, it can be written fairly simply on your own, though I'd recommend finding a template online. It would require it to be signed by you and two witnesses, and that's about it.

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