New York Estate Planning Can Include Pre-Nuptial Agreements and Testamentary Trusts
Article by Jules Martin Haas, Attorney at Law
There have been numerous posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog discussing many aspects of the importance of good estate planning. First and foremost, preparing and signing aLast Will allows a person to provide specific direction as to the disposition of property upon death. Absent the execution of a valid Will, a person is deemed to have died intestate and all estate property that does not pass by operation of law (i.e. joint assets) is distributed to the decedent's next of kin in accordance with State laws. Thus, long lost relatives with whom the decedent had little or no lifetime contact may become estate beneficiaries. For example, theLas Vegas Sun recently reported in a story by Cy Ryan on September 16, 2012 about a recluse who died leaving $7 million dollars worth of gold bars and coins stored in boxes in his house. It now appears that since the decedent did not have a Will, a first cousin who had not even talked to the decedent for a year, may inherit the estate.
Not only does preparing a Will allow a person to specifically name beneficiaries, a completeestate plan that includes a pre-nuptial agreement and a trust can fine tune the manner by which the decedent's property is disposed of. A good example of such planning was seen recently with the death of actor, Dennis Hopper. As reported at TMZ.com on September 17, 2012, Mr. Hopper had entered into a pre-nuptial agreement that prevented his estranged wife from receiving any benefits under his Will. As discussed in my prior Blog posts, ordinarily in New York a spouse cannot be disinherited and New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law section 5-1.1-A provides that a spouse can elect to receive a share of an estate. However, a valid pre-nuptial agreement can provide that a spouse waives the right to receive the statutory share and instead elect to receive only the amounts provided for in the agreement.
The TMZ article also reports that Mr. Hopper left his 9 year old daughter $2.25 million in a trust and that his wife had no control over the trust. It is very common for parents to leave their minor children assets in a testamentary trust, which is a trust created inside of their Will. The trustees that are also named in the Will can be anyone the testator selects, whether a relative, a friend or even a bank or trust company. The trustee does not need to be the child's other parent. The surviving parent or legal guardian of the child has no authority to control the named trustee.
New York Estate Planning attorneys work closely with their clients to understand their needs and intentions and to develop an estate plan that can reflect their wishes. Mr. Hopper's advisors apparently were successful in creating a plan whereby his estranged wife was excluded from obtaining or controlling any part of his estate or the manner in which it would be administered for the benefit of his young daughter.