Wills Lawyers in New York, NY Helping Clients Put Plans in Place to Care for Loved Ones After They’re Gone
Our experienced New York will lawyers are capable of handling the preparation of wills and trusts and other estate plan-related documents. We have represented trustees, executors, fiduciaries, and beneficiaries in estate litigation, including will contests.
We aim to satisfy the client’s wishes and, at the same time, recommend efficient tax planning. With more than 30 years of experience and having represented clients in the five boroughs of New York, we are trained to help you with any estate planning matter you might have.
At Ortiz & Ortiz, we understand that preparing documents such as wills can be stressful. A will is a legal matter, but it is also one tied up in emotional strain. We will work with you to understand your values, your financial situation, and your family arrangements to help guide you in making wise estate planning decisions. Please call our law firm to schedule a consultation.
Do You Really Need a Will?
In the event of death, a will is used to determine how you want your property to be distributed. By means of a will, you can appoint an executor of your estate, create the trusts you want, or arrange for the property to be transferred in a particular way. If you want to control the appointment of legal guardianship for your children, a will is necessary.
A will is a legal document whose terms must be followed to the letter at the time of its approval. Without an established will, legal disputes could arise between your family members and those close to you to determine your final wishes. If you are already involved or are anticipating a dispute, please schedule a consultation with our attorneys for guidance in inheritance disputes.
What Happens if You Die Without a Will in New York?
In New York State, dying without a will results in your property being distributed in accordance with intestate probate laws. In New York, this means that it will be given to your relatives in a line of succession, starting with the closest:
- The list begins with your surviving spouse, who will get everything if you do not have children.
- If you have children, then the property will be divided between them and the spouse, generally favoring the spouse.
- In cases where there is no child and/or spouse, your property will be given to your parents or grandchildren.
- The search will continue through your spouse’s siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and other family members (if you have one), continuing through the family tree until a relative is found.
- If the court cannot find living relatives, the state will take possession of your property and real estate.
What Are the Requirements for Drafting a Will in NY?
The following are basic requirements in order to create a valid will in New York:
- Only a resident who is 18 years or older can make a will that is valid in New York.
- You must be medically determined to be of sound mind and memory and be writing the will of your own choice (not under duress or undue influence by someone else).
- Since you can only have one will at a time, it’s required to include a clause declaring it your Last Will and Testament that also invalidates previous wills. This is to avoid confusion if you decide to change the terms of your will in the future.
- A will must be signed in the sight of two witnesses, who must also be 18 or older.
- In general, your will must be made on hard copy (on actual paper).
New York allows for nuncupative (oral) and holographic wills in extremely limited circumstances, for example, for members of the US military involved in armed conflict.
If you’d like your will to be “self-proving”, then it should also be signed in the presence of an estate planning lawyer. You sign the will. Then the witnesses add their own signatures, indicating that they were present when you signed. Finally, the lawyer will notarize the will. Though the lawyer’s involvement isn’t required by New York state laws, it is recommended by the American Bar Association.
A will that meets these requirements will be considered “self-proving” when it arrives at a probate court and will likely require no other proof to be considered valid.
What Type of Wills Could a NYC Wills Lawyer Assist You With?
Your wills and estate planning lawyer could provide guidance in the creation of a number of types of different legal documents, depending on what suits your estate’s needs.
Simple will: This is the will that you think of when you hear the term “Last Will and Testament”. A simple will is appropriate to distribute a modest estate that includes uncomplicated assets. It is also used to avoid the intestate administration of the estate.
Pour-over will: A “pour-over” will is a term used to describe a specific type of will that is used to “pour” the assets of your estate into a trust at the time of your death. In the absence of a will, the remainder of your trust will be distributed using New York State intestate probate laws. In case you decide to use a trust agreement to distribute the majority of your estate assets instead of a will, you may also need to execute a pour-over will.
Holographic (handwritten) will: While most states don’t consider holographic wills to be valid, in New York, these types of wills are valid and legal but only under very limited circumstances. The maker of a holographic will is required to have testamentary capacity just as with formal wills under New York law. These must be made by one of the following:
- A member of the U.S. Armed Forces while in naval or military service during war, declared or undeclared, or other armed conflict involving the armed forces.
- A mariner while at sea.
- A person who accompanies or serves an armed force engaged in actual naval or military service during such war or other armed conflicts.
- A holographic will that was written in a state that does allow for such documents may be considered valid in New York.
Oral or nuncupative will: New York law also recognizes oral (or “nuncupative”) wills but as with holographic wills, only if made by members of armed forces while in military or naval service during a war or other armed conflict.
Living will or health care proxy: Both of these estate plan tools have a similar purpose, which is that they give authority to a person of your choosing to make medical decisions related to your care when you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to make those decisions yourself.
How Does the Probate Process Work?
When someone disputes the authenticity of the will and considers it invalid, a probate attorney can be used. Probate cases are settled in court; therefore, you will need an estate planning lawyer that will protect your interests even in probate court.
In those cases where the will or estate document is written unclearly and the beneficiaries need the court to interpret them, a probate attorney could be called on to present the case.
In cases where someone contests the will, the probate attorney would represent the best interests and wishes of the decedent.
What Are the Important Steps to Drafting a Valid Will?
It is important that you have a reputable attorney handling these matters, such as our lawyer Norma E. Ortiz, who has more than 30 years of experience in drafting wills.
Please take the following information as a general process. To give you precise instructions on your case, it is essential that you contact us and let us know your situation.
- Decide on the Property You Want to Include in Your Will: The first thing to do will be to list your most important assets and real estate. Then decide which items to leave out of your will by other methods. For married couples, often each spouse leaves their own separate will. You may leave only your share of assets you own jointly with your spouse.
- Decide on Who Inherits Your Property: This is a decision that will be easy for most people. Remember to also name contingent beneficiaries, that is, alternates, in case you should outlive your beneficiaries, the beneficiary cannot be found, or they decline the inheritance.
- Name an Executor to Handle Your Estate Matters: In your will, you can name an executor. They will be in charge of carrying out the terms of your will. Likewise, they will supervise the succession process, the payment of your debts and taxes, and the distribution of your assets. The executor does not need training as they can also hire an attorney to help them. The important thing here is that the named executor is a person you trust.
- Select Who Shall Take Over Guardianship of a Young Child: You should name a guardian for your minor children in the unfortunate event that you or their other parent can’t raise them. In case you leave property to young adults or kids, you should also name an adult to manage what they inherit. Make this person the property guardian, custodian under the UTMA law, or a trustee to give authority over the child’s inheritance.
- Draft Your Will: While you can make a will yourself, this is not recommended. If you have complicated debt, serious family conflicts, or serious business holdings, we strongly encourage you to hire a lawyer for any estate matter.
- Sign Your Will in New York: In order to finalize your will, you must do the following: Sign or acknowledge your will in front of 2 witnesses (holographic wills don’t need to be witnessed but must be fully written in your own handwriting). Your witnesses must sign your will in front of you and include their addresses. You must declare to your witnesses that the document you are signing is your will.
- Make Sure You Store the Will Safely: This is something often overlooked but your will won’t be of much use to your loved ones if they can’t find it after you die. Please make sure you keep it in a safe place and clearly labeled. Share its location with your executor. Don’t keep it in a lockbox, but instead place it inside a desk drawer or cabinet. In other words, in a place that makes sense for your family to look for it and other documents relating to your estate plans.
If you would like assistance in creating your will or another legal matter, please contact our NYC office location for a consultation.
Can You Change or Revoke Your Will After It’s Been Filed?
Yes, in New York, you may change or revoke your will at any time. To make changes to your will, it is better to revoke it and make a new one. In case you have very simple changes to make you could use a codicil that adds an amendment to your existing will.
To revoke your will in NY, you can make use of one of the following options:
- Simply making a new will or making a new will that says that you are revoking your will following the same formalities used to make the original will.
- Destroying, cutting, burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or mutilating the will.
- Ordering someone else to do all the mentioned previously in front of you and two other witnesses.
Do You Need the Help of an Estate Planning Law Firm to Make Your Will Valid?
The state of New York does not require you to have an attorney when creating and filing your will. However, having the assistance and legal advice of a professional during the process is the safest option.
Before drafting a will on your own, consider scheduling a consultation with an attorney. This is an especially good idea for clients who have sizable assets and have complicated directions for how you wish to have them distributed.
With our New York wills lawyers’ oversight and legal advice, clients have a safeguard against most foreseeable complications that may arise after your passing. An experienced asset protection attorney in New York will be able to look at your assets and make sure that everything gets addressed in your will without overlooking any detail in the process. A dedicated and confidential attorney-client relationship is the most assured way to see that your wishes will be honored, and your loved ones will receive exactly what you intend to leave them.
The attorneys of Ortiz & Ortiz have over three decades of experience and knowledge needed to help you lay out your final will and testament and ensure that it is followed to the letter. Call our office now to schedule a consultation and begin your personalized attorney-client relationship. 917-920-6437.