End-of-Life Wishes and Planning
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Estate Planning & Wills Lawyers in Buffalo

Most people don’t want to think about death or the potential of a frightening illness. Whether a client has time to deliberate or is faced with an immediate challenge, we focus on the people involved and their wishes and listen carefully to determine their needs.

We also help family members distribute the assets of an estate after death.

Estate Planning

Elderly couple sitting at a table with a lawyer

Our attorneys play a crucial role in estate planning by providing expertise and guidance in the creation of a comprehensive plan for managing and distributing a client’s or client family’s assets and property after their death. Estate planning can involve various legal documents and strategies, including:

  1. Will: This is a document that outlines how a person’s assets will be distributed after their death. In New York, the law does not allow handwritten Wills.  In addition, there is a special way that Wills are signed to ensure they are enforceable. At The Coppola Firm, this is called a Will Signing Ceremony, and although it has a fancy name, we guide our clients on the steps needed to ensure their signing their Wills are proper and comply with New York law.
  2. Trusts: These are legal entities that can be used to manage assets and property for the benefit of designated beneficiaries.  Interestingly, a trust does not need to be funded (that is, have assets placed into the trust) at the time it’s created in a Will. A trust is used for many reasons, and it is particularly crucial if there is a chance that assets will be distributed to children under the age of 18 years old.
  3. Power of Attorney: This is a document that allows a person to designate another individual to make decisions on their behalf in case of incapacity.  Unlike a Will, this document is useful when our clients still are alive but may not be able to make business or economic decisions for themselves, such as when they are under anesthesia or have sustained a serious injury or illness. Powers of attorney were critical, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic when those stricken with the illness were unable to keep up with paying their bills or doing their necessary banking.
  4. Living Will and Health Care Proxy: This is a document that outlines a person’s end-of-life wishes and designates someone to make medical decisions for them in case they are unable to do so.

We work with clients who are newly married, newly divorced, new parents, aging individuals, or clients who simply want to ensure their wishes are followed. Sometimes that means we are working with clients who have received a frightening diagnosis or are facing a chronic or terminal illness. Our trauma-informed attorneys not only provide guidance on the law, but we do so keeping in mind the whole person and their emotional as well as financial needs.

Our attorneys assist with estate planning by providing advice on the best strategies and legal documents for a person’s specific needs and goals. We draft, review with our clients, and explain legal documents that may at first seem confusing. The Coppola Firm’s practical and realistic approach to estate planning is a welcome relief when a client feels frightened or intimidated. We work with single individuals, married couples, and people in long-term relationships. When our clients want us to, we welcome family members and help them to understand the wishes of our clients.

Estate Probate and Administration

Our attorneys also assist with estate probate and administration. Estate probate and administration are the legal processes of managing and distributing a person’s assets and property after their death. In this facet of our practice, The Coppola Firm’s attorneys provide compassionate and timely legal guidance and representation to the executor or personal representative of an estate.

In New York, the courts call the person who has passed away the “decedent.” When an individual had a Will, then after death, the process of distributing assets is called the probate process.  As a result, then, our attorneys help explore the probate process with the executor, who is the person named in the Will who is responsible to help distribute the decedent’s assets according to the terms of their Will.

One of the first steps our attorneys explore is whether formal probate is necessary, and if the estate is of minimal value, whether the so-called New York small estate proceeding can be used to save money for the estate. In order to make this determination, we discuss the nature and value of the decedent’s assets with the executor and then provide guidance on the most efficient and economical process to distribute the assets. When an estate is probated, whether via the formal process or the small estate process, our attorneys help by filing petitions and other documents with the Surrogate’s Court of the State of New York, and we often need to appear in front of the Surrogate Judge to handle various issues.  Usually the executor is not required to go to court, so we guide the executor every step of the way. We are very mindful of the need to keep the executor updated regularly, even when the Surrogate’s Court process takes time. We recognize that most executors have never experienced the court system, and so we are sensitive to their needs and expectations so that the probate process becomes more familiar and less intimidating to them.

When the decedent did not have a Will, then New York law governs how the decedent’s assets are distributed. This is done through a process at Surrogate’s Court called estate administration. The Coppola Firm’s attorneys help the family member or other close relative or friend petition the court to become the administrator of the decedent’s estate.

Another aspect of both probate and administration is addressing creditor claims. This occurs where the decedent had debts, such as a credit card balance, a car loan, or a home mortgage, for example. We work with creditors to assess, value, negotiate and resolve their claims.

Whether the estate goes through probate or administration, our attorneys assist the executor or administrator in distributing the decedent’s assets and property to their beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the Will or the rules contained in New York State law.

Sometimes but not always there is estate litigation which occurs if there are disputes of any kind. When this happens, our very experienced litigation attorneys provide efficient and aggressive representation where needed.

Estate probate and administration can be a complex and time-consuming process, and we recognize that it happens during a time period when our clients are grieving and have had considerable upset in their lives.  We see our role as not only providing legal guidance by ensuring that the estate is administered efficiently and effectively, but also protecting the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries, relieving pressure on the estate’s executor or administrator, all while keeping in the forefront the needs of the whole person, including the executor or administrator and the estate’s beneficiaries. Speak to a Buffalo end-of-life planning & living wills lawyer about your case today by calling (716) 839-9700 or filling out the online contact form.

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