Spring 2002

Vol.6 – No.4

Estate Planning for Pets

Pets play a significant role in the lives of many people. 34 million households in the United States own dogs and 28 million own cats. It is estimated that as many as 27% of pet owners mention their pets in their wills. The Uniform Probate Code, which authorizes a trust for care of a pet and it’s offspring, has been adopted in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. Pet owners should plan for the care of their animals in the event of death or disability. Special arrangements for the care of the pet if the owner becomes disabled can be included in a durable power of attorney, provisions of a living trust or an “animal card” which is carried in the owner’s wallet or purse. This card should contain information about the pet such as it’s name, species, home address, special instructions and information necessary to contact someone who has access to the pet. If the owner is injured or dies, emergency personnel can notify the named person or take other steps to locate and provide for the animal. The animal card will help insure that the animal survives until the owner’s plans for the pet’s long-term care take effect.

Medical Decision-Making

The advances in medical technology have allowed many people to live longer, healthier lives on their own. But these advances will also raise ethical issues as to when does life actually end. Medical technology will facilitate treatment for diseases before they occur and sophisticated drug delivery systems which target specific parts of the body. Health care proxies, do-not-resuscitate orders and living wills are important medical decision-making tools. Health care proxies recognize a person’s right to appoint a health care agent that he or she trusts to decide about medical treatment in the event that he or she becomes unable to decide personally. Unless specified otherwise, the agent will have the same authority that the patient would have in deciding about treatment. The authority encompasses that right to forego treatment or to consent for needed treatment. The agent’s authority begins only when a physician determines that the patient has lost the capacity to decide about treatment. [more]

Power of Attorney

The “principal” by signing a power of attorney, authorizes another person known as the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact” to act on his or her behalf any number of specified acts. There are two types of powers of attorney: the “general power of attorney” which goes into effect as soon as it is signed and initialed; and the “springing power of attorney” for those who are hesitant to grant a power of attorney while they are still able to manage their own affairs. The springing power of attorney takes effect at a specified time or upon the occurrence of a specified contingency including: when the designated person makes a written declaration that the principal is incapacitated; or upon the signing of a written statement by the principal’s regular physician or by a physician who has treated the principal within one year prior to the signing of the power of attorney or by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist certifying that the principal is suffering from diminished capacity that precludes him or her from conducting his or her own affairs in a competent manner. The principal initials the box next to each power that he or she wishes to grant to the agent, such as the following transactions: real estate; personal property and goods; bonds, shares and commodity; banking; operation of a business; insurance; estate; lawsuits; benefits from military service, and records, reports and statements. A power of attorney is not a substitute for a will because it automatically terminates upon the principal’s death.

Executor’s Web Resources

Our site was recommended by Fortune Magazine as a notable site on estate planning. See our section on Elder Law. For state-specific information on how to obtain birth, death, marriage and divorce records, visit www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/misc/vital-records/alphabet.htm. Regulations of the Federal Trade Commission on funeral homes can be found at www.ftc.gov/bcp/menu-prod.htm. Social Security benefits are explained at www.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.html. IRS information on the steps needed to file final tax returns for decedents can be found at www.irs.gov.

Executor’s FAQs

  • Q: What qualities and abilities should an executor have?
  • A: When you write a will as testator, it is especially important to choose competent and trustworthy executors and alternate executors. Otherwise, even careful estate planning may be rendered useless. The executor can be any person or institution that you choose. However, an executor should be:
    • experienced and competent in business matters;
    • familiar with your business, finances and property;
    • able and willing to act as your executor;
    • able to spend the time necessary to perform his or her duties;
    • able to work with the estate’s attorney and accountant; and
    • able to provide for the continuation of your business.
  • Q: What are the executor’s responsibilities?
  • A: A will names an executor who has the power to petition the Surrogate’s Court to probate a will. An executor is the “personal representative” and fiduciary of the decedent and as such must administer the estate. The executor must ensure that the will is carried out. In general, the executor must:
    • Handle funeral arrangements and pay for the funeral;
    • Pay any outstanding bills of the estate;
    • Collect and preserve assets;
    • Pay debts, taxes and administration expenses of the estate; and
    • Distribute estate assets according to the terms of the will.
  • Q: Who can be an executor?
  • A: Any U.S. citizen over the age of eighteen (18) years who has not been convicted of a felony can be named executor of a will. Some people choose a lawyer, accountant or financial consultant because of his or her expertise. Others appoint a spouse, adult child, relative or friend, especially if the estate is small. Because of the many responsibilities involved, it is prudent to ask the named executor if he or she is willing to serve as executor.

    Charitable Gifts

    There are seven ways to help your favorite charity by making charitable gifts:

    • An outright gift of cash, marketable securities, mutual funds, life insurance or real estate.
    • A bequest in a will is fully deductible for federal and New York State estate tax purposes. Donors have several options if they are considering a bequest: They can leave a percentage of the residuary estate, a specific dollar amount or they can specify that a bequest be made upon certain conditions, such as the death of another beneficiary.
    • A charitable remainder trust. The charitable remainder trust and the charitable remainder unitrust provide a way for a donor to receive income for live and then establish a fund. After the death of the surviving income beneficiary, the trust property is used to create a fund to fulfill the donor’s charitable wishes.
    • A charitable lead trust forms the principal of the fund. After a period of time, the remainder interest passes to non-charitable beneficiaries such as members of the donor’s family, but the fund lasts forever.
    • Life insurance policy and tax deductible gifts of the premiums each year.
    • Retirement funds. Assets in retirement accounts and other qualified pension plans can provide the resources to establish a fund. Consider bequeathing undistributed assets in retirement accounts to charity, because these assets, if left to heirs, will be taxed three times: (a) to the estate; (b) an excise tax and (c) income to non-charitable beneficiaries.
    • Gift of residence. The donor receives a current tax benefit, while retaining the right to use the property for life or for a term of years.

    “Executor’s Legal Survival® Guide”

    The newly released Executor’s Legal Survival® Guide will assist you in naming a good executor in your will; explain to executors their duties and responsibilities and inform estate beneficiaries of the role of the executor in the probate process. The guide, by Robert Friedman, answers such frequently asked questions as: What is probate? What are the steps in probating a will? Should a family member be named as executor? What death benefits are available? Checklists include: Documents that the executor must collect. Who the executor must notify. How to preserve estate property. What advisors to hire. What records must be maintained. Click here to read more.

    “Injury Victim’s Legal Survival® Guide”

    Victoria Square Publishing Company announces the Spring 2002 release of INJURY VICTIM’S LEGAL SURVIVAL® GUIDE by veteran municipal prosecutor, Robert Friedman. Injury victims are advised in laymen’s terms how to exercise their legal rights and obtain maximum cash damages without being victimized by insurance companies. The guide includes checklists, forms, the latest court cases and free quarterly updates. Mr. Friedman, who has prosecuted over 75,000 cases, is the author of numerous legal guides, articles and newspaper columns. The types of injuries covered are automobile accidents, defective products, criminal, domestic violence, workplace violence and injuries, slip and fall, dog bites, toxic mold, lead paint, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse and recreational accidents. For further information and pre-publication discounts, visit www.legalsurvival.com.

    Injured Victims’ Rights

    The Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C. Ten Point Pledge to Accident/Injury Clients is:

    • To communicate with you in plain language that is easy to understand.
    • To promptly return your telephone calls.
    • To quickly and thoroughly investigate and analyze your case. Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C. does not accept every accident case.
    • To have your case personally handled by an attorney.
    • To keep you informed of the progress of your case at all times.
    • To show you the personal care, concern and attention which has been the hallmark of our law firm since 1955.
    • To not handle your case in an “assembly line” fashion.
    • To accommodate the needs of you and your family during the handling of your case.
    • To vigorously protect your legal rights.
    • To never release your name to the media after your case has been completed, except with your written permission.

    Attorney Michael H. Ranzenhofer limits his practice to automobile accident, slip and fall, dog bite and defective product cases. He is a member of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the Western New York Trial Lawyers Association, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and the Erie County Bar Association Negligence Committee.

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