Beyond Your Will (or Trust):
Most of us know that the right to make a will is one of the cherished freedoms of American law. If you neglect to make one, the state legislature will distribute your property to the people it presumes are your natural objects of bounty. If you don't have close family relatives, the process can be a nightmare, unless you take the time to spell out those whom you want to benefit.
But - even if you have a will, the Court will require notice to be sent to those who would take in the absence of your will. In most families, few people have a complete idea of who is related to whom. Once you get beyond spouse and children, it is very important to draw a family tree - and spend the time to verify who sits perched on the branches of that tree. After you have gone, it will be markedly more difficult - and may even require the services of a professional genealogist to establish relationships.
The family tree that the New York courts use to identify the next of kin follows certain protocols and is probably best prepared with guidance. To be effective, the tree should be supported by relevant documents such as official records of births and deaths - or if that is unavailable, even a family bible that has been contemporaneously kept.
Finally, let your immediate beneficiaries - or your nominated Executor - know what your assets are, the manner in which they are held, and where information can be obtained relating to them. Unless you are really committed to secrecy, an easy way to handle this is to go over with your loved ones, the items in your last income tax return. It is hard for someone who has not gone through the process, to realize how frightening it is for survivors to have only a sketchy idea of what the decedent owned.
Daniel Scheyer, Esq., 7 Tibbits Lane, Port Washington, NY 11050