Author Archives: Thomas Sciacca

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About Thomas Sciacca

Tom Sciacca is an Estate Planning Lawyer & the founder of The Law Offices of Thomas Sciacca in New York, NY.

EMAIL: tom@sciaccalaw.com


BIO: About Thomas

PHONE: (212) 495-0317

Do I Need to Pay Income Taxes on My Inheritance?
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Do I Need to Pay Income Taxes on My Inheritance? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 6 minutes} One of the most common questions that I get from Executors and beneficiaries alike is whether or not a beneficiary must pay income taxes on their inheritance. This is an important question, so I thought I would address it here in this blog.

Generally, the answer is no! … with some notable exceptions.

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Are DIY Wills as Bad as People Say? Probably Not.
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Are DIY Wills as Bad as People Say? Probably Not. | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 6 minutes} More and more these days, people are drafting and signing legal documents they prepare themselves with the assistance of an automated software program or an online tool. Very often, people will ask me, “Tom, why should I come in and pay an attorney like you to write my Will when I can get it done online for a fraction of the price?”

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Shhhhh! You Might Not Even Need a Will….
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Shhhhh! You Might Not Even Need a Will…. | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 9 minutes} Very often, people have preconceived notions of what happens to their assets if they don’t have a Will. The most common one that I hear is, I know I need a Will, because if I don’t have a Will, the state takes everything . . . but really, nothing could be further from the truth. Most states have statutes creating a pattern of distribution known as intestacy. Intestacy refers to the law that describes who gets what if a person dies without a Will.

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So You’ve Inherited Those Things You Never Wanted…
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So You’ve Inherited Those Things You Never Wanted… | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 5 minutes} When I was a little kid, my favorite board game was The Game of Life. In fact, that game is probably part of the reason I am a Trusts and Estates attorney today. In The Game of Life, a person drives their little car around the board, landing on things which are either good or bad life events. One space that I particularly remember read, “Your uncle has left you a skunk farm. Pay $20,000 to get rid of it.” For whatever reason, that stuck with me all of these years.

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Do You Inherit Debt?
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Do You Inherit Debt? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 7 minutes} While we all could think of famous people with famous names who have died leaving millions of dollars, this is not the case for most average Americans. While many people are thrilled to be able to leave something to those people or charities that they care most about, there are some people who simply leave nothing behind but their debts. As a Trusts & Estates attorney, people frequently ask me if they are responsible for the debts of their loved ones. Let’s take a look.

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Your Kids: Who Gets Them and What Do They Get?
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Your Kids: Who Gets Them and What Do They Get? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 7 minutes} Very often parents come in to see me for estate planning services. Some are parents of adult children; others are parents of minor (under 18 years of age) children. Parents of minor children are concerned about the welfare of their children should they both die before their children reach the age of majority, often focusing on two main points:

– Who should become the Guardians of their children if the children have no surviving parent before reaching the age of majority?

– How should they leave money to their children if they are still minors when they inherit?

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Six Opinionated People: a Look at Probate Juries
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Six Opinionated People: a Look at Probate Juries | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 8 minutes} To start with, the title of this article is misleading: it is my clumsy attempt at a pun on the famous movie about the way a jury decides a criminal case called Twelve Angry Men. Why am I bringing this up and making sloppy puns here in my blog? Because I wanted to talk a little bit about the role of the jury in a Will contest. As a litigator (attorney who litigates disputes in Court), the mindset of a jury is of tantamount importance to me.

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Did You Remember to Account for your Pets in Your Estate Plan?
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Did You Remember to Account for your Pets in Your Estate Plan? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 6 minutes} Many of us are fortunate enough to have wonderful pets in our lives that we love as if they were our own family members (because they are!). When writing a Will, clients often focus more on their monetary assets and are less focused on what will happen to their pet upon their death. This is not a reflection of their love or devotion to the animal(s) — it’s just not something that comes to mind as an estate issue. However, any Will that doesn’t fully address a client’s needs is certainly a pet peeve of mine (if my readers will excuse the pun).

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So You’ve Decided to Die? It’s Not as if You Had a Say In It …
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So You’ve Decided to Die? It’s Not as if You Had a Say In It … | Tom Sciacca

{7 minutes to read} Newsflash…you’re going to die. Don’t take it personally. Your kids are going to die, too, and your parents, and your spouse—and me, right? Death happens to all of us. Many of the questions that I get as a Trusts and Estates attorney are questions about funerals. What are the choices, and do your wishes belong in your Will or not?

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Custody of Your ORIGINAL Will is Very Important. Why?
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Custody of Your ORIGINAL Will is Very Important. Why? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 7 minutes} After executing a Will, clients face the question of what to do with their original Wills.

When someone dies in New York State, the court will be interested in seeing their original Will, as it is difficult to probate a photocopy. This is why it is important that the client retains either custody or knowledge of what happens to their original Will once they sign it.

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Who Should Be My Executor?
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Who Should Be My Executor? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 8 minutes} Choosing the Executor of your Estate is an important decision that can sometimes be difficult. Some people feel that the person they wish to handle their affairs may not be qualified. Others feel that there are too many qualified individuals and they don’t know how to choose among them. Or sometimes clients feel that there is nobody with whom they feel comfortable serving as the Executor and they’re looking for a suggestion. What are some of the issues here?

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Heads Up: Those Beneficiary Designation Forms for Life Insurance and Retirement Accounts Can Make a BIG Difference!
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Heads Up: Those Beneficiary Designation Forms for Life Insurance and Retirement Accounts Can Make a BIG Difference! | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 10 minutes} A lot of people don’t realize that when they die, the distribution of their assets may be controlled by other documents besides their Will. Most commonly, people have life insurance or retirement accounts that they’ve either acquired themselves or through an employer. When acquiring such assets, clients very often are presented with a beneficiary designation form to complete. Unlike assets that do not name a beneficiary and are subject to Probate, any asset that names a beneficiary passes automatically to that named beneficiary, regardless of the terms of the Will. Therefore, it’s really important to make the proper choices as part of your overall estate planning when completing these forms.

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Sciacca Law Celebrates 10 Years Helping New Yorkers
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Sciacca Law Celebrates 10 Years Helping New Yorkers | Tom Sciacca

{3 minutes to read} May 2017 marks ten years since I opened the doors to my law practice. At 30 years old, opening my practice was both exciting and terrifying. I was up to my eyeballs in student loan debt, yet I had just left a position with a midtown firm with steady work and a steady paycheck. But I was in the greatest city in the world and had some dreams to chase.

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What is a Revocable Trust and is it Appropriate for Me?
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What is a Revocable Trust and is it Appropriate for Me? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in: 3:30 minutes} What is a Trust, and more specifically, what is a Revocable Trust? Creating a Revocable Trust is like creating a new legal entity. This Trust is created by a Grantor and managed by several people known as Trustees. In its simplest form, a Revocable Trust is a Will substitute that avoids probate.

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What is a Trust?
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What is a Trust? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 6 minutes} A lot of people talk about Trusts these days. You may hear about them on the radio or see financial experts talking about them on television. Sometimes clients come in and advise me that they want me to write a Trust for them. But when I inquire as to why someone sitting across the table from me would like a Trust, I find that few people know very much about them. In this post I will address the following questions: What is a Trust? What are some of the different types of Trusts? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of Trusts?

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Adult Guardianship: What happens if you can no longer manage your affairs?
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Adult Guardianship: What happens if you can no longer manage your affairs? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 8 minutes} Every now and then, an adult may lose his or her capacity to make important medical, financial, or other decisions. This may be a result of a major medical incident, such as a stroke, or because of the effects of aging that some people experience. Regardless of the reason, if someone has not adequately planned for their incapacity, they may need the intervention of a Court to have a Guardian appointed for them. This article (1) provides insight into how a client can potentially avoid the need for a guardianship proceeding, and (2) provides an overview of such a proceeding should the need arise.

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Adult Guardianship: What happens if you can no longer manage your affairs?
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Adult Guardianship: What happens if you can no longer manage your affairs? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 8 minutes} Every now and then, an adult may lose his or her capacity to make important medical, financial, or other decisions. This may be a result of a major medical incident, such as a stroke, or because of the effects of aging that some people experience. Regardless of the reason, if someone has not adequately planned for their incapacity, they may need the intervention of a Court to have a Guardian appointed for them. This article (1) provides insight into how a client can potentially avoid the need for a guardianship proceeding, and (2) provides an overview of such a proceeding should the need arise.

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Power of Attorney: What You Need to Know
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Power of Attorney: What You Need to Know | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 8 minutes} Whether a client needs a Power of Attorney is one of the most frequent questions I get. Perhaps you’ve considered signing one yourself. I’d like to spend some time today discussing (1) what a Power of Attorney is, (2) what it allows someone to do for you, (3) what it doesn’t allow someone to do for you, and (4) some of the concerns that you should consider before executing one.

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Estate Tax: The Basics
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Estate Tax: The Basics by Tom Sciacca

{Read in 4 minutes} Many people have heard of estate tax, but not everyone understands whether or not it would be applicable to them.

In its simplest form, the estate tax is a death tax. Any assets that change hands by reason of one’s death is subject to the estate tax. It does not matter if the assets pass under the Will as part of the probate process or pass automatically by operation of law to named beneficiaries. For example, a person’s condo, which usually passes according to the terms of their Will, is equally subject to the estate tax as are their retirement accounts that names beneficiaries who inherit directly.

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The Elusive “Iron-Clad” Will
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The Elusive “Iron-Clad” Will | Tom Sciacca

Question: Is there any such thing as an “iron-clad” Will? Simple answer: Nope (sorry ‘bout it). A lot of people think that putting a certain amount of time, work, or even money into drafting estate planning documents can prevent a troublesome family member from challenging a Will. That’s not how things work. In New York (like in most states), we have a self-policing system of determining validity of Wills. That means that when someone dies, the Court puts his or her next-of-kin on notice that someone is offering the Will for probate. Essentially, telling them that if they have an objection to the Will, they should show up in Court and let their voice be heard as to why the Court should not probate it. Best-case scenario, a troublesome family member will simply not appear in Court; worst-case scenario, they see it as an invitation to challenge the Will’s validity.

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How to Leave Money to Disabled Beneficiaries Without Compromising Benefit Entitlements
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How to Leave Money to Disabled Beneficiaries Without Compromising Benefit Entitlements | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 4 minutes} While not everyone who suffers from a disability is on government entitlements, many times I am faced with questions from people who have adult children or siblings who fall into this category. What is their concern? Their concern is that they want to make some provision for their loved one without losing the needs-based government entitlements that they need to meet their basic daily needs.

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Cleaning Your Legal House: Is It Time to Update Your Will?
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Cleaning Your Legal House: Is It Time to Update Your Will? | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 6 minutes} The changing of the calendar is often a catalyst for many people. At the beginning of each new year, many clients take inventory of their legal affairs. They question whether their existing documents need to be updated, with their Will topping the list.

A well-drafted Will anticipates various changes in a client’s life, and often does not require periodic updating absent a major life event. It is essential, however, that clients periodically review their Wills to ensure that it still fully reflects their wishes.

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Secure Your Wishes with a Health Care Proxy
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Secure Your Wishes with a Health Care Proxy | Tom Sciacca

{Read in 8 minutes} What is the best kept secret about a Health Care Proxy? It’s absolutely free and you don’t need a lawyer to do it.

A Health Care Proxy may be one of the most important legal documents that you ever sign, yet many people do not know what it is. Basically, it’s a statement a person can sign appointing someone else to make his or her medical decision for them if there were ever to come a time when that person cannot make a medical decision on their own.

First, you should consider clicking here. This is New York State Department of Health’s website, where the Health Care Proxy form is available as a fill-in-the-blank document in several different languages. This is something that you can complete simply by following the instructions provided on the website.

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Setting the Record Straight on Probate
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Setting the Record Straight on Probate | Thomas Sciacca

{8:00 minutes to read} As a trusts and estates attorney, a lot of times people ask me, “Do I need to avoid probate?” Frequently, people have seen a recent television program with a TV personality advising them to execute Revocable Trusts or people telling them horror stories about what the probate process has done to them, but very infrequently do people actually understand what probate is. Let me tell you a little bit about what it is so that you can make a decision about what is appropriate for you and your loved ones.

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Setting the Record Straight on Probate
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Setting the Record Straight on Probate | Thomas Sciacca

{Read in 8 minutes} As a trusts and estates attorney, a lot of times people ask me, “Do I need to avoid probate?” Frequently, people have seen a recent television program with a TV personality advising them to execute Revocable Trusts or people telling them horror stories about what the probate process has done to them, but very infrequently do people actually understand what probate is. Let me tell you a little bit about what it is so that you can make a decision about what is appropriate for you and your loved ones.

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