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Plan ahead now to keep your New York estate out of probate court

There are typically three reasons that people create a comprehensive estate plan. The first is a desire to leave behind a legacy, which often includes allocating assets to specific people. The second is to ensure that their medical wishes are clearly stated to help friends and family make good decisions on their behalf.

Finally, people do extensive estate planning in order to minimize expenses, including estate taxes and probate court costs. Taxes only affect inheritances over a certain amount, but probate court can affect an estate of any value. Just creating an estate plan doesn't prevent your estate from going through probate. If a family member challenges your estate plan, it could still wind up going through the probate process.

Make sure family members understand what to expect

Uneven inheritances and last-minute surprises are common contributing factors to conflicts during estate administration. For the average person creating a will, unhappy family members and surprise beneficiaries can wreak havoc on your intended legacy.

The best way to avoid having your family contest your estate plan and drag your estate through probate is to openly communicate with everyone about your intentions in your last will. If everyone knows what to expect, there won't be disappointment when people read your will after your passing.

Keeping people in the dark, particularly if they are receiving less of your assets than other family members or have been removed from the will, could mean a big mess for the person in charge of handling your estate after you die. Explaining your decisions to your family members and keeping them apprised of any changes you make as you age will minimize surprises and unexpected disappointment.

Make sure your will is up to date and legally sound

As your life situation changes, so, too, should your estate plan and will. Whether you divorce, remarry or have new grandchildren, it's important that your last will accurately reflects your current life situation. If you die with your will out-of-date and inaccurate, that can make it easier for family members to contest the contents of your will.

When you do review your last will, you should make every effort to ensure that it complies with New York state laws, down to the last signature. You also want to ensure that you have witnesses who can testify to your mental capacity at the time of the will's execution. These extra steps can help ensure that there are no legitimate grounds for anyone to challenge your will.

If you worry that someone in your family may attempt to challenge your plans, you may include a no-contest clause in your will. However, if issues with your estate plan or your health provide a good faith reason to challenge the will, the clause may not stand up in New York probate court. Careful planning and documentation, as well as clear communication with family members, can likely do more to keep your estate out of probate court.

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