Estate Planning

Legal Resolutions for the New Year

Legal Resolutions for the New Year by James Leonick

At the start of every new year, there’s a mad rush for anything having to do with new beginnings and organizing your life, but it’s important to organize your legal and financial matters as well. This is something that most people should consider yearly. In the areas of practice that we focus on, there are a number of suggestions regarding resolutions for the new year.

Personal Injury

Most people are familiar with only a small portion of their automobile insurance policy. There are various line items on the page that lists all of the available coverages under your automobile insurance policy, which is called the declarations page. One particular item we will focus on today is “uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage,” also referred to as supplemental uninsured coverage (SUM). This coverage protects you and the passengers in your car when you’re involved in an accident and you need to make a claim for pain and suffering, and the other vehicle is uninsured or does not carry enough insurance. In New York State, the governor recently signed a bill that will change the availability of SUM coverage by forcing insurers to advise you of the option to increase this coverage limit. This is to make sure that it is equal to the limit that you carry for bodily injury coverage for others.

It’s important to review this coverage, but most people are not aware of what their coverage amount is. Many injured parties are surprised when they find out they’re insured to protect themselves against claims from others under the bodily injury liability limit for $100,000/$300,000 or $250,000/$500,000, but their coverage is only $25,000 or $50,000 for protecting themselves against uninsured or underinsured drivers. We’re happy to review this matter with clients and potential clients, then refer you back to your insurance broker to revise the coverage so that you are adequately protecting yourself, your family, and your passengers.

Real Estate

It’s also important to review real estate matters in the new year, particularly if you’re considering selling your existing home. Prior to listing your home, it would be wise to review the Certificates of Occupancy that your home has on file with the local municipality. Making sure that they are in order will help guarantee that when you sell, there are no delays in the process. Many times, we find that clients started the process of legalizing additions and changes to their home, but they never finalized them or the contractor that they hired never asked for any inspections. When they go to sell, the title report alerts the attorney for the purchaser that there are open permits. Those permits must be resolved before the sale can be concluded.

In addition to Certificates of Occupancy issues, it’s very important to verify who is on the title to the home. You should pull a copy of the deed if you have it. If you don’t, the local county clerk will have a recorded copy. You can go in person and get a copy for a nominal fee. That way you can see whose names are on the deed. Sometimes people are surprised if they thought that both husband and wife were on the deed or several family members were on the deed, and they are not. Checking the deed is particularly important if someone’s name is on the deed and they have passed away. Sometimes the legal heirs can sell without filing an estate proceeding; however, this requires acceptance by the purchasers’ title company. In some situations, it may be necessary to do some estate work prior to being able to sell. Again, this is something that’s important to look at prior to listing your house for sale.

It also is a good idea to rekindle relationships with your neighbors. If there are any boundary line or fence line disputes regarding residential property, it’s a good idea to try to resolve those issues, because they may come up during the course of a sale when a new survey is done. For example, it is often determined that a neighbor may be out of possession of a part of their property because they put a fence too far inside the other neighbor’s property line. This can be reviewed by looking at a current survey of the property and having a discussion with your real estate attorney.

When you have paid off a mortgage or a loan (depending upon whether you have a home or a co-op), it’s important to make sure that the satisfaction of the loan or mortgage is reflected in the county records. We often find that people paid off their mortgage five, 10, 15 years ago, yet when a title search is done, it shows that there is still a mortgage lien of record, meaning that a) the bank that you paid off either never sent the mortgage satisfaction document to the county clerk to cancel that mortgage; or b) they sent it to you and unknowingly you took it and put it in a file, and you’re holding an original document that needs to be filed in order to cancel that mortgage in the county’s records.

When it comes to a cooperative apartment, your financing lien is created through a promissory note and a security agreement. That security agreement allows the bank to hold on to your original stock certificate and lease that pertains to the cooperative apartment. Those documents are supposed to be returned when the loan is paid off. You should check your records prior to listing a co-op for sale to see if you have those documents. If you don’t, then you should contact the bank with which you had the loan to have them locate and deliver the missing documents. If your stock and lease cannot be located, then you should contact the managing agent for the cooperative and ask about their procedures and costs for replacing the missing documents.

Estate Planning

It’s a good idea to take a look at your existing estate plan and do so every five to seven years, to ensure it meets your current needs. Changes in family structure such as marriages, births, deaths, or adoptions may change what you would like to have in your estate plan, and those changes should be reflected in your documents. You must also confirm that the people whom you have designated to act as executor, guardian, trustee, or health care agent are still your choices and are still able to fulfill the responsibilities associated with these positions.

Everyone should have at a minimum a Last Will and Testament, a Power of Attorney, a Health Care Proxy, and a Living Will. These documents must be regularly reviewed and updated because sometimes people listed in various positions of authority have either gone out of our lives or fallen out of favor. Also, you may decide to disinherit someone or need to redesign your estate plan to protect your assets against long-term care expenses such as home health aides or nursing home care. The new year is a great time to update those documents and appoint the right people to assist you in the event that you need them to step in for financial or health-related reasons.

In conclusion, the new year brings an opportunity to set goals regarding your legal affairs, as well as other affairs in your life. It’s a good time to consult with an attorney to review any of the matters that we handle to assist you with your plans or goals for the new year.

James Leonick

James F. Leonick
Leonick Law, P.L.L.C.
TEL: (631) 486-9500


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