Wills, Trusts and Estates


Audrey Patrone Peartree


Understanding that clients have unique financial situations and personal objectives, we listen carefully and consider all factors involved when advising our clients in developing and implementing successful, customized solutions for the preservation, management and transfer of wealth to the next generation. Our attorneys have extensive experience using comprehensive and sophisticated planning strategies to help clients navigate the seemingly overwhelming complexities of estate planning, disability planning, and elder law and to meet their individual, family, and business succession needs in a tax-efficient and cost-effective manner.


In today’s highly litigious society, high-net-worth families and business owners who do not have a comprehensive asset protection plan in place risk significant financial loss. Therefore, protecting personal and business assets from lawsuits, creditor claims, bankruptcy, divorce and IRS audits is more important than ever. We help individuals, families, and business owners understand the risks they face, and design asset protection plans to guard against potential liabilities. While asset protection may be effectively provided before a claim or liability arises, it is much more difficult to do so afterwards. Consequently, we work proactively with our clients to implement asset protection strategies designed to deter creditors from pursuing claims and to impede their ability to seize assets or collect judgments. Our proven strategies establish a legal barrier between our clients and their assets to protect their net worth against attack, while avoiding unnecessary estate taxes and related costs. Such strategies include the formation of corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies, as well as the use of asset protection trusts.

The decision whether to transfer ownership and/or control of a family business to the next generation is an important and challenging one. Our attorneys have counseled many businesses throughout this process and use sophisticated techniques to help achieve maximum tax benefits. It is crucial that entrepreneurs and business owners plan for the transition of their businesses upon retirement or death. Business succession and exit strategies involve complicated details that must
be addressed by a business and estate planning attorney equipped with advanced knowledge of business transition. We advise clients planning for the orderly transfer of the management and ownership of family businesses. In addition, we have considerable experience addressing both business and personal objectives facing founding business owners, minority shareholders and succeeding generations. For example, ensuring that all children share equally in a parent’s estate can
be difficult if only one child wishes to participate in the family business. Our attorneys have developed effective approaches for handling this situation and other sensitive and complex succession planning challenges. Attorneys from the Life and Asset Planning Practice Group often team with our Corporate and Tax Law attorneys to provide comprehensive business succession planning solutions that minimize the impact of estate and gift taxes and provide for the orderly transition of family businesses.

Our attorneys assist clients in fulfilling their charitable objectives by creating trusts with favorable income and estate tax benefits. For some clients, this means establishing a family charitable foundation to allow their descendants to continue the family tradition of making charitable gifts. For other clients, this means establishing charitable remainder trusts so they may retain the use and benefit of the trust property for their lifetime, while naming one or more charities to receive the trust property when they die.

U.S. citizens, non-U.S. citizens, and multinational families may have property in more than one country. Our attorneys combine sophisticated estate and tax planning with careful consideration of non-tax issues that promote family harmony and the successful management of worldwide assets. To that end, we prepare qualified domestic trusts for non-U.S. citizen spouses, engage in pre-immigration planning and asset protection for individuals preparing to move to the United States, and structure the ownership of worldwide assets using trusts, corporations and other entities. With offices across New York state and a collaborative relationship with one of Canada’s largest law firms, Harris Beach is well positioned to resolve U.S./Canada estate planning and succession issues. Whether you own Canadian assets, live abroad or have non-U.S. citizen family members, our attorneys navigate the interplay between the U.S. and Canadian tax regimes.

We have developed effective strategies to assist clients in dealing with the concerns and challenges that come with aging. For instance, we have established standby living trusts for many of our aging clients. With such a trust, a family member or a trust company can take responsibility for managing our client’s property should our client become disabled. This type of trust can also be used to distribute a client’s estate without having to navigate the probate process.

Applying for Medicaid to meet the escalating costs of long-term care can be a daunting and lengthy process. Our attorneys’ extensive experience handling Medicaid matters allows them to identify and address issues before they become problems to help ensure a smooth and timely approval of Medicaid benefits. Upon Medicaid approval, we implement strategies that enable our clients to preserve part of their assets for their family, while continuing to receive skilled nursing home care.

The accumulation of wealth without proper planning can result in the dilution of a person’s estate. Our attorneys see three critical elements to an estate plan:        (1) building the estate, (2) protecting the estate and (3) distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. We prepare probate petitions, accountings for executors and trustees, fiduciary income tax and estate tax returns, and inventories of estate and trust assets and liabilities. We consider all tax planning alternatives, including taking advantage of certain tax elections, disclaimers and other “post-mortem” techniques. Our attorneys have successfully represented estates in tax controversies with the IRS and state tax authorities. We also have significant experience litigating questions involving the validity and interpretation of Wills and Trusts. Moreover, we ensure that estate and trust assets are properly accounted for, appraisals are obtained, tax filing requirements are met, and distributions of estate and trust assets are made in a correct and timely fashion. Our attorneys combine extensive experience and an understanding of the emotional issues that arise to ease the executor’s or trustee’s responsibilities involved in marshaling, liquidating, administering and transferring assets upon the death of a family member.

No one likes to think about life’s difficult “what ifs.” What if I have a devastating injury or illness and cannot care for myself? What if I suddenly die? Who will ensure that my estate goes to those I love and the causes I support? Taking action now to safeguard assets is one of the best decisions a person can make. Estate planning is a lifelong process in which individuals regularly evaluate their immediate situations as they plan for future needs. Estate plans are fluid documents which should be reviewed and updated as life events occur, such as the birth of a child, a change in marital status, an inheritance or acquisition of significant assets, retirement or the death of a spouse. Our attorneys have a long history of providing careful and thorough trust and estate planning services. Because each client’s circumstances are unique, we do not offer “one size fits all” trust and estate plans. We advise clients who need a simple Will, Power of Attorney, and Health Care Declaration (which includes a Health Care Proxy and Living Will), as well as those in need of highly sophisticated estate planning services. We craft customized estate plans involving insurance, life estates, trusts and other techniques to help our clients meet their goals. Our highly personal approach to estate planning also takes into consideration the family dynamics and individual personalities that invariably affect estate planning decisions.

Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. If a person dies without a Will, he or she is said to have died “intestate,” and state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed. Ultimately, a Will is a formal set of instructions to the probate court detailing how a person wants to dispose of his or her assets upon death. A Will may also be used to nominate an executor (or personal representative) of a person’s estate, as well as a guardian for minor children.

Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a legal document giving an attorney-in-fact the legal right to act on someone’s behalf. The amount of power granted depends upon the terms of the document. A Power of Attorney may be very broad or very specific. Powers of Attorney terminate upon the death of the maker, and may terminate when the maker becomes incapacitated.

Health Care Documents (or Advance Directives)
No one wants to watch a loved one deteriorate on life support because there were no advance directives specifying how the individual should be treated in a catastrophic medical situation. An advance directive is a document that specifies the kind of medical and personal care that a person would want in the event that he or she is unable to speak for himself or herself. An advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions on someone’s behalf, and can set out the circumstances under which a person would not like his or her life to be prolonged. Ultimately, an advance directive provides greater peace of mind when making decisions about life support and other end-of-life actions.

Non-traditional families constitute a significant sector of our population and often face unique estate planning challenges. Estate planning for unmarried couples (same-sex or heterosexual), blended families, and second marriages requires a thorough understanding of applicable state and federal income, gift tax, and estate laws to prevent costly and potentially relationship-damaging litigation. Our attorneys are familiar with the estate planning issues confronting the non-traditional family and have experience in providing creative legal solutions to meet their unique needs.

Because many of our clients have ties to Florida, we offer a full range of estate planning and estate administration services, not only for Florida residents, but also for New York residents who own property in Florida. A number of our Life and Asset Planning attorneys are admitted to practice in Florida as well as New York state.

Families with incapacitated, elderly or developmentally disabled members increasingly encounter legal and practical issues surrounding long-term care and support. Our attorneys help clients in establishing guardianships to provide assistance to those who are unable to independently manage their financial and personal matters. We counsel clients on a wide spectrum of guardianship and conservatorship matters from court actions to administration. Through proper planning, we allow individuals to predetermine medical and financial decisions, thus lessening the burden of difficult choices and anxiety for family members.

Our attorneys assist couples by drafting, reviewing and providing legal advice concerning pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements. Pre-nuptial agreements are contracts between two individuals planning marriage which express their decisions regarding debts, assets, property, finances and other matters. In the absence of a pre-nuptial agreement, spouses are subject to state laws regarding property ownership and support should they divorce, and to state probate laws should one spouse die. A properly drafted pre-nuptial agreement takes precedence over marital property, divorce and probate laws.
Post-nuptial agreements are entered into by spouses after they are married and before a divorce. These agreements take into account similar decisions as pre-nuptial agreements. The parties agree upon a division of certain assets. Post-nuptial agreements are effectuated either at the time of the agreement or at some future event, such as the dissolution of marriage or death of a spouse. Our attorneys provide advice necessary to help ensure that pre- and post-nuptial agreements prevent costly litigation between spouses and serve our clients’ best interests in providing future security.

Qualified retirement plans and IRAs are a major asset for most clients. However, the tax issues governing distributions can be bewildering. We assist our clients by preparing beneficiary designations that have favorable tax consequences. In appropriate cases, we help our clients use their retirement benefits to carry out their charitable objectives at substantial tax savings.

Our attorneys continuously monitor tax law developments and utilize innovative planning strategies to help clients minimize their tax liability. We address a broad range of tax issues, including, but not limited to, charitable giving, intra-family gifts, separation or divorce, change of employment and change of domicile.

Caring for an individual with special needs presents families with unique challenges that require experienced legal advice and counsel. If you suddenly pass away or become incapacitated, who will take care of your special needs family member? Who will make his or her financial, health care and legal decisions? How can you leave him or her a portion of your estate while ensuring that he or she will still qualify for state and federal benefits? Our attorneys understand these challenges and are experienced in developing effective estate plans and establishing the necessary trusts and guardianships to ensure a high quality of life for special needs individuals.
We assist clients with guardianships to help ensure that their special needs family member has a future advocate who can make personal decisions for him or her. Our attorneys establish supplemental needs trusts to help beneficiaries by augmenting government benefits and paying for goods, services and equipment not covered by Medicaid. We provide guidance on the various benefit programs for special needs individuals and the requirements for Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability and Medicaid benefits. Additionally, we help clients have a better understanding of Special Education resources available to support special needs children.


Audrey Patrone Peartree


Amanda Carden Agins

Edward D. Bloom
Of Counsel

Megan M. Foster

Barbara R.H. James

Anthony P. Marshall

David M. Mehalick

Audrey Patrone Peartree

Judy N. Cuzzacrea Wagner

Mark B. Wheeler