Tablet Special Sections

Understanding Definitions

Estate Planning and Protection of Assets


A will is a legally binding statement that instructs who will receive property at a person’s death and appoints a legal representative to carry out these wishes. A will only covers probate property and not joint property, trust property or life insurance proceeds.

Marital Deduction

On the federal level, anything passing to the surviving spouse of the decedent is not included in the taxable estate and, consequently, is not subject to taxation. All of the couple’s assets are then taxed upon the death of the surviving spouse, unless an estate tax plan has been put into place.

Estate Tax

The estate tax applies to both the probate and non-probate property of the decedent. For the federal government, the amount free from taxation increased over the past few years from $2 million in 2008 to $3.5 million in 2009, was suspended in 2010 but was reinstated in 2011 at $5 million. Whereas for New York State, the amount free from taxation is currently $1 million.


A trust is a legal entity under which the trustee holds legal title to property for the benefit of beneficiaries.

The trustee must follow the rules provided in the trust instrument. Trusts are often used for tax planning, to avoid probate.

 Durable Power of Attorney

Under a power of attorney, a person may appoint someone else to act on his or her behalf when he or she is unable to do so either because of mental incapability or the inability to be somewhere when needed.

The appointee, the “attorney-in-fact,” should be someone trusted to act in the person’s best interest and make choices he or she would make if he or she was able to do so.

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