A very dear constituent and friend passed away earlier this month and as far as his friends and family know, he had no will.
His family lives in various parts of the world and will try to do what they think is best. However, if he had a will, then they would do what he would have wanted. For this reason, it is important that your wishes are written down. If it is in a legal document, you can name anyone the executor of your estate, the guardian of your children, and leave your possessions to whomever you deem fit whether you are related to the beneficiary or not. Without a written will, your wishes might not be carried out.
In New York State, if a person dies without having a will, that person's property will automatically be distributed by the court to certain relatives based on a priority list that is spelled out in State law. If the person was married at the time of death, the spouse will have the automatic right to a share of his/her property, even if the spouse is no longer living with that person.
Because of changing family relationships, it is also important to keep your will updated.
In addition to wills, you may want to think about filling out a health care proxy and selecting a health care agent. These decisions should not be taken lightly.
The New York State health care proxy law allows you to appoint someone you trust -- a family member or friend -- to decide about medical treatment if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. Through a health care proxy, you can give the person you select as little or as much authority as you want.
You can allow your health care agent to decide about all health care matters or only about certain treatments. You may also give your agent instructions that he/she has to follow. Your agent can then make sure that health care professionals follow your wishes and can decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes. Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your agent's decisions as if they were your own.
You can obtain a copy of the health care proxy form by calling my offices at 455-2181 (Albany), 843-2188 (Amsterdam), or 762-3733 (Johnstown).
I should also mention that April is Donate Life Month. There continues to be a critical need for organ, eye and tissue donation. If you are interested in being a donor, you should let your family know of your decision and sign up for the Donor Registry by calling 866-NYDONOR or by visiting the Health Department's website at www.health.state.ny.us.