Lenza Law Firm, PLLC-Estate Planning, Elder Law and Medicaid Planning- Staten Island » Lenza Law Firm, PLLC is estate planning and elder law firm with a focus is Elder Law, Probate, Estate Administration, Estate Planning, and Medicaid Asset Protection in Staten Island, New York. Lenza Law Firm, PLLC Island,is dedicated solely to offering legal advice in estate planning, elder law, Medicaid planning, Nursing Home and estate administration matters


I am proud to announce that I have been granted the absolute honor to be appointed as a Board Member for the Staten Island Center for Independent Living, located here in Staten Island. Through my work with this organization I will  join with those in our community who are strong advocates for the independent living of the disabled population of Staten Island.  For information on this great organization visit The SICIL Website by clicking here

What is Independent Living?

The History of the Independent Living Movement and it’s importance today.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the emerging philosophy of independent living led people with disabilities from around the country to take active roles on local, state, and national levels in shaping decisions on issues affecting their lives. A major part of these activities involved formation of community-based groups of people with different types of disabilities who worked together to identify barriers and gaps in service delivery. To address barriers, action plans were developed to educate the community and to influence policy makers at all levels to change regulations and to introduce barrier-removing legislature. To address gaps in services, a new method of service delivery was conceived–one which emphasizes the role of people with disabilities in determining kinds of services essential to living independently, directing the delivery of these services, and actually providing these services.

The earliest center was formed in 1972 in Berkeley, California, soon followed that same year by centers in Boston and Houston. In 1978, following effective advocacy by people with disabilities and their supporters all over the country, federal legislation was passed that provided funding to establish independent living centers (Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act). Today, there are centers in virtually every state and U.S. territory. In fact, there are 37 Centers in New York State alone.

Independent living is about CHOICE and equal opportunity. We all have the right to make our own decisions -about working, housing, learning, and having fun. People with disabilities have had to struggle for that right-for centuries others thought they knew what was best for them and how they should live. And until the group joined together as a civil rights movement, few people thought of removing barriers-in buildings, in print, in speaking, in attitudes- so that the disabled would have the same OPTIONS as everyone else.



The Staten Island Center for Independent Living, Inc., is a non-residential resource center that offers services to individuals with disabilities of all ages, their families, significant others, teachers, employers, businesses, and those who believe that an individual with a disability has the right to take responsibility for his/her own life.

The center is unique in that it is primarily staffed and governed by professionals who have had a personal experience with a disability and believe that disability does not mean inability. Our services include:



The center has joined other agencies in lobbying for legislation that assists individuals with disabilities. Some of its successes are: The Americans with Disabilities Act; Local Law 59 and the Telecommunications Act.

The Work Incentive Act, Guide Dog Regulations, and Handicapped Parking laws have been enacted this year as a result of our advocacy.

We are about to join with the New York Consortium of Independent Living Centers in New York City and disability advocates throughout the country to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A workshop focusing on transition from school to work for disabled students and a torch ceremony that will include the five boroughs will be two of many celebrations that will occur this year.


Architectural Barrier Consultation

The center assists consumers in making their homes and work places accessible. It has also consulted with Snug Harbor, senior citizens residences, architects, builders, etc.


Benefits Advisement

The center assists consumers in their attempts to receive Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Discounts on utilities, Veterans benefits, etc.

This year it was awarded a contract with the Human Resources Administration titled PRIDE 2000 that assists welfare beneficiaries with disabilities in leaving the welfare roles, finding benefits that will assist them in returning to work with the skills that are needed to give them independence and responsibility.



The center offers personal, peer, individual, and group counseling. Currently there are two groups that meet on a weekly basis. These groups are composed of consumers with a variety of disabilities.

We run a Support/Educational Group for Women with Disabilities that focuses on teaching these women how to identify, prevent, and escape abuse/abusive situations. The group meets once a week for 1 1/2 hours and addresses topics such as the 17 signs of an abusive personality, definitions of abuse focusing on disability-related abuse and coping/healing skills that survivors can implement when handling/leaving an abusive relationship.

We also run a Health and Wellness Group for Women with Disabilities which features topics such as healthy eating habits and individualized exercise plans. The importance of taking charge of one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health is also discussed. The role of vitamins, minerals, and medications in the lives of women with disabilities are covered as well.

These groups are open to women 21 years of age and over with all types of disabilities. It must be noted that these are support and educational groups and not therapeutic groups. If interested, call Michelle at (718) 720-9016.


Housing Assistance

The center attempts to find affordable and accessible housing. It is a member of the Inter-agency Council for the Aging, Councilman Oddo’s Round Table on Housing Issues and was awarded a contract with the office of Housing Preservation and Development to assist individuals in completing applications; assisting at the Housing Court; advising builders of local laws related to the building code; and testifying at hearings about the housing needs of individuals with disabilities.


Transportation Assistance

The center offers limited transportation to the center, other agencies, the Elizabeth Connelly Pool, shopping centers, etc.

It also assists consumers in completing applications for Access-A-ride and Half Fare discounts.


Independent Living Skills

The center offers training in banking, budgeting, cooking, grooming, health, and nutrition. Several board members including Jane Milza, (Food Editor of the S.I. Advance), have conducted classes for disabled consumers.


Community Education

The Executive Director and board members have made presentations to a number of civic organizations, students (with and without disabilities), educators, businessmen and women, and other agency directors.


Transition Services

The staff of SICIL participate in meetings of the NYC Board of Education Transition Linkage groups that plans and analyzes services offered to students with disabilities who are about to graduate and enter the adult world, work, or higher education.

The emotional trauma of an unexpected death often includes a range of financial and legal issues which require timely attention.

It is difficult enough for family members to handle the emotional trauma of a death, let alone taking the steps necessary to get these matters in order.

First, you should secure the tangible personal assets, which means all the things that you can touch such as collectibles, dishes, furniture or artwork as the one who executes or represent the will.

It is more important for you and your family to have time to mourn. Bills which needs payment and other financial matters can wait either a week or two without any real aftermath.

You should meet with a lawyer when you are ready but not almost too late to know the steps necessary to do to organize the will. The exact rules of estate planning differ from state to state, the key actions include:

  • FILE THE WILL – In order to get appointed as executor, you should file the will and petition in probate court.
  • COLLECT ASSETS – Find out about everything the deceased owned and file a list of inventory with the court.
  • PAY BILLS AND TAXES – File an estate tax return due within nine months of the date of death.
  • DISTRIBUTE PROPERTY TO HEIRS – When the period for creditors to make claims is still on the process, executors do not pay out all the estate assets.
  • Lastly, file an account with the court containing all the list of income to the estate since the date of death and all the expenses and distributions of the said estate.

Some of the steps might be avoided through trusts or joint ownership arrangements, whoever is in charge is responsible for payment of all the debts, file tax returns and distribute the property to the rightful heirs.

dt-101As we welcome President-Elect Trump into our lives as a key policy maker for the next four years I feel it wise to write about how his election may impact Estate Planning laws, rules and strategies. While it is too early to know what changes (if any) will actually be made, there are some things worth monitoring.

Start first with the fact that many people believe that the whole concept of Estate Tax is actually in jeopardy. There are a few possibilities about how the Estate Tax laws may be changed. Here are some options. As you may remember from previous blog posts, the Federal Estate and Gift Tax, while two separate things, are very much intertwined when determining total tax liability at guest.

  • Immediately permanent repeal of the gift, estate, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax.
  • Permanent repeal of all transfer taxes to take effect over some phase-out period, for example ten years similar to what occurred in 2001. This would also present the risk that the tax may be changed again during such phase out period as happened in the past.
  • Repeal of the estate tax but retention of the gift tax as a backstop to the income tax.
  • Repeal of the estate tax (with or without a repeal of the gift tax) and carryover basis.
  • Repeal of the estate tax (with or without a repeal of the gift tax) and a capital gains tax on death – a capital gains tax on death, for instance. Or maybe a President Trump would treat inheritances as ordinary income.

Another wrinkle in this whole situation is that if there ARE any changes or repeals to the Estate Tax, nobody knows when they would actually be deemed effective. Could it be January 2018? Could it be made retroactive to January 2017 after Trump takes office? Only time will tell.

LTAs you likely have ready by now on this blog, our firm is a big proponent of utilizing various kinds of trust documents in a well designed Estate Plan. One popular trust used is called the Living Revocable Trust. It is also commonly referred to as a “Lifetime Trust”.

The benefits of placing assets into a trust are numerous, but the biggest advantage is undoubtedly the benefit of not having your family endure a lengthy and expensive Probate process when you die. Quite simply, if you die after only executing a Last Will and Testament, before any money is dispersed from your estate the actual distribution must be approved by a court (In New York City the court tasked with such a matter is the Surrogate’s Court). By using a Living Revocable Trust you can save your family thousands in attorney and court fees after you die.

As I have mentioned in this blog before, the key however is not CREATING the trust, which is done with the help of a trained and specialized Estate Planning Attorney, but rather the FUNDING of the trust. You can have the most well drafted Living Trust in the history of the world but without funding it (placing your assets INTO the trust) it is essentially worthless for probate avoidance purposes.

There are several things to consider when funding a trust, and a smart Estate Planner will guide you through the process along with his trusted network of bankers, insurance agents, and accountants.

In layman’s terms, funding your trust is the actual process of transferring your assets from your own name into your trust. You will need to physically change the titles of your assets from your individual name (or joint names, if married) to the name of your trust. These assets can be almost anything that you can think of, whether it be real estate, cars, bank accounts, investment accounts, etc.  You will also change most beneficiary designations to your trust. A trustee is the person charged with the management of the assets, and in this type of trust you will most likely name yourself as trustee, so you will still have complete control. Perhaps the biggest benefit of a revocable living trust is that you can continue to buy and sell assets just as you do now. You get a checkbook and debit card if you like for any bank accounts and you have complete control over the assets during your lifetime. You can also remove assets from your living trust should you ever decide to do so, although be warned that doing so instantly removes the benefits obtained by utilizing the trust mechanism to begin with. If you simply visit an attorneys office, sign your living trust document and don’t change title to property and any beneficiary designations on accounts, you will not avoid probate. Your living trust can only control the assets you manually elect to place into it.

In the event that you DO fail to place an asset into the trust (sometimes intentionally and sometimes not),  your attorney will likely prepare what we call a “Pour Over Will” that acts something like a safety net. When you die, the will “catches” any forgotten asset and sends it to your trust. This ensures that you only need to edit beneficiaries in one place (your trust) regardless as to what assets you may forget to place inside of it.  Unfortunately, the asset will almost surely need go through the probate process first, however NY State has a mechanism in place to ensure that if probate assets are under $30,000.00, then a much simpler, cost effective and less complex mechanism is available.  What this means is that you can have millions upon millions of dollars worth of assets placed within your trust and keep up to $30,000.00 outside of the confines of the document and not be subject to a full probate proceeding. While not always a recommended strategy that is a point worth noting here.

In the end, while you are personally responsible for actually transferring assets into your trust, a smart and thorough Estate Planning attorney will both guide you on some transfers and actually handle some him or herself.  What you are going to want is your attorney to carefully explain how each asset is going to be transferred and present you with a list of instructions on what assets you will be transferring yourself. As a general rule, an attorney will likely want to handle any real estate transfers because of the inherently complex nature of the paperwork.  While the funding process is not by any means a difficult endeavor, it is somewhat time consuming.. Because of how common Living Trusts are today, you should have little trouble in transferring asset.

Many institutions will actually want to see proof that your trust exists. To satisfy them you can either send them a copy of the document or your attorney will prepare what is often called a certificate of trust. This is a shortened version of your trust that verifies your trust’s existence, explains the powers given to the trustee and identifies the trustees, but it does not reveal any information about your assets, your beneficiaries and their inheritances. Be warned though that funding a trust is a marathon and not a sprint! It is easy to start motivated and then lose interest in completing the work necessary to finish the job. Your attorney can help you prioritize which assets you should concentrate on first.


Generally, assets you want in your trust include real estate, bank/saving accounts, investments, business interests and notes payable to you. You will also want to change most beneficiary designations to your trust so those assets will flow into your trust and be part of your overall plan. IRAs, retirement plans and other exceptions are addressed later. In most cases you will notice little difference in the day to day management (if any) of the assets. You may even find it easy to transfer real estate you own to your living trust, and to purchase new real estate in the name of your trust.

Because your living trust is revocable, transferring real estate to your trust should not disturb your current mortgage in any way. Even if the mortgage contains a “due on sale or transfer” clause, retitling the property in the name of your trust should not activate the clause. There should be no effect on your property taxes because the transfer does not cause your property to be reappraised. Also, having your home in your trust will have no effect on your being able to use the capital gains tax exemption when you sell it, nor will you lose the New York  STAR or Senior Citizen tax advantage if you currently are benefiting from those.  If you own property in another state, transferring it to your living trust will prevent a conservatorship and/or probate in that state.

One common question that I receive is whether to retitle a car or truck in the name of the trust. Unless the car is valuable and substantially increases your estate, you will probably not want it in your trust. Note that you do NOT gain any personal liability protection from this type of trust, so if you are at fault in an auto accident and the injured party sees that your car is owned by a trust, you will still be personally liable to same the extent you would have been in the event that the car was titled individually. Also, remember as discussed above that all states allow a small amount of assets to transfer using a “small estate proceeding” and the value of your car may part of a small estate.

As it pertains to IRA’s, I recommend not changing the ownership of these to your living trust. You can of course name your trust as the beneficiary, but be sure to consider all your options, which could include your spouse; children, grandchildren or other individuals; a trust; a charity; or a combination of these. Whom you name as beneficiary will determine the amount of tax-deferred growth that can continue on this money after you die. Most married couples name their spouse as beneficiary because 1) the money will be available to provide for the surviving spouse and 2) the spousal rollover option can provide for many more years of tax-deferred growth. (After you die, your spouse can “roll over” your tax-deferred account into his/her own IRA and name a new beneficiary, preferably someone much younger, as your children and/or grandchildren would be.) Interestingly, a non-spouse beneficiary can also inherit a tax-deferred plan and roll it into an IRA to continue the tax-deferred growth, but only a spouse can name additional beneficiaries.

Naming a trust as beneficiary will give you maximum control because the distributions will be paid not to an individual, but into a trust that contains your written instructions stating who will receive this money and when.
Finally, as it pertains to Personal property (artwork, clothing, jewelry, cameras, sporting equipment, books and other household goods), these items typically do not have a formal document reflecting ownership. Your attorney will prepare an assignment to transfer these items to your trust should you wish to do so.

In the end, there are many valid reasons to have a Living Trust prepared for you and/or your family. It is even more important to actually FUND the trust, which is the often overlooked and critical step to utilizing any trust as a part of a well drafted Estate Plan.