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Lessons Learned in the Trenches: Everyone in the 9/11 Community Should Have a Will

December 9, 2020 | Michael Barasch

It has been more than 19 years since that terrible September morning. If we thought in 2001 that we understood the human toll of the September 11th attacks, the passage of years has driven home a devastating truth – 9/11 did not end on 9/11. The painful reality is that more people have now died from 9/11 illnesses than died on 9/11. To our horror, scarcely a day goes by that we don’t lose a client.

We have learned from our work that planning for our families is critically important, and that is especially true for the 9/11 community. We must all ask ourselves: have I done what I can to make things easier for my family, should the worst come to pass? In considering that all-important question, at the top of our to-do list is making sure that we have a valid Last Will and Testament. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) provides critical funds for family members who have lost a loved one to a 9/11-related illness. Whether and when grieving family members get access to VCF funds depends in large part upon whether their loved one had the foresight to prepare a Will. Here is why:

You will choose the executor of your estate

9/11 families have the right to bring a VCF claim for the loss of a loved one, but there are registration deadlines and filing requirements that must be satisfied. When a person passes away, someone must be appointed by the court as the personal representative of the estate, and that is the person who will have the right to bring the VCF claim. If you have a Will, you can choose who that person will be, and you can make sure that he or she understands the right to bring the claim, and is up to the task of seeing it through.

You will choose who receives the VCF award

Obviously, one of the major reasons people have a Will is so that their assets will be distributed in accordance with their wishes. You are in the best position to decide where your assets should go. A portion of the VCF award will be an asset of your estate. If you have a Will, that part of the VCF award will be distributed according to your wishes. If you do not have a Will, the award will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy. In other words, your assets will be distributed in accordance with a formula that does not take your wishes into account at all. In most cases, the laws of intestacy are different than what the person would have directed in their Will, and the absence of a Will creates problems for those left behind.

The process will likely proceed more smoothly

While not universally the case, in many places, where there is a Will, the court will permit the estate representative to collect and distribute the VCF award without returning to court to obtain permission. Where this is the case, the family will receive the award much more quickly than if they had to return to court to seek permission for the distribution of the award.

We’ll prepare your will and health care proxy for free

We have seen too many families endure very hard circumstances that could have been avoided with a will. We think it’s so important that every member of the 9/11 community have a Will, that we prepare Wills for our clients who live in New York State, free of charge. It’s our way of giving back to our community.   To date, we are proud that more than 5,000 of our clients have taken advantage of our offer.  If you haven’t done your Will, what are you waiting for? New York state law now permits will signings via Zoom so you won’t have to leave your home to have this done.

Protect yourself and your family by getting a will. Contact us at 212-385-8000 to learn more and to make an appointment.

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