Practice Areas

How Are We Different?

First, we understand that you are busy building a family, a career and a prosperous future. You want to be sure that you're planning the right way for yourself and your loved ones, and that your plan will absolutely work when it's needed. You want to know that your children will be taken care of if anything happens to you.

We make sure to use the best systems to provide you with the advice you need to build and maintain a life of prosperity, and to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from having a proper plan in place for the future. We don't charge for every phone call or email. We bill on a flat-fee basis, with the fee agreed to ahead of time.

Also, we keep your plan up to date, to consider changes in your family, your finances, and the law itself. We coordinate funding of trusts, if you choose that form of planning, to make sure that your assets are safe during your lifetime and immediately available for your loved ones after you pass away.

Should you need representation for a real estate sale or purchase, or with a divorce or family law matter, we stand ready to guide you through the legal process.

We look forward to serving as your lawyers for your lifetime.

Three Levels of Estate Planning

We do not do “one-size fits all” planning. We know that every family (or individual) is different and you have goals, assets, family structures that are unique to your family. We help plan for your family whether it’s the traditional two parent family, individual, blended family with “his,” “hers” and “our” children. We help families that are non-traditional in some way.

We help families who have large assets and businesses, as well as those with very little in the way of assets. Everyone needs an estate plan because your never know when something will happen to you, whether our inevitable death or possible incapacity.

The levels of planning are reviewed at our initial consultation. The planning may center around a “will” or may also include a “revocable living trust.” Sometimes, an “irrevocable” trust may be the best option. The “funding” of the trust must also be considered, and you may choose to have us coordinate that process.

In all situations, we educate you as to what would happen if you have no plan (called the State of New York plan) and go over the options available for your unique circumstances. You choose which plan works best for you.

Planning for the Lifetime Care of Your Children

Your estate plan must absolutely include taking care of your children after your death or incapacity. You don’t want them to end up in foster care, even temporarily. We help you choose both temporary and long-term guardians to take care of them the way that you would want.

This planning should be done outside of a will. You can plan that your children will not have to wait for the often-lengthy probate process or family court proceeding to determine who will be their guardian. Your choices are recorded in separate estate planning documents and the chosen guardians will know who they are well before anything happens to you. This pre-planning can avoid lengthy custody battles and other court proceedings, although a family court must ultimately still formalize the guardians. But your children will then never end up in the care of strangers.

Planning for your children can also involve making sure that they do not receive their inheritance outright when they turn 18 years old. Their inheritance can also be protected from their future creditors and spouses, if that is important to you. You can choose trusted family members, friends or even a trust company to handle distributions from your estate.

Probate and Estate Administration
What Should You Do After Your Loved One Passes?
First Things First

First of all, focus on yourself and your family. Don't worry about legal issues during those first crucial days, unless it's something very serious like a minor child left living with someone dangerous or someone with a power of attorney who is cleaning out the deceased loved one's bank accounts. Otherwise, wait until after the funeral to consult with an attorney.

Clarity in the face of grief is important not only to keep moving forward in your life and process your emotions in a healthy way, but it's also necessary to be able to make the important decisions often faced when someone dies - and often not considered until it's too late. The unfortunate result is a tough transition when a loved one dies. For that reason, it's sometimes necessary to seek grief counseling to get that clarity to move forward in your life.

So What are Your Next Steps?

Find out whether your loved one had a will or a trust prepared during life. If there is a trust and all your loved one's assets are properly titled in the name of that trust, then a court proceeding likely will not be necessary. When there is no trust, or only a will, and your loved one's remaining assets are significant, then a proceeding must be filed in Surrogate's Court. In any event, it would be helpful to have the help of an attorney in dealing with the administration of the estate whether there is a will, trust or neither one. Attempting to go to Surrogate's Court without legal counsel would be a difficult task while dealing with the grief over the recent loss of your loved one.

Call MARIANNE S. RANTALA, P.C., at (631) 447-2606, for help with all post-death legal matters in order to create peace of mind as quickly as possible after the loss of your loved one.

What is Probate?

Probate is the public Surrogate's Court process where your loved one's Last Will and Testament is reviewed and approved by a judge, and your loved one's property and possessions (the "estate") are distributed to beneficiaries after all debts are paid off. The Surrogate's Court appoints an "executor" through legal documents called "letters testamentary." Generally, only an estate over $30,000 must be probated, but there are certain "family exemptions" that allow distribution of minimal assets to family members without court intervention. Certain assets, like life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts and jointly-titled assets, are not subject to probate. However, if any beneficiary is under 18 years of age, the court must appoint a "guardian" to handle the assets until the beneficiary reaches the age of 18.

The executor, usually named in the will, must file a petition in Surrogate's Court, with the original will and certified death certificate. The petition must include the name of returns and all beneficiaries, legal heirs, and an estimate of the value of the estate. All beneficiaries and legal heirs are notified of the probate proceeding, which is open to the public. The judge of the Surrogate's Court will decide whether the will is valid, was properly executed and that your loved one was of sound mind and was not unduly influenced or coerced to make the will. If someone contests the will, it is usually because that person believes your loved one was subject to some sort of undue influence, fraud, or was not of sound mind.

The executor may be paid for work done during probate, depending on the value of the estate. Some of the executor's work includes marshalling and inventorying all your loved one's property and assets, transferring them to the estate, paying all of the estate's bills, filing any necessary tax returnsand paying income and estate taxes, collecting debts owed to the estate, investing and managing your loved one's assets during probate and distributing the remaining estate to the legitimate beneficiaries. The probate process can take from nine to 15 months or more, especially in the case of a large estate, will contest or fighting beneficiaries. If everything is in order, the estate may be closed, usually with the filing of an inventory, or other documents proving that the beneficiaries have been paid and are accepting of their inheritance.

What is Intestate Administration?

An Intestate Administration is a Surrogate's Court proceeding when there is no will or trust, or when the Surrogate's Court judge decides that a will is not valid. Since there is no valid will, beneficiaries are the legal heirs according to New York's intestacy laws. Heirs are the surviving spouse, any surviving children of the decedent, parents, siblings and other more remote relatives. The proceeding is usually filed by the surviving spouse, or children (if no spouse), parents, siblings, grandchildren, etc.

In all other respects, an administration is similar to a probate proceeding, except that the Surrogate's Court will appoint an "administrator," rather than an executor. The judge will issue "letters of administration," which allow the administrator to carry out the various duties, which are identical to that in a probate proceeding. Again, if everything is in order, the administration can be closed after distributions are made according to the Surrogate's Court order.

What Does an Executor or Administrator Need to Know?

The job of an executor or administrator can be daunting and sometimes very complicated, especially in the case of a large estate or contests among the beneficiaries or those left out of a will. Complicating the job is that the executor or administrator can be held personally liable should something slip through the cracks. Some tips for an executor or administrator include the following:

  • Obtain a tax ID number from the IRS for the estate, after receiving the appropriate "letters" from the Surrogate's Court, and opening a bank account in the name of the estate. Never mix your own funds with those of the estate. Use the estate bank account to pay any costs incurred during the estate proceeding.
  • Have and maintain a good accounting system to keep track of everything you do for the estate. An executor or administrator has the duty to keep accurate financial records, such as expenses and a detailed inventory of estate assets and debts right from the beginning. Sometimes it will be necessary to employ a professional accountant or probate attorney or both, to effectively handle the estate.
  • In addition to a good accounting system, maintain detailed notes and written correspondence pertaining to any and all communications you have with anyone involved with the estate, including beneficiaries, opposing attorneys, financial institutions, and the like. You may find that sound advice from a probate attorney will be very helpful in this regard, in order to avoid you being held responsible for any inadvertent mistakes.
What is Involved in Trust Administration?

If your loved one prepared a Revocable Living Trust or any type or Irrevocable Trust during his or her lifetime, and all assets were properly titled to that trust, it's most likely unnecessary to deal with the Surrogate's Court. If your loved one was a trustee (like a manager of the trust) while alive, someone must now take the reins as a successor trustee and continue to manage the trust. This successor trustee must follow the rules contained within the trust to either continue to manage the trust's assets and distributions or to distribute what remains of the trust. Sometimes, the trust will be split into two or more separate trusts or trust shares, which the trustee must understand and manage. If your loved one had a Revocable Living Trust, it is likely that at least a part of the trust will become irrevocable and cannot be changed. Whatever the type of trust, the successor trustee must pay any existing creditors and beneficiaries, file any necessary income and/or estate tax returns, pay funeral expenses, and adequately account for the trust's assets.

This area of post-death administration can be very complicated at times and fraught with possible liability for the trustee if he or she doesn't follow the rules of the trust with care.

Call MARIANNE S. RANTALA, P.C., at (631) 447-2606, for help with either the Surrogate's Court probate or administration proceedings, or for help in administration of a trust.

Wrongful Death Claims and Litigation

What if your loved one's death was caused by the negligent actions of someone else? Surviving family members can file a lawsuit against that negligent person, company or other entity. Some of the claims may include automobile accidents, consumer products liability, medical or pharmaceutical negligence, or workplace negligence. The executor or administrator of your loved one's estate must handle that litigation. Marianne S. Rantala, P.C., can make a free referral to the best wrongful death litigation law firms in the area. Keep in mind that there is limited time in order to file any wrongful death claims or they will be lost forever, so this should be pursued shortly after your loved one's funeral.

What About Your Own Estate?

Estate planning really should be considered as soon as you acquire your first asset, have a child, or step into adulthood in any truly meaningful way. And yet many of us put it off for far too long, leaving ourselves and our families at risk of getting stuck in the court system in the event of an unexpected accident, illness, or injury.

Once you (or your parents) reach senior status or a loved one passes away, you can no longer pretend that estate planning is something you can put off. The effects of aging become impossible to ignore, and the fact that you're not going to live forever moves to the front of your mind. If your loved one had little to no estate planning, you are no doubt feeling the effects of that right now. Now may be a good time to review your existing estate plan or have one put into place that will work for your loved ones when something happens to you.

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you're really prepared for when something happens to you:

  • Who will manage my affairs when I die or become incapacitated?
  • Who do I want to leave my property and possessions to when I die?
  • What happens if I need long-term care; i.e., assisted living or nursing home?
  • Will my estate have to pay estate taxes, income taxes, or capital gains taxes, unnecessarily when I die, reducing distributions to my loved ones?
  • Do I have enough life insurance to take care of my loved ones and are my beneficiaries properly listed on the policies?
  • What happens to my bank accounts when I die?
  • What happens to my retirement accounts (IRA & 401K, etc.) when I die?
  • How can I pass on what's really important -- not just my money, and make sure future generations benefit from my values, stories, insights and experiences?
Estate Administration Matters

If a person dies and had prepared an estate plan that includes any type of “trust” we can help administer the terms of the trust. This process usually does not need to go through the court. It is called “trust administration.”

However, if you are facing having to probate an estate, we can guide you through every step of the process. You are not alone. We are here to help.

Trust Administration

Trust administration is a process that happens after a loved one dies, if the person (called a decedent) created a trust during his or her lifetime. Trusts are mostly created to have assets handled outside of the probate process. Trust administration is both quicker and easier than a probate process, so beneficiaries can inherit faster. However, there are certain things that must be addressed during trust administration to either transfer assets to the beneficiaries or to keep the assets in trust for their benefit.

Marianne S. Rantala, P.C. can help you with trust administration. We understand what is involved in working with trusts and strive to make the process as easy and streamlined as possible. We represent both trustees and beneficiaries with trust issues.

If you suspect that a trustee is not acting in good faith, we can also assist in taking the proper legal action, if need be.

Please call us at (631) 447-2606 to find out how we can help with trust administration.

What Happens During Trust Administration

The trust administration process can differ depending on the type of trust and the trust assets. Therefore, it's always best to get legal help to guide you in this process.

It's most likely the trustee, who may need legal guidance, since the trustee has the most responsibility for administering the trust. The trustee has what's known as "fiduciary duty," which is a high level of responsibility in acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries in a timely manner and maintaining careful control over the trust's assets. Some of the trustee's duties include:

  • Inventorying the trust assets, which involves identifying all of the assets and figuring out title issues, finding any accounts and insurance policies payable to the trust.
  • Valuing the trust assets, which may be required for tax purposes.
  • Filing any necessary tax forms, possibly including both State and Federal returns for estate and transfer taxes, capital gains taxes, and income taxes.
  • Notifying beneficiaries about the trust administration process.
  • Distributing trust assets according to the trust's rules, including possible splitting of the trust into separate trusts or shares.

Marianne S. Rantala, P.C., is here to help with all of the above steps. Even though trust administration is easier than the probate court process, it can become complicated and you may need legal representation.

Please contact us at (631) 447-2606 for more information.

Real Estate Matters
Purchase of Real Property

The purchase of a home is one of the biggest investments that an individual, couple or family can make during their lifetime. We can help negotiate the contract of sale on your behalf to ensure the most favorable terms to you as the buyer and will provide a detailed explanation of the contract prior to signing and making of the deposit. We order the title and survey, review them in depth and work with the seller's attorney to clear any title objections prior to the closing. It is important to work with your lender to monitor your financing application and ensure that commitment deadlines are complied with.

We schedule and personally attend the closing, where we review and explain every document that you are signing.

We prepare a closing statement to provide you with a complete breakdown of funds due at closing and after the closing will provide you with a complete set of every document signed at the closing.

In other words, we will keep you informed throughout the entire purchase process.

Sale of Real Property

Our firm will draft the contract of sale and negotiate the contract with the buyer's attorney to ensure the most favorable terms for you as the seller.

We will provide an in-depth explanation of the contract prior to signing; review the title report provided by the purchaser's attorney and work with them to quickly clear any title issues. We follow up with the status of financing to ensure deadlines and contingencies are met.

We again schedule a closing date and personally attend the closing to explain each document that you are signing. We prepare a closing statement which provides you with a complete breakdown of funds due at closing. Once the closing is completed, we will provide you with a complete set of copies of every document signed at the closing.

Again, we will keep you informed throughout the entire sales process.

Whether you are buying your first or subsequent home, or selling a home, we can handle the entire process for you for a reasonable fixed flat fee.

Your questions and concerns will be answered quickly and professionally.

Estate Planning

Many times, updated estate planning may be a part of either the purchase or sale of a home. We can offer a comprehensive estate plan that would include what happens to your home or sales proceeds if you either pass or become incapacitated. Sometimes this estate planning may involve a deed transferring the home to either your children or spouse, or to a trust, to provide for asset protection against the high cost of long-term care. We stand ready to assist in those matters.

Divorce & Family Law

We serve both Suffolk and Nassau counties, representing individuals and families facing various legal issues. Whether your divorce or family law matter is related to uncontested divorce, child custody, child support, property distribution, spousal maintenance, prenuptial agreements, domestic violence, relocation or any other divorce or family law matter, we can represent you.

Most people find that working through this type of legal matter without legal counsel would find it difficult, if not impossible, to reach a reasonable conclusion to your case. Divorce and family law matters are often very stressful and can cause undue anxiety. We will guide you through these tough times with compassion and skill.


Many people are entering their second or third marriages or have already established their separate businesses or have accumulated substantial other assets. It's unpleasant to think about the end of a marriage before it even starts, however it is important to take steps to protect one's hard-earned assets, especially when there are two separate sets of children. A prenuptial agreement allows the couple to focus on the important uplifting matters, like planning the wedding festivities and the honeymoon. The prenuptial agreement avoids couples being completely unprepared in the event that they do get divorced down the road. Planning ahead-of-time is always better when it comes to such significant matters.


An uncontested divorce is the most common form of divorce in the state of New York and most often involves little if any disagreements regarding the settlement of the divorce. But even though it may be "uncontested," things can quickly become complex because of the numerous documents that must be filed for the court to review and from which to issue a divorce decree.

Contact us today for a consultation to discuss any of the above legal matters.

How to Get Started

We start the process with a Private or Family Consultation Session. You will receive a questionnaire focused on your legal issues ("homework") before the session, to get your finances and legal issues organized so you know what you have and to have a more meaningful Consultation. You can absolutely call us for help in filling out the homework.

The actual session lasts up to two hours because it's a working meeting. We will start to design your estate plan after you are educated about the options and have decided which type of planning is right for you and your family. We try to make it as easy and stress-free as possible for you to make the important decisions. For real estate and divorce/family law matters, we will discuss the issues and potential outcomes.

This session alone is worth $750.00. It's possible to get this session without charge, in some circumstances.

Call Marianne S. Rantala, P.C., at (631) 447-2606 to schedule your initial consultation now, to get that peace of mind in knowing that you've planned properly to take care of yourself and your family in the best way possible, no matter which area of law you are working through.