Chaya R. Biskin-Sitko, Esq. Has Become a Partner At Holm & O’Hara LLP

Chaya Biskin-Sitko

Holm & O’Hara LLP is delighted to announce that effective January 1, 2018 Chaya R. Biskin-Sitko, Esq., has been made partner in the firm and is now the lead attorney in our trusts and estates practice.  Ms. Biskin-Sitko, Esq. holds a JD from New York Law School and is licensed to practice before New York State courts and federal tax courts.

What led you to become a trusts and estates lawyer?

It was circuitous, to say the least.  My passion was 14th and 15th century illuminated manuscripts and I aspired to be a curator.  My mother was a lawyer, so I was acquainted with the profession, but never thought about entering it until she died.  I was 18 and in the position of needing a lawyer, but not having the money to hire one.  So I sat there with my mother’s law books, researching the probate process so I could represent myself.  It was difficult, to say the least.  I went back to my studies and came to realize it was going to be virtually impossible to find a curatorial job that paid well.  At the same time, I knew I had the skills to be a lawyer and that I could probably help a lot of people avoid the harrowing experience I had.

What do you enjoy about your work?

On the planning side, it’s the tax aspects of the work – finding a creative way to give my clients a good, breathable structure that will work for them.  I also like making sure they understand what’s in their estate planning package and why.  It’s important to me not to sell clients things they don’t need and to tell them frankly whether they can or cannot do something, along with the reasons. On the administration side, I love being able to guide clients through what can seem like a convoluted and overwhelming process, so they can effectively administer and close down the estate. To essentially, help my clients put the whole thing behind them.  And, of course, like any lawyer who litigates, I like to win in court.

What key misconceptions do clients have about estate plans?

Three things immediately come to mind.  The first is that so many people think that if they do nothing, things will turn out fine.  That’s just not true; the state will always come for its pound of flesh unless you prepare with a good estate plan.  The second is that an estate plan is forever.  It simply doesn’t work that way.  Family situations, property values and laws are all constantly changing.  And the best laid plans sometimes go awry.  So I encourage clients to revisit their estate plans periodically.  Finally, people think trusts will save them money.  The only way a trust really saves money is if you put money in it and then give up control.  Otherwise there is always going to be some kind of tax on the transfer of wealth.  Trusts, as an estate planning vehicle, have many other uses and I recommend them depending on a client’s specific circumstances and goals.

How do you think trusts and estates law is practiced differently at Holm & O’Hara than at other firms?

I would describe us as full lifecycle trusts and estates lawyers.  Every plan we create reflects our understanding of the entire process, including how estate administration works and how the applicable tax law impacts the client.  When I meet with a planning client, I’m always envisioning their estate tax returns and troubleshooting for potential administration issues that could arise. Post-death, we do more than simple administration for estates. If an estate starts to go sideways, we can litigate without needing to outsource the case to another law firm that specializes solely in estate litigation.

 We are also very careful to accept clients only when we are available, equipped and able to represent them well. 

What changes are you expecting in the field over the next 5-10 years?

Obviously, we’ve just seen major legislation that sends the federal estate tax exemption amount through the roof.  Many people are saying that eliminates the need for planning.  That sort of thinking ignores the fact that state estate taxes, New York State specifically, are very much still in place and you need to plan for them.  And it’s not at all clear how states are going to respond to the changes in the federal law, which could impact their revenues in many ways.  Frankly, I’m expecting that all of this uncertainty will set off a firestorm by the various taxing authorities.  We will also need to re-examine corporate structures that are built into estate plans.  While there has been a trend towards pass-through entities like LLCs and S-Corps, I think they are going to fall out of favor and gradually yield to c-corps to take advantage of the new environment.  Of course, whatever happens, we’ll adapt.  We’re lawyers; it’s what we do. 

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