J. Jeffrey Press, P.A.
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New Jersey Estate Planning and Probate Law Blog

Why is it prudent to review your estate plan from time-to-time?

Some people in Parsippany have executed a comprehensive estate plan, including a will, trust, living will, and power of attorney. However, it is a mistake to simply file that estate plan away allowing it to collect dust as the years pass on. In fact, there are several reasons why a person will want to update their estate plan.

First, state law varies on what is required to execute a will and who will inherit. There may be other specific details determined by state law as well. If a person has moved to a new state since executing their estate plan, they will want to make sure their estate plan complies with their new state's laws so that their wishes for asset distribution can be fully protected.

Why is estate planning important for blended families?

Families in New Jersey come in all shapes and sizes these days, and it is not unusual for a person to marry a second time either due to divorce or the death of their first spouse. Oftentimes there are children from a first marriage, resulting in a blended family with step-parents and step-children. In such situations, it is important to have a well-rounded estate plan that meets your wishes both for your new spouse and your children from your first marriage, especially if those children are now adults.

First, merely having a will may not be enough to meet your estate planning needs if you have a blended family. For example, if you leave everything to your new spouse in your will, once your new spouse passes away there is no guarantee that he or she will leave anything to the children from your first marriage, leaving them with nothing.

New Jersey residents do not have to face probate alone

Being selected as the executor of a loved one's estate is an honor, but it also comes with responsibilities. Even though the probate process in New Jersey is not as complex as the probate process is in other states, costly mistakes can be made by those who are unfamiliar with it.

For example, a deceased's will must be submitted to the surrogate in the deceased's county of residence. An inventory must be made of all the estate's assets, and creditors will be paid using these assets. Final taxes must be paid using estate assets, too. Also, a final accounting of the estate must be submitted so that the beneficiaries of the estate can approve or challenge these findings. Finally, the remaining assets of the estate will be distributed per the terms of the deceased's will or, absent a will, through the laws of intestate succession.

Plan now for the eventual sunset of the federal estate tax

When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raised the threshold for the amount of assets a person can hold before they are subjected to the federal estate tax, many people in New Jersey may have cheered. After all, now that a person can hold $11 million in assets as an individual or $22 million in assets as a married couple before being subjected to the federal estate tax, it may seem like most people do not have to worry that the federal government will take a sizable chunk of their estate upon their death.

And, for the most part, this is true. However, like many things in life, the good times do not last forever. Once 2025 rolls around, the threshold for the amount of assets a person can hold before they are subjected to the federal estate tax will plummet to around $5.5 million for individuals and around $11 million for married couples. This means that the estates of many of those who manage to survive to 2025 or beyond will be subjected to the federal estate tax whereas they wouldn't be had they died earlier.

Can you challenge a will simply because you think it's unfair?

When a person in New Jersey dies, he or she may have left behind a will that dictates who is to inherit his or her assets. While most of the time the terms of the person's will are followed, there are instances in which estate litigation is pursued by an heir who believes the will should be invalidated. In general, there are four grounds on which a person can challenge a will.

One ground for contesting a will is that the testator did not follow the necessary laws when signing the will. For example, there may not have been enough witnesses, or the witnesses may not have been in the presence of one another when signing the will.

Will my heirs be subject to the New Jersey inheritance tax?

While New Jersey no longer has an estate tax, as of right now it is one of only a handful of states that still imposes an inheritance tax. This tax applies to any transfers of assets to certain (but not all) heirs once you pass away. And while inheritances worth $500 or less won't be taxed, other inheritances will be subjected to the legally complex inheritance tax.

Whether the tax applied and how much is due depends on what "class" the heir falls under based on his or her relationship with the decedent. Class A heirs are exempt from the inheritance tax altogether. This includes spouses and children of the decedent, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the decedent and parents and grandparents of the decedent. Class E heirs are also exempt from the inheritance tax. Class E heirs include charities, religious bodies, schools, hospitals, non-profit groups and the State of New Jersey itself.

Pet trusts are one way to provide for your furry friend

The late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was known not just for his creative genius, but also for the love he had for his cat, "Choupette." In an April 2018 interview, Lagerfeld stated he wanted to be cremated, rather than have a burial. He also stated that his ashes should be dispersed with those of his mother and his beloved Choupette, if the cat passed on before he did. And, while it is not clear what accommodations he made for Choupette, his death does bring up the important fact that sometimes a pet owner passes on before his or her pet does.

Many pet owners in New Jersey view their pet as a member of the family, so it makes sense to address their pet's needs in their estate plan. One option some people choose is to execute a pet trust. Pet trusts can address who will care for a pet and how the pet will be cared for.

Do not let these aspects of trusts trip you up

A trust is a complex legal tool, but it is one that many people in New Jersey find to be extremely valuable. After all, a trust allows a person to pass assets on to loved ones without having to go through the expensive and time-consuming probate process. However, do not make the mistake of assuming trust planning is one-and-done.

First, simply signing off on the trust does not matter if the trust is never funded. Assets must be titled in the name of the trust. Assets left out of the trust at the time of one's death could be subject to probate and the laws of intestate secession without a will.

Can a "no-contest" clause really prevent estate litigation?

Many people who execute a will in our state have very strong opinions about who should inherit their property. They may even want to go as far as inserting a clause in their will stating that if an heir pursues estate litigation, he or she will be disinherited. However, are such "no-contest" clauses enforceable under state law?

Under New Jersey Statutes, Section 3B:3-47, if a person puts a clause in their will that penalizes an interested person for challenging the will is unenforceable, if the interested person has probable clause to challenge the will. If the interested person does not have probable cause to challenge the will, the "no-contest" clause may be enforced.

Can certain assets bypass the probate process entirely?

In New Jersey, when a person dies, his or her estate generally must go through the probate process before the assets can be distributed to the person's heirs either per the terms of the person's will or through the state laws of intestacy should the person die without a will. Many people wish to avoid probate, as it can be a time-consuming and costly process that could potentially reduce the size of a person's estate. However, it is important to note that certain assets are exempt from being probated.

First, assets placed in a revocable trust will not be probated. If a person owns a home or other piece of real estate via tenancy by the entirety or via joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, that real estate will not be probated. This is often the case when a couple is married, owns a home together and then one spouse passes away, while the surviving spouse is still alive.

J. Jeffrey Press, P.A.
8 Wood Hollow Road
Plaza Level - Suite 2A
Parsippany, NJ 07054

Phone: 973-323-2654
Fax: 973-288-2070
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