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

There may be ways to bypass the probate process in New Jersey

Sometimes people in New Jersey pass away without having created a will, meaning they died "intestate." This might be because they passed away unexpectedly, or they simply put off the process of creating a will until it was too late. Others in New Jersey may have executed a will, but do not have any other documents in their estate plan that will pass on their assets to their chosen heirs. When a person in New Jersey dies intestate or when they only have a will, their estate will be probated.

Probate can be a long and costly process. If a person doesn't have a will, state law dictates who inherits the deceased person's property. This means that property may end up in the hands of someone who would not be of the deceased's choosing. However, there are ways a person can bypass the probate process.

What might the future of estate litigation look like?

As many residents of Northern New Jersey may unfortunately know, losing a loved one is never easy. Matters can be made worse, however, if the deceased's heirs are fighting over the terms or validity of the decedent's will or trust. Also, issues could arise with regards to how the executor of the estate is carrying out his or her duties. All of this can lead to estate litigation. And, as laws and society change, the picture of what estate litigation looks like may also change.

First, it is possible that there may be an uptick in estate litigation due to a growing population, wherein more people die each year. Also, there has been an increase in the amount of money being inherited. With more money at stake comes more disagreements between heirs. In addition, the laws surrounding estate planning have been changing in recent years, opening the door for more types of clashes between heirs.

Helping people execute the trust that is right for them

Many residents of Parsippany may think that trusts are not for them. They may think only millionaires need such documents. However, even those of more modest means can still find a trust to be useful.

For example, through a living trust a person can retain control over their property while they are alive, and then their property will be distributed to the trust beneficiaries after the person dies. Trusts, unlike wills, are not subject to the probate process. They are also kept private, meaning a person's financial information will not be accessible to the public after their death.

When having a will isn't enough for your estate plan

Many Parsippany residents may have already gone through the process of drafting a will. After doing so, they may consider their estate planning duties to be complete and will take no further action. However, what they may not realize is that a will is just one component of a well-rounded estate plan.

For example, a will does not come into play until after the testator dies. However, what if a person becomes mentally or physically incapacitated while still alive? They may no longer be able make decisions on their own or express their wishes. Fortunately, there are estate planning documents one can execute during their lifetime in anticipation of just such a situation.

What happens to a person's debts after their death?

Many people in Parsippany carry some type of debt these days. Debt can take many forms: a home loan, an auto loan, credit card debt or student loan debt, to name a few. Most people will do what they can to pay off their debts during their lifetime. However, sometimes this simply doesn't happen and a person passes away before all their debts are paid off. When this happens, will the debtor's survivors be obligated to make good on the debts owed?

In general, any debts a person still owes after their death will be repaid via that person's estate. This is true even in the absence of a will. This means that, in most circumstances, when a person dies their survivors will not have to repay their loved one's debts. However, there are exceptions.

When might having a blended family lead to estate litigation?

As divorce in New Jersey and across the nation has become more commonplace, so do "blended" families. While a second marriage can bring much joy, sometimes having a blended family can become problematic. This can be the case when a parent dies, leaving behind a spouse, stepchildren and children from the parent's first marriage. Situations like this can lead to bitter feelings when it comes to a party's inheritance and could even lead to estate litigation.

For example, sometimes a person's second marriage doesn't last very long before the person dies. This means that any changes to an estate plan, along with changes as to who is a beneficiary, are still relatively new, especially if the person made these changes in their dying days. In these situations, the person's children from a first marriage may be at odds with the surviving stepparent, each believing they are due more from the person's estate.

New federal estate tax law may affect estate plans

Sometimes, the law changes in a way that might affect a person's estate plan. For example, back in December of last year, Congress passed tax legislation in a way that warrants a review of one's estate plan. With this in mind, there are certain questions a person may want to ask a professional, so they can determine how the new federal estate tax law affects them.

A person may want to ask how the new estate tax will affect them. The estate tax is levied by the government when a person passes away, meaning that once the government takes its share the value of one's estate is diminished. However, there are exemptions to this tax. It used to be that the estate tax only kicked in for estates valued at $5.6 million. However, with the new tax law, that amount has been raised to $11.2 million.

What are the duties of an executor in estate administration?

Whether appointed in a person's will or appointed by the court, being the executor of a person's estate in New Jersey after that person dies is certainly an honor, but it is also a big responsibility. It can be a confusing time, especially if one has never served as the executor of an estate before, so it can help for an executor to carry out their duties with the assistance of an attorney experienced in estate administration and probate.

In general, it is the executor's duty to make sure that the assets in the decedent's will are properly distributed to the decedent's heirs and that the decedent's debts are paid. Specifically, there are a number of steps that must be taken to accomplish these duties.

Make executing a trust part of your New Year's resolution

As 2017 comes to a close and 2018 is almost here, many people in New Jersey are making New Year's resolutions. Some people may be aiming to get into shape, save more money or kick a bad habit, like smoking. However, a resolution that many might not initially think of, but is very important in the long-run, is executing an estate plan.

Having an estate plan is important because it puts a person in control -- in control of where their assets will go when they die and in control of who will take care of their medical and financial affairs if they become incapacitated. If a person does not have an estate plan, it is the state who will be making these important decisions, and they may not be to a person's liking.

Helping those who are contesting wills in New Jersey

Losing a loved one is understandably an emotional time. Sometimes, disagreements that were kept quiet while a person was alive rise up once that person passes away, especially when it comes to who should inherit what, or how a loved one's estate is being administered.

In New Jersey, there are a number of grounds upon which a person can contest a will. A person could claim their loved one changed the will because they were subjected to the undue influence of the person who was taking care of them or who was otherwise in a position of trust. A person could also argue that their loved one only altered the will because of fraud or misrepresentation on the part of an heir. Wills must be executed with certain legal formalities, so one could argue that these formalities were not met. Finally, a person could argue that their loved one did not have the testamentary capacity to create the will in the first place.

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J. Jeffrey Press, P.A.
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Parsippany, NJ 07054

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