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New Jersey Estate Planning and Probate Law Blog

Make sure your will is valid while you're still alive and well

If you are starting to put together an estate plan and want to do your part in reducing the likelihood of estate litigation from your children or other family members, one good idea is to make sure you verify and validate your will in advance.

As you may know, a will needs to meet certain requirements before it will be binding and considered valid. If it doesn't meet those requirements, then it might be challenged by a heir or beneficiary of your estate. Fortunately, you can take steps to make sure others listen to what you wanted to see happen in your will.

Don't want to be an executor? You can turn down the role

After someone dies, an executor steps up to help administer the estate. In most cases, the executor knows that they'll be taking on the role before the other party's death. In some, they were never informed that they'd be taking on that role.

So, if you're appointed as an executor of an estate, do you have to take on the role? The simple answer is no. If you don't want to be the executor, then you can tell the court that you decline. Then, the court can either appoint the backup executor (another party named in the will) or can appoint a personal representative.

Avoid sibling squabbles when choosing a power of attorney

Choosing your power of attorney was never going to be easy. You have three children, triplets, who all want what's best for you. Putting one of them in charge is not something you're interested in doing, but you think that having all three trying to work together would be too difficult.

You can avoid feuds over power of attorney, though. For one thing, there are two kinds of powers of attorney, medical and financial. Why does that matter? Imagine if two of your children are doctors or nurses and the other is an accountant. Wouldn't it make sense to have the two with medical experience take on the role of your health care power of attorney? It makes perfect sense to give the child with accounting sense the financial power of attorney, similarly.

Is there any good reason to have a revocable trust?

You have been working on estate planning over the last month or so, and you're getting ready to go to an attorney for the first time. You want to set up a trust, but you're not sure which one is right for you. Fortunately, there is a lot of information to be had on the subject.

The two main forms of trusts are irrevocable and revocable trusts. Of the two, the revocable trust is the only one that allows you to make changes after it's set up.

You can lower the value of your estate with gifts

When you're getting older and want to make sure that your estate is not so large that you face taxes, one of the options is to take advantage of the gift tax. The gift tax allows you to give gifts to others up to an allowable amount annually. You don't have to report those gifts to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as long as they are under the legal amount.

In 2019, the total you could give away in gifts without reporting them to the IRS was $15,000 per person or up to $30,000 for spouses who are giving a gift. Gifts of this amount can be given to as many people as you want, giving you an amazing opportunity to lower the value of your estate.

Is it time to create an estate plan?

Estate planning is an important part of growing older. As you age, you start to collect more assets, develop relationships with others and gain the understanding that you won't always be here. You want to leave assets behind to those you love and to protect yourself and your family in the case that you're hurt and unable to care for yourself.

Estate planning covers those end-of-life concerns and issues you may struggle with if you're suddenly disabled and unable to care for yourself.

You could easily make one of these estate planning mistakes

There are people who spend a lot of time on the estate planning process, as well as those who put it off for as long as they can. Regardless of your current situation, it's critical that you take steps to prevent estate planning mistakes.

One mistake can cost you and/or your loved ones both time and money, so it's critical to take action to protect against trouble. Here are some of the most common mistakes:

  • Neglecting to create an estate plan: The most common mistake is one of the easiest to remedy. If you don't have an estate plan, make it your goal to create one as quickly as possible. That'll solve your problem.
  • Forgetting to update your estate plan: Just the same as neglecting to create an estate plan, this is easy to remedy if you take the time to do so. Remember, just because you've created an estate plan doesn't mean it's good enough to last forever.
  • Choosing the wrong executor and/or guardian: In your estate plan, you'll name an executor. This person is responsible for managing your estate upon your death. Just the same, you'll want to name a guardian for any minor children, as this person will raise them should you and your spouse pass on before they reach the age of 18.

What is the New Jersey estate tax?

An estate plan directs where a person wishes their wealth and assets to go, such as to their loved ones, friends and charities after death (also known as, the decedent). However, there is another place the estate assets may be sent depending on the organization and size of an estate -- taxes. New Jersey imposes an estate tax on estates of a certain size, and that cost can be significant for those who pass on.

The estate tax in our state may be as much as 16 percent of the value of the decedent's estate. Certain items of property may be excluded from consideration though, and may include items of property that pass to the decedent's spouse and those assets that transfer to new owners without every passing through the estate. The estate tax is different than the inheritance tax, which applies to certain beneficiaries of estates in our state.

How may fraud factor into the administration of a will?

Fraud is a legal concept that is often tied to the criminal justice system. When a person commits fraud, they have or have sought to have themselves enriched through deceitful actions or omissions. Claims of fraud often arise in business settings, but New Jersey residents may be interested to know that fraud may also arise in the administration of estates.

It is often when a person is creating their will that they may become the victim of fraud. For example, they may be given wrong information that is intended to deceive them into benefiting one party more in their will than others. If the person creates or rewrites their will to unduly benefit someone who has committed fraud, then the responsible party may be subject to legal action.

Understanding probate for estate planning purposes

Probate is a complicated legal process that can take time and legal knowledge to get through. It can be beneficial to readers of this New Jersey estate planning blog to discuss their probate questions with attorneys who are familiar with their estate planning needs. This post may be read as information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

Probate plays an important role in the administration of a decedent's estate. When a person passes away, their property must be properly assigned and given to the individuals or entities that are designated to receive it. While some items of property may be jointly owned or owned by a trust, others may be the exclusive property of the decedent and subject to transfer based on the contents of their will. Probate manages the property that is not directly given to a joint owner or trust recipient.

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