Putting off the creation of your Will is normal. Thinking about leaving your loved ones can be difficult, so planning for our death can be easy to put off. But each of us has an opportunity to make this process orderly and less taxing on our loved ones. Clarity about who you want to receive your assets and who you want to oversee the administration of your estate can save stress and money. Otherwise, beneficiaries are left to sort out your intentions, and this uncertainty can lead to disputes and the dissipation of your assets. In a worst-case scenario, your assets are distributed based upon a State statute. To avoid unnecessary disruption, the attorneys at Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle work with our estate planning clients to develop a plan that ensure that the estate you spent a lifetime building is allocated to the beneficiaries chosen by you. Our attorneys can advise you on the tax consequences of any plan and recommend strategies to minimize the tax consequences.
Planning Your Estate
Every asset that you accumulate over the years is part of your estate, and proper estate planning helps you put in place a plan for how to distribute or protect those assets at the time of your death and for years afterward. An estate plan is a series of legal documents designed to safeguard and allocate your assets in a manner and at a time that you deem proper. You have many options when it comes to providing for your loved ones, and you need experienced attorneys to make you aware of these options and then draft the documents that implement your wishes. In addition to laying out who will receive your assets, an estate plan also includes your final wishes and expectations and who you trust and appoint to carry them out.
Proper estate planning also protects your assets to the greatest extent possible. Normally, this involves structuring a plan that minimizes taxes to the greatest extent possible. We know that our clients want to protect their hard-earned assets from unnecessary taxes and creditor risks. The goal is to maximize the assets available for your beneficiaries. Our attorneys deploy a variety of tools and strategies to guard against the dissipation of your estate. These tools can include providing for a credit shelter trusts (also known as bypass trusts) in your Will, gifting assets, or setting up trusts during your lifetime to remove assets from your estate.
As clients age and their assets grow, strategies may also be available during their lifetime to minimize the tax burden on their estate. Individuals can save estate tax by gifting to beneficiaries, making charitable gifts, or establishing tax-saving trusts. Frequently, we can accomplish a client’s goals of helping a favorite charity and reducing the tax burden on their estate assets. A solid estate plan will consist of certain documents.
Here are the important components of an estate plan in the State of New Jersey:
- Last Will & Testament: In a Will, you identify the beneficiaries of your assets, you pick someone to administer your estate, and if you are a parent of young children, you name a guardian to care for your children if something happens to you.
- Healthcare Directives: Writing out your healthcare wishes can protect you if you become unable to make medical decisions on your own. Healthcare directives include a living Will or health care proxy that gives someone you choose the ability to make medical decisions if you no longer can.
- Durable Power of Attorney: With a power of attorney, you give someone you trust the authority to handle your finances and property if you no longer can.
- Protect Your Business: If you are the sole owner of a business, you should have a succession plan. If you own the company with others, you should have a buyout agreement.
- Life Insurance: You may want life insurance to pay off debts or other expenses. The purchase of life insurance may be vital if you own a small business or investment real estate.
Preparing For Probate
In its simplest terms, Probate is a court-supervised legal process established to ensure that a person’s wishes, as reflected in their Will and estate planning documents, are honored. A critical component of Probate is the appointment of a personal representative (e.g., Executor or Administrator), usually the surviving spouse or other family members, to gather the person’s assets and pay debts and taxes. In most instances, probate in New Jersey is required, although a simplified process may be available for small, uncomplicated estates. However, the reach of probate may not extend to all assets owned by someone at death. This makes estate planning even more critical, as it will ensure that the assets with beneficiary designations are coordinated with the disposition of assets reflected in someone’s Will.
Some examples of non-probate assets include:
- Assets the deceased person owned with someone else on a joint tenancy would then pass on to the spouse or loved one.
- Most qualified retirement assets, like IRAs or 401(k) plans for which the deceased person named a beneficiary
- Life insurance proceeds or pension benefits that are payable to a named beneficiary
Contact Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle
The probate process in New Jersey can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have been designated as the personal representative, administrator, or executor of an estate, and require assistance throughout the probate process, contact a probate lawyer from Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle. If you have not completed an estate plan, our law firm has a proven track record of providing outstanding service for our clients and ensuring that their wishes (or the wishes of a loved one) are honored.
Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle is committed to building long-term client relationships. If you need to speak to a lawyer, call us, and we will give preliminary advice. To speak with one of our probate and estate planning lawyers, contact Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle today.