You don’t have to live in a mansion behind locked gates to consider estate planning, nor does estate planning only involve deciding “who gets what” after you’re gone. Estate planning is a multi-faceted tool to help you plan for the unforeseen as well as for matters of inheritance and includes wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advanced directives, and more.
Once you’ve entered the working world, you’re never too young to plan for the future, and that’s where estate planning comes in. If you’re in or around Woodbridge, New Jersey, contact me — Attorney Allen N. Papp, at Adams, Cassese & Papp L.L.C. — with all of your estate planning needs and questions. Whether you’ve already begun the process or you’re unsure of what’s involved or how to get started, I can help you formalize your goals and wishes for any eventuality.
I’m proud to serve individuals and families not only in Woodbridge, but throughout Sayreville, Perth Amboy, and Edison, New Jersey.
Perhaps the two most important goals of estate planning are to make sure your loved ones are taken care of when you’re gone, and to have a contingency plan in place should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself.
A last will and testament, usually referred to simply as a will, is a component that most people are familiar with, and it is an essential one. If you die without a will — which is called dying intestate — probate court will decide what happens to your estate. Even with a will, your heirs will still have to endure the lengthy, and often costly, proceedings of going through probate court to finalize the directions in your will.
A living trust, along with other types of trusts if necessary, can avoid probate court. More on this in a bit.
Planning for unforeseen events, such as incapacitation, usually involves a power of attorney (POA) to give someone you trust the authority to make decisions for you, along with an advanced healthcare directive, which spells out your desires should you be hospitalized and unable to speak for yourself. Do you want to be put on life-support? Do you want to donate organs after you die? These and many other questions represent important decisions an advanced directive can set in stone, so to speak. The person you name in the POA will be empowered to carry out those decisions according to your expressed wishes.
New Jersey allows wills to be handwritten, which means you can write out your own last will and testament at any time. There are many reasons you don’t want to do this, however. If your handwritten will contains errors or contradictions, it could face challenges in probate court. If you forget to name an executor for your estate in your will, the probate court will have to appoint one for you. Lastly, if your family structure or situation changes after you write your will, you may forget to update it. At the end of the day, it’s best to have an attorney walk you through the creation of your will and help you update it when necessary.
A will is always the basic building block of estate planning, but a living trust can protect your assets from going through probate court. Just as you name an executor for your estate in your will to manage and distribute your assets after you’re gone, in a living trust you name a trustee who will take over management of your estate when you become incapacitated or pass away. Before either of these events, you can continue to manage your own estate.
The value added by a living trust, as opposed to a will, is that it avoids probate court. The probate court process in New Jersey can take up to a year, and if challenges arise from creditors or beneficiaries who feel shortchanged, it can prove costly as well, as you have to involve attorneys to resolve matters.
As mentioned above, in addition to a living trust and an appointed trustee, the primary tools for unexpected events — namely, incapacitation — are a power of attorney and an advanced healthcare directive. These should be completed with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.
My firm — Adams, Cassese & Papp, L.L.C. — has helped clients with their estate planning needs in and around Perth Amboy, Edison, Sayreville, and Woodbridge, New Jersey for more than 40 years. I can help you prepare a detailed estate plan, or to review, update, and augment an existing plan. Reach out today to get started.