Making Sure Your Loved One’s Final Wishes are Respected

At some point in our lives, we all come to the end of the last chapter – the place at which life ends. Sometimes this chapter is short and sweet and for others, the process can be drawn out and more difficult. Often, at that time, many people simply want to keep their loved ones close and help them uphold their dignity. As the caregiver, it’s your job to make sure this happens. Your goal is to honor their dignity while also respecting their final wishes.

If your loved one’s death was sudden, you may not have been given the chance to discuss their wishes before he or she passed. Without this knowledge, it can be difficult to know exactly what he or she would want, but it’s important make your best judgement for each decision that you face. On the other hand, you may have had the opportunity to talk with your loved one if his or her death was not unexpected. This facilitates decision-making when it comes to final wishes.

There is research that has shown that many seniors lack the necessary tools to ensure that their wishes are going to be upheld and carried out by caregivers or family members. It’s possible that this is due to the fact that people avoid the topic of death. Individuals are more likely to think about this when a family member is ill, but in the case of a stroke, heart attack, or other deadly event, it will be too late. Sometimes, decisions are made for that person that go against what the individual actually would have wanted if he or she would have had a say.

There are two ways in which you can be sure that your final wishes will be respected. First, gather the correct legal documents. Second, don’t hesitate to communicate your desires to family members and others close to you.

The two important documents that are necessary for every individual include a living will and a power of attorney for healthcare. A will, sometimes called an estate plan or last will and testament, usually refers to information that delineates your loved one’s final wishes in regards to his or her assets. Typically, an estate plan will detail what assets go to each family member or friend.

A living will is a type of an advance directive in which an individual specifies what actions are to be taken or not taken in the event that they are incapacitated and can no longer make decisions for themselves.  A medical power of attorney is the most significant document that any person should have in place. This document authorizes an individual (an agent) to make decisions on behalf of someone who is incapacitated. If an individual is forced to make important decisions regarding their care, but is unable to due to a medical issue, he or she will want a trustworthy family member or friend that can uphold their wishes and quality of life in that situation. It’s not a good idea to store these documents in a secret or conspicuous location. Communication with your spouse and other loved ones is key in this process.

So many different names for these documents exist in each state, making it ever more important to have a bit of background information on these end-of-life processes. Because a regular power of attorney cannot be used in medical decisions, it’s necessary to designate a medical power of attorney or healthcare proxy. When and only when an individual is unable to make his or her own medical decisions, a proxy can then step in.

Although it’s a difficult planning process, thinking ahead and making important decisions concerning these crucial situations while you’re healthy can ensure your wishes are carried out. The decisions about these documents clarify your wishes to your family, close friends and health care providers.

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Broaching the subject of Estate Planning with your Parents

When you were a kid, your parents dreaded having the “talk” with you, you know, that talk. Now that you’re an adult, it’s time to have an even more important talk with your parents. Bringing up the topic of death can be uncomfortable for both parents and children, but when it comes to handling financial matters, the sooner the conversation takes place, the better. Not only is talking about the prospect of your parents’ deaths dreadful, but it can be just as awkward to talk about their money and where it will go when they pass.

Starting the conversation

Though it may not be obvious, there are various financial and personal benefits to having sensitive conversations with your parents about the future. Ideally, it’s helpful to have this kind of conversation before your parent(s) require help with managing their money. Remember that this discussion is about your parents and their money. Chances are, they want you to be involved in some way, so make sure to listen carefully in order to understand their desires and needs. You may have a few suggestions for them. Bring them up when the timing is appropriate, but know ahead of time that they may not take your suggestions. One of your main goals should be ensure that your parents will be properly taken care of as they age.

With an open dialogue, you and your family will have a sense of empowerment, knowing that you have discussed and began planning for the future. By discussing these matters together, you will be forming a way in which your family legacy and values can be continued through generations. Initiating this conversation early will be beneficial if by the unfortunate chance one of your family members was to become ill or incapacitated before expected. Finally, you, your parents, and your children will develop a stable plan that will bring a sense of comfort and resolve.

How do you bring up the topic of money and death? In reality, there is no easy answer, since this is difficult for even the most open families.

  • Find a comfortable environment during a calm(er) time. This would not be a subject to broach during a disagreement or crisis; make sure everyone is emotionally stable before you start the conversation.
  • Be open and sincere about your plans. Make sure your family knows that you have good intentions about developing a plan that will guarantee care for them in the future. Be transparent, accept constructive criticism with grace, and offer any suggestions that may be helpful.
  • Emphasize the significance of the conversation for all individuals involved. Show your family an example of another family and estate that was not handled properly and as a result caused hurt feelings, confusion, and a financial mess because family members did not have this conversation.

Topics of Discussion

A few important things that you need to know include:

  • Where to find your parents’ will
  • If they have a power of attorney and who it is
  • Whether any health care plans or trusts are set up.

Also, find out if they have a life insurance policy or other assets, and how you can gain access to that when necessary. Make sure you gather or know the location of the passwords to their bank or online accounts and have a list of their debts. If your parents are retired, find out information regarding their pensions, IRA withdrawals, Social Security, and how they’re supporting their retirement.

If by chance, your parents are unable to manage their own finances, you need to seek out a power of attorney. A power of attorney will legally help you manage financial transactions. For example, if your parents need to enter a nursing home, but need to sell their home in order to afford care, a power of attorney will assist in this process.

Finally, there is a possibility that your parents will not have any of their financial matters sorted out and will have no idea as to how to deal with major financial decisions regarding their future. In this case, it may be best to meet with an estate planning lawyer.

Sorting through finances and developing a plan for the future is intimidating for both parents and children, but it’s a crucial step in the process of aging. It will be comforting to know that your parents are in a stable financial state and have all financial matters sorted out. When you feel the timing is appropriate, reach out to your parents and initiate the conversation.

NJ Estate Planning for the Very Wealthy

NJ estate planning

Though every person should take the initiative of proper estate planning, it is even more essential that the very wealthy do so. Many wealthy individuals have their financial lives buttoned-up, but have forgotten about planning for the future of their estates. The vital step that is most commonly skipped over is developing a plan that protects that accumulated wealth. Without a plan, the individual and family members are at risk for losing a significant sum of money.

Simply stated, estate planning entails arranging for assets, such as property and other valuables, to be properly distributed to heirs when faced with death or incapacity. This process also usually includes coming up with a plan to decrease estate taxes when assets are bestowed to heirs.

Though estate planning does involve a will, it can also mean establishing trust funds that can easily be transferred to heirs as well as naming a power of attorney who can manage all financial affairs if and when the individual is unable to do so anymore due to physical or mental reasons. Transferring assets before death is extremely helpful in avoiding family disputes and randomly disappearing assets. Also not uncommon as age increases, is dementia. Along with the possibility of dementia comes the potential for manipulation or exploitation of the individual by family members, friends, and other loved ones. Distributing the wealth before this point makes life easier for all parties involved.

Estate planning entails three main areas:

  • Distributing assets to the desired heirs
  • Ensuring that beneficiaries are not left with extreme taxes
  • Naming people that are responsible for making financial and medical decisions.

The first crucial task is creating a will and identifying someone who will be responsible for making sure all parts of the will are carried out according to your wishes. Next, you will most likely want to set up trust funds. A trust fund can legally determine to whom and at what point your assets are bequeathed to heirs. Trust funds also decrease the amount of taxes that beneficiaries will be required to pay and they eliminate having to go through the probate court process.

Beneficiaries should also be established for any life-insurance policies as well as for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and other retirement plans, like a 401K. If you set up any of these accounts earlier in your life, it’s important to review the beneficiaries named, especially if you’ve gone through a divorce or other significant life change.

Another important step to consider is sitting down with your family and close friends to share with them your intentions for your assets, and what will be bequeathed to each person. After a person passes, there is potential for dispute about the decision(s) made, and this usually results from a lack of communication. Explain your decisions to family members and share your reasons for setting up your estate the way you did. This will decrease the likelihood of division between yourself and family members.

One final piece of advice is to consult with a person who is experienced in the field of estate planning. Different states require different documents and other formalities, and a professional will likely know the specifics for their state. Your estate planning attorney should also be up-to-date on changes in laws or new laws that have recently been passed.

 

Estate Planning Challenges: What Happens When Your Ex-Spouse Dies?

Getting married for a second or third time can bring a lot of joy, but it can also present new challenges, especially regarding how your estate plan financially affects current and former family members from your past marriages.

An important part of estate planning is understanding under whose ownership certain assets and property are currently held, as well as how they will be allocated in the future. Updating all of your account titles and designations, such as beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and insurance policies, is a must after a marriage, whether it be marriage number one or marriage number five.

Be sure to put all of your intentions in writing, so that there are no questions about what assets are to be distributed to children from your current vs. previous marriages. For example: if you want your current family to inherit your house, you’ll need to change the names on the legal documents associated with your home. If real property is not transferred correctly, your family may become homeless or experience unintended hardship after you or your spouse dies.

Alimony is a legal obligation for one person to financially support an ex-spouse after divorce in order to maintain the lifestyle that was experienced during the marriage. As part of a divorce agreement, a judge can order for alimony to be awarded, but it must be in accordance with any state laws. When an ex-spouse dies, a financially difficult situation can arise if you rely solely on alimony for income. In an unfortunate situation like this, it is typical that your alimony payments will discontinue unless your divorce decree specifically states otherwise. You may, however, be able to file a claim with the court against the estate of your ex-spouse to receive any unpaid alimony.

The estate of your ex-spouse will go through the probate process when he or she passes away. The administrator that is appointed to oversee the estate will pay any remaining debts and allocate assets to the beneficiaries. If your ex-spouse was indebted to you for past alimony or other monies, you will become a known creditor to their estate and can therefore submit a claim for said funds that are owed to you.

Although it makes perfect sense, the concept that alimony does not typically continue once an ex-spouse passes often isn’t given much thought until the time comes. You may very well need to discover new ways to supplement your income once alimony payments cease, so it is best to be prepared for this.  Many couples, especially those who have children together, elect to include each other in their respective life insurance policies as the beneficiaries. This will ensure that the surviving ex-spouse and any children from the marriage will be cared for adequately.

If you are considering tying the knot for a subsequent time, there are many important aspects of estate planning and beneficiaries that you should have a solid understanding of. This will eliminate or lessen the amount of confusion as to what assets stay with or go to each person when an ex-spouse dies. Along with forming an estate plan can come discomfort, but having a plan in place can bring peace and comfort. To learn more about estate planning if you’re preparing to wed again, reach out to our office with any questions or to initiate a free one-hour consultation.

Selling a NJ Property When the Owner has Passed Away

If you have recently experienced the loss of a parent, grandparent, or other close relative – first and foremost you have our sincere condolences. Making big decisions at a time like this can be difficult, as it can often be challenging to even manage regular, everyday life choices while grieving. It’s so unfortunate, then, that when a person close to us dies, we are often the one(s) charged with making very important and sometimes complex decisions regarding their estate.

It goes without saying that selling someone’s home is a lot easier when they’re alive as compared to after they’ve passed away. However, it’s not impossible, and there are a lot of resources for those who need to sell a home of a deceased owner in New Jersey.

To wit: New Jersey estate laws state that a deceased homeowner’s property can only be liquidated (sold) after the decedent’s will has been filed in Surrogate’s Court. Once a NJ will is filed, an executor will be named. To read more about what a New Jersey executor’s duties are, you can visit our blog post on that very topic.

In relation to selling the deceased’s real property, the estate executor (or executrix/female executor) must obtain Letters Testamentary from the Surrogate’s Court. To translate that legalese for you: this is a document that formally allows the estate executor to begin the process of selling the decedent’s home.

What if my parent died and didn’t leave a will?

When a NJ homeowner dies without a will, that means no executor has been named. While this may initially feel disastrous (as many things will in the aftermath of the death of a loved one), the simple recourse is that an heir to the estate simply requests to become the estate administrator. The legal form to request in this situation is called Letters of Administration.

Once there is an established executor or administrator, the sale of the home can move forward. The executor or administrator will be the only person qualified to sign any documents relating to the sale of the property (deed, real estate contract). This person will be signing “on behalf” of the decedent’s estate.

How can I get the New Jersey estate tax lien removed?

In New Jersey, estate taxes and inheritance taxes will be due upon the sale of the home of someone who has passed away. When the executor or administrator moves to sell the home, these taxes will appear as a “cloud” on a title report, which can give buyers pause. In order to ease the minds of potential buyers, the executor/administrator must apply for a NJ tax waiver. The good news is that this will ultimately release the lien. The bad news is that it can take awhile to receive the waiver.

Do I have to wait to sell my mother’s home until the NJ tax lien is removed from the title?

This is a common question asked by estate executors in NJ, and luckily it is one with the answer you’re probably looking for. You do NOT have to wait until the lien is removed to sell the home. Because NJ real estate transactions require “clear title” in order to progress, the executor or administrator can deposit enough money into an escrow account to be held until the taxes are paid. This act gives buyers peace of mind and will allow the sale of the home to move forward.

Can I sell my deceased parent’s home on my own?

Because of the relatively complex legal process involved in selling the home of a decedent in New Jersey, it is a good idea to work with a NJ estate planning attorney to ensure that you dot all of your I’s and cross all of your T’s.

Disclaiming Your NJ Inheritance to Avoid Creditors

The news that you have been named a beneficiary in someone’s will is generally considered a positive thing; although you (hopefully) aren’t looking forward to the passing of your loved one, it usually feels good to know that they cared enough to bequeath part of their estate to you. There are times, however, when you may not wish to receive your New Jersey inheritance. Do you have the ability to say “thanks but no thanks?”

In New Jersey, estate law says that you can refuse to accept a gift, which in this case is your inheritance. This right to refusal is known as a disclaimer.

While it may seem strange that someone would choose to turn away inheritance money or life insurance proceeds, there are a few reasons for doing so. One of these reasons is avoiding creditors.

Do you have a lot of debt? Are creditors constantly calling? If so, you may worry that all of your inheritance money will go directly to paying off your debts. This is a very valid worry, because that is precisely what would happen if you accepted any kind of windfall while swimming in debt.

If you are attempting to disclaim your inheritance so that your creditors don’t have access to it, you may be hoping to divert that money to your children or other beneficiaries. Unfortunately, in New Jersey, it is illegal to use a disclaimer to get out of paying your creditors. If you choose to disclaim your inheritance under these circumstances, it is highly likely that your creditors will still be able to access the funds due to the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act.

Discussing your situation ahead of time with your loved one will give them a chance to protect the money that you are hoping to avoid giving directly over to your creditors. One way to do this is to set up a protective trust or to simply leave you out of the will altogether and instead name your children or other family members as beneficiaries. Your creditors have zero claims to any money that is inherited directly by your children.

Going to these lengths to avoid paying your creditors signals that you are significantly deep in debt. While we understand the desire to keep from handing a large windfall directly to creditors, we also must note that there are steps you should take to get out of debt, and the sooner, the better.

Your options for debt relief in New Jersey depend a lot on the specific details of your situation.

  • How much debt are you carrying in comparison to your income?
  • Are you living beyond your means?
  • What is your credit score?
  • Do you own a home that you wish to keep?
  • How many different kinds of debt are you carrying?

NJ debt negotiation and relief is available to you. Beyond refusing windfalls, disclaiming your inheritance and any other steps you’re taking to avoid paying your creditors, imagine if you didn’t have to worry about those creditors at all anymore. Ridding yourself of a large chunk (or potentially all) of your debt is very possible; your financial future can look anyway you want it to as long as you take the right steps, now.

 

 

Fear of Death: The Newest American Epidemic

As medical advances began to rapidly increase several decades ago in the United States, the concept of death has become “optional” to a large percentage of Americans. Treatments, cures and therapies all have put a giant safety net under our lives; if one doctor can’t fix you, there is almost always one who is willing to try.

While progress in the medical field has allowed millions of people to live healthier, more fulfilling lives – the most notable change has been the rise in life expectancy rates. Over the past century, the average American has tacked on almost 20 years to their expected life span.

Americans who lived a century ago were not scared of death because of how common it was. Today’s Americans view medicine, science, diet and exercise as a cure for the problem of dying. Now that death has become something that typically occurs in old age, growing old feels like the ultimate failure to many. Denial of death has become the newest American epidemic.

Why is this a problem?

The intense fear of death in our country has put blinders on a large portion of the population, making it impossible to talk about or plan for the inevitable.

As the Baby Boomer generation now edges into old age, many of them are “fighting” growing old with facelifts, hair transplants, fillers, implants and a staunchly oblivious attitude toward their chronological age.

Denial of the eventuality of death has led to a stifled community who cannot even think about dying without breaking into a cold sweat. What this means is that no one wants to talk about their own mortality, or that of their parents (who may be Baby Boomers).

Depending on your own spiritual/religious/personal beliefs, you may not agree that death is something to fear. There are groups of Americans who welcome death as a part of life – a passage into a new beginning.

However, statistics show that most Americans are of the mindset that death is something that can be avoided. Many people in this group simply refuse to plan for their own demise, which leaves a whole new set of problems for those who are left behind.

Overcoming your fear of dying is imperative in that you simply must make plans for your children, your assets, your funeral – even your organs. Prior to dying, you may become ill or unable to care for yourself. Without an Advance Care Directive, no one will know your wishes in such a scenario.

Talking to a therapist about your fear of dying can be immensely helpful. You can learn how to make your life matter so that you develop an acceptance of your mortality. These are important steps for your own mental health, and they will allow you to make decisions about the end of your life – decisions that no one should make but you.

Start here. We’ll help gently guide you through setting up a proper estate plan.

 

Image: “No Fear” by Thomas Leuthard – licensed under CC 2.0

Can I Disinherit My Child in My NJ Will?

In New Jersey, as in most other states, a parent is permitted to legally disinherit a child, provided this intention is clearly stated in a valid will. What follows are the steps you must take to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled with regards to your estate, as well as a few caveats you should be aware of.
In New Jersey, if a person dies without having created a will, any property not disposed of in life will be governed by intestate succession rules. These rules are laid out in N.J.S.3B:5-3 through N.J.S.3B:5-14.

Can I choose to simply leave my child out of my will?
Though it might seem to be the most tactful way to handle this delicate matter, you must clearly state that you wish to disinherit your child in a valid will. Otherwise, the child will be protected by Section 3B:5-16 of New Jersey’s statutes, which protects children from accidentally being left out of a parent’s will.

Include a clause that mentions your child by their full name; this will attest to your having been of a sound mind when the will was drafted. You may keep it simple, saying only, “I have intentionally made no provision for my youngest child, John Doe.”

Do I have to state the reason I wish to disinherit my child?

The reason for disinheritance does not need to be included in your will, though whether or not to do so depends on the circumstances. If no ill will is intended, and there is no acrimony in the parent-child relationship, it is probably advisable to include a clause saying so. “I have adequately provided for my beloved son, John Doe, throughout his life; he is now a successful, independent man. I have therefore made no provision for him.”
There may, however, be good reason to remain silent on the cause for disinheritance. If including the motivation could give the child ammunition for challenging the will, or questioning your state of mind, it would be prudent to refrain from doing so. For similar reasons, it is advised that parents do not speak harshly of their child in a will. The disinheritance is most likely an adequately sharp gesture; there is no need to further attack the child after you have passed away.

Keep in mind that a disinherited child will likely attempt to contest the will. However, if you’ve followed the advice laid out here, your assets will be protected.
The Takeaway:

Here are the steps you must follow to protect your assets:

1. You must create a legally binding will.

2. Update this will any time there is a change in the family: birth, marriage, adoption, or death.

3. Clearly state your intention to disinherit your child in your NJ will, and use your child’s full name when you do so.

4. Include the reason if it will help your child feel more positively about the omission, but exclude it if it will give a hostile child more ammunition to contest your will.
Image: “footsteps” by Catrin Austin – licensed under CC 2.0

Asset Planning for Seniors in New Jersey

Seniors today are remaining spry, exceedingly physically fit, and overtly healthier than our predecessors of decades and centuries past. Although extended life expectancies mean more time to make memories with family members and loved ones, they can also mean that your finances have the potential to expire before you do.

While you may have created an estate plan in your 30s or 40s, it is important to reevaluate the details and all components of that plan if/when you live so long that parts of your plan become null, void, irrelevant or outdated.

At Veitengruber Law, we can provide you with long-term planning guidance for all stages of your life. Even if your current estate plan (Last Will and Testament) was drafted by someone other than our firm, we are more than happy to help you protect your assets.

Medicaid rules are numerous and complex. As you approach age 65 (or if you are currently receiving SSDI and are younger than age 65), we will make sure that you understand all of the rules and eligibility requirements.

Medicaid is associated with something called the “five-year look back period,” which can often be confusing and problematic without the help of an experienced New Jersey asset protection attorney. Although we cannot predict the future (yet!), we do have extensive experience in all of the necessary legal areas that relate to the five-year look back period. These areas include: real estate law, foreclosure law, estate planning and credit repair.

You have undoubtedly worked for many years to support your family and to develop a savings/retirement plan that is very important to you. Whether or not your finances will be enough to support you with an extended life expectancy is something we can help you plan for.

As you age, you may need to address potential for long-term care. While this certainly isn’t something that anyone wishes to contemplate, the necessity for nursing home care is a reality as you age. This need may double if your spouse is also still living. We will help you estimate your potential longevity based on your family history and your individual health history in order to come up with the best plan to protect your assets in the event that long-term care is in your future.

If your original estate plan was completed several decades ago, you may need to revisit the designee for executor of your estate. It is possible that your original designee is no longer living, is in poor health, or is no longer part of your life due to divorce, relocation, death, or other circumstances.

In addition to reviewing your estate executor, we will help you to re-evaluate the beneficiaries named in your will. We will also help you assess all components of your estate plan (and determine if they need to be updated based on your current health and that of your spouse) including: your living will, advanced medical directive, power of attorney, your will and any trusts that you have set up.

To find out how we can protect your property and other assets from potential future events, sit down with our professional asset protection team today for a free consultation.

 

Image: “Application Denied” by GotCredit – licensed under CC by 2.0

Estate Planning for Blended Families

As of 2016, blended families outnumbered traditional families in the United States. In fact, the very definition of what constitutes a family has expanded so exponentially that we may wonder what a “traditional” family even looks like anymore. For our purposes in this article, a blended family is one wherein at least one spouse has previously been married. We will also focus on those spouses who bring children of their own to a new marriage.

Blended families are increasing in number due to several factors. Higher divorce rates mean there are more opportunities for single parents to remarry someone who may potentially also be a single parent. Although rising divorce rates may seem like a bad thing, the good news is that less people are staying in unhappy marriages – choosing instead to strive for happiness, which ultimately should have a positive effect on any children in the family.

With the expanded definition of what makes up a family in today’s society, any number of homes contain a new mixture of children – both hers, his, and “theirs.” Additionally, more and more divorces are amicable, with ex-spouses remaining friendly in order to co-parent. With the addition of a step-parent into the equation, the ex-spouse may wonder if their biological child(ren) will continue to be provided for in the other parent’s will.

Estate planning becomes more challenging with the addition of more family members, regardless of how happy everyone is at the time of the wedding. The hard truth about estate planning for blended (or “step”) families is that planning for the well-being of two sets of children can easily escalate into an argument between the new spouses.

It’s critical to remind clients who have recently become part of a blended family to make sure that they make the necessary changes to the beneficiaries listed on their insurance policies and retirement accounts. No matter what a will says, the named beneficiary will take precedence over the will. Failure to remove a former spouse as beneficiary can prove quickly disastrous to a new marriage. Arguments aside, if you pass away while your ex-spouse is still named as beneficiary on your retirement account(s), guess who’s going to get all of that money?

In order to ensure that you’re not missing any crucial components of a solid estate plan after you’ve grown into a blended family, you’ll need to work with a New Jersey attorney who has significant experience working with complex estate plans. Your attorney will be able to advise you on:

  • Reciprocal wills (and how they can be problematic for blended families)
  • Non-reciprocal wills
  • Life insurance in addition to a will to provide for everyone in question
  • Testamentary trusts
  • QTIP trusts
  • Pre-marital agreements
  • Health care power of attorney
  • Living wills
  • Support obligations
  • Real property

The ultimate goal when working to set up an estate plan as a blended family is open communication between everyone involved. By maintaining open conversations about the details of your estate plan, no one will be left with an unexpected outcome.

 

Image: “Mike & Carla’s Wedding” by Jason Meredith – licensed under CC by 2.0