Estate Planning Articles
Some of these articles have been written by our law firm and other articles are written by the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys and compliments of our law firm. Any feedback or questions about the articles can be addressed by contacting our office.
Compliments of The Augulis Law Firm,
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
Every year, about 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States. Over their lifetimes, many of these children will contend with serious medical conditions including heart defects, gastrointestinal problems, visual or hearing impairment, dementia, and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, the costs associated with Down syndrome can be astronomical and many of those with the condition receive public benefits, such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
All parents want their children to be happy and to enjoy long-term financial stability, and parents whose children have Down syndrome often believe the best way to accomplish this is to leave money to their children using a Will, a life insurance policy, or a retirement account. However, leaving money directly to the child can disqualify him or her from receiving much-needed benefits. For example, under SSI rules, a recipient is limited to $2,000 in assets. If a recipient has property valued more than this amount, his or her benefits are suspended until those assets are “spent down” below the $2,000 threshold.
This means that the unintended consequence of an inheritance or even a big gift from grandma could result in a loss of valuable benefits.
What is the best way to plan for long-term financial security for your child? One solution is to establish a Special Needs Trust.
Under the terms of a Special Needs Trust, a Trustee manages trust property to ensure that it will remain a long-term source of funds for the child. The Trustee has discretion to distribute trust assets to (or on behalf of) the child, as long as he or she follows strict rules that forbid the use of Special Needs Trusts for any of the services covered by government benefits. In a nutshell, Medicaid and SSI benefits continue to cover the basics, while trust assets can be used to provide a child with the “extras” that enhance quality of life.
Often, parents opt for a Special Needs Trust that goes into effect when they die, but this isn’t the only choice. You can also establish a trust that takes effect during your lifetime. There are a number of advantages to establishing such a trust. For instance:
- Substantial gifts to your child from grandparents and other family members can be paid into the trust without fear that they’ll interrupt your child’s benefits.
- Funds you have earmarked for your child’s care can be transferred to the trust. After the transfer, they’ll be treated as separate assets – not yours and not your child’s. This way, the funds will be out of reach of your creditors and safe in the event of divorce. The Trustee you’ve selected will manage them on behalf of your child, so you can rest assured the funds will be put to their best possible use.
For more information about Special Needs Trusts, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney. He or she can help you sort through all your options and establish a comprehensive plan that meets the needs of your child and your entire family.
Most people won’t be familiar with legal terminology if it’s their first time considering a visit to an estate planning attorney. Before a consultation, review this short list of common estate planning terms to help you prepare and feel more comfortable as you begin to create your plan.
Not long ago, women rarely took much interest in estate planning for several reasons. Today, however, the need for estate planning is even greater if you are a woman. Debunking some of the common myths surrounding the concept of women and estate planning is a good place to start.
Most estate plans can benefit from the addition of a Medicaid planning component that helps ensure eligibility for Medicaid to help cover the high cost of long-term care (LTC) in the future. One of the many tools in the Medicaid planning arsenal is compensation paid as part of a personal services contract.
Owning assets outside the United States raises a number of estate planning questions: Who gets your property when you pass away? What taxes are due? And how should your estate plan in the U.S. be tailored to ensure that all your property – here and abroad – is transferred as efficiently and effectively as possible?
Your home is likely your family’s most valuable asset, not only emotionally, but also financially. Read this article to learn how you can take advantage of the tax, estate planning, and asset protection benefits available to you as a homeowner.
Joint tenancy is a popular form of property ownership, primarily because when one owner dies, title to the property automatically re-vests in the surviving joint tenants. But using joint tenancy to avoid probate can create more problems than it solves.
Terri Schiavo spent over ten years in a persistent vegetative state following a heart attack. During that time, her husband and parents waged an emotionally and financially draining legal battle that made it all the way to the President’s desk. It all could have been avoided had Terri executed an advance directive prior to her collapse back in 1990.
Augulis Law Firm LLC — Probate FAQ
Because probate is required of almost every estate, there is a high likelihood that you will find yourself directly involved in the probate of an estate at some point during the course of your lifetime. This might happen because you are named as the Executor/Personal Representative in a Will or because you volunteer to be the Administrator when someone dies intestate (without a Will). You might also find yourself a beneficiary, heir, or creditor of an estate that is being probated. Even if you manage to avoid involvement in the probate of someone else’s estate, a basic knowledge of the probate process remains important so that you can understand the role it will play in the creation of your own estate plan. With that in mind, the New Jersey probate attorneys at the Augulis Law Firm LLC have created several frequently asked questions and answers relating to the probate process that you may find beneficial. If you have specific questions relating to the probate of your own estate, or that of a loved one, feel free to contact out office to schedule a consultation.
- What is probate? When a person dies, he or she leaves behind an estate that is made up of all assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. Ownership of those assets must eventually be transferred to the beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. Debts of the estate must also be paid. Probate is the legal process that ensures that all of that occurs in a timely and efficient manner.
- Is probate always required? Some type of probate is almost always required; however, formal probate may not be necessary. Like most states, the State of New Jersey offers an alternative to formal probate for small estates without complex assets. Filing a small estate affidavit, in lieu of formal probate, may be possible if the decedent’s estate qualifies.
- What is the difference between a “testate” and an “intestate” estate? If the decedent left behind a Last Will and Testament the estate is referred to as a “testate” estate. If the decedent failed to execute a Will prior to his/her death, the estate is known as an “intestate” estate. The primary difference between the two is found in how the estate assets are distributed. In a testate estate, the decedent’s Will determines how the estate’s probate assets are to be distributed. If the decedent dies intestate and is a resident of New Jersey, the New Jersey intestate succession laws dictate how the estate assets are distributed. Intestate succession laws, including those in New Jersey, usually require the estate assets to be distributed to close relatives only, such as a spouse or children if any survived the decedent and then parents and/or siblings if no spouse and/or children survived the decedent.
- Are all assets part of the probate process? Some assets bypass probate altogether, meaning they can be distributed to the intended beneficiaries shortly after the decedent’s death instead of having to wait until the end of the probate process. Examples of no-probate assets include:
- Assets held in a trust
- Certain types of jointly held property
- Life insurance proceeds
- Funds held in an account designated as “payable on death (POD)” or “transfer on death (TOD)”
- Certain funds held in retirement or pension accounts
- Who oversees the probate of an estate? If the decedent executed a Last Will and Testament prior to death, the person named as the Executor/Personal Representative of the Will is who will oversee the probate of the estate. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult can volunteer to be the Administrator of the estate and oversee the probate process. If no one volunteers, the court will appoint someone, usually a local attorney, to be the Personal Representative (the generic name used to refer to an Executor or Administrator).
- What are the steps involved in the probate process? Although every estate is unique, there are some common steps required during the probate of the average estate, including:
- Identifying, locating, and valuing all estate assets.
- Opening the probate of the estate by filing a petition, along with an official death certificate, in the appropriate court.
- Notifying creditors of the estate that probate is underway.
- Identifying, locating, and notifying beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate that the estate is being probated.
- Reviewing and approving or denying creditor claims.
- Prioritizing and paying approved claims.
- Selling assets, if necessary, to pay creditors.
- Defending any challenges to the Will or litigating any claims made by creditors that were denied.
- Calculating any paying federal (and state, if applicable) gift and estate taxes
- Effectuating the legal transfer of the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries and/or legal heirs of the estate.
- How long does the probate process take? The amount of time it takes an estate to get through the probate process depends on several factors, including the type of probate required, the size, value and complexity of the estate, and the skill and efficiency of the Executor/Administrator. As a general rule, the larger and more valuable the estate, the longer it takes to probate. In addition, if someone challenges the validity of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, the ensuing Will contest will prolong the probate process as well.
- Do you need an attorney to help during probate? There is no legal requirement that an Executor/Personal Representative hire an attorney to help during the probate process; however, most do retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney because of the legal issues involved in probating an estate.
If you have additional questions about the probate of an estate in New Jersey, contact the experienced New Jersey probate attorneys at Augulis Law Firm, LLC by calling 908-222-8803 to schedule your appointment today.
Augulis Law Firm – Communities We Serve – Old Bridge Township, New Jersey
The estate plan you create today will impact you and your loved ones for many years to come. When properly drafted, that estate plan can provide protection for not just your estate assets, but for your family as well. The estate planning attorneys and staff at the Augulis Law Firm understand the importance of tailoring an estate plan to meet your needs and goals, not just now but for the future as well. We are committed to helping our friends and neighbors in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey with all of their estate planning needs.
The History of Old Bridge Township, New Jersey
The Native Americans known as the Lenni Lenape were the first inhabitants of the area now known as Old Bridge. Those who settled in Old Bridge were known as the Unami, or “people down the river.” Every summer, they migrated to the shore along the Raritan from their hunting grounds in the north. European settlors, however, were setting down stakes in the area as far back as the late 17th century. In fact, South Amboy Township was formed in 1864 At that time, it covered an area that now consists of the Townships of Monroe and Old Bridge, the Borough of Sayreville and the City of South Amboy. The Township covers 42 square miles that separated from South Amboy on March 2, 1869, and was originally called Madison Township. The name “Old Bridge” refers to the fact that the fact that the first bridge spanning the South River was built there, and as other bridges were built across the river the first one became known as “the Old Bridge.” Prior to that, it was known as South River Bridge.”
Initially, the township was made up of farms and the population grew slowly. In 1880, the population was 1,662 and in 1950 it had reached 7,365. Over the next decade, a building boom started and farms gave way to developments, and the population grew to 22,772 by 1960. The 1980 census cited 51,406 people. The township saw major changes with the extension of Route 18 to the shore.
Old Bridge Township, New Jersey Today
Located in Middlesex County, New Jersey, Old Bridge Township covers approximately 40 square miles and shares a border with New York City. As of the 2010 Census, just over 65,00 people called Old Bridge Township home. Old Bridge Township is considered a “bedroom suburb” of New York City given its location across the Raritan Bay from Staten Island. The township was named as a contender for the title of one of the best places to live in the United States by Money magazine in both 2005 and 2007. In 2016, SafeWise named Old Bridge Township as the sixth-safest city in America to raise a child and was the second-highest ranked of the 12 communities in New Jersey included on the list.
Augulis Law Firm in the Old Bridge Township, New Jersey Community
Your estate plan should accomplish much more than simply creating a roadmap to be used after you are gone to distribute your estate assets. At the Augulis Law Firm, we are dedicated to helping you create a personalized estate plan that focuses on your unique needs and goals. To accomplish this, we strive to create lifelong relationships with our Old Bridge Township, New Jersey clients so that we can monitor and revise your estate plan as needed throughout the course of your life.
When you create your first estate plan, it may be a relatively simple plan because your estate planning needs are simple. As you mature and move through the various stages of your life, however, that plan should be reviewed and revised as a matter of routine and when a life event warrants an immediate update. Your initial plan may focus entirely on ensuring that you don’t leave behind an intestate estate in the event of your death. If you marry and/or become a parent, your plan will need to be revised to ensure that your spouse and/or children are provided for in the vent that something happens to you. You may decide to create a trust to protect your minor child’s inheritance, for example. Incapacity planning will also become essential. Estate planning components such as probate avoidance, asset protection, and retirement planning will likely be added to your comprehensive plan at some point. When you start looking toward your “Golden Years,” you may wish to incorporate retirement planning and Medicaid planning into your estate plan. Finally, if you have specific wishes and/or beliefs about end of life medical care you will want to execute advanced directives to ensure that those wishes and beliefs are honored. The same applies to your wishes with regard to your own funeral and burial. By including funeral and burial planning in your estate plan, you can rest assured that your wishes will be honored after you are gone.Our hope at the Augulis Law Firm is that we can be there with you as you pass through the various phases of your life to help ensure that your estate plan protects you, your assets, and your loved ones.
If you have additional questions about New Jersey estate planning, contact the experienced New Jersey estate planning lawyers at Augulis Law Firm by calling 908-222-8803 to schedule your appointment today.