That question gets asked quite a bit, especially from people who’ve come from other states. While many other states assign their probate concerns to Superior Courts, County Courts, and other courts, we have a different name for that entity here in New Jersey. Here, the person responsible for proving wills and assigning executors (personal representatives) to settle estates is known as the Surrogate. There’s a Surrogate Court in each New Jersey County, and he or she serves as that court’s judge on probate matters, guardianship issues, and more.
This is another term that’s been passed down to us from a time when there was a difference between the will and the testament. Back then, the term “will” was used to designate how real property was to be disposed of, while “testament” referred to the decedent’s instructions regarding the distribution of personal effects. Though we still sometimes use the term Last Will and Testament, the will now encompasses real property and personal effects. You could just refer to it as the Last Will and be just as accurate – but that old term still works too.
The fact that you’re asking this question should be an indication that you need some sort of plan. Let’s face it; at some point, we all die. If you passed away tomorrow, what are the odds that you would die with all your debts paid, and your heirs’ inheritances already in their possession? That never happens, right? The reality is that we all need a way to have our affairs settled when we die, and your estate plan is the best way to ensure that they are settled in the manner you prefer.
Of course, some people wonder just how big their estates need to be before they need to have an estate plan. If you own anything at all, you need to have a plan. However, if you have a spouse, children, or other dependents, then the need for a proper estate plan is even more important. The best thing to do when it comes to determining whether you need an estate plan is to assume that you do. Death comes to us all, and estate planning is the only way that we can protect those we love.
Each year, there are many people around New Jersey and throughout the United States who die without a will. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since most estimates suggest that more than half of us lack such basic estate planning. So, what happens to your estate if you die without a plan? Well, the Surrogate will appoint a personal representative to take care of the probate process, and most things proceed just as they would with a will – until it comes time to distribute your assets. At that point, those assets are delivered in accordance with the intestate succession provisions of state law. That means, of course, that you’ll have no say over who receives your wealth.
Trusts are wonderful tools that can accomplish many important estate planning goals. They can help your estate to avoid probate, may ensure that your heirs receive a larger share of your estate, and can deal with a variety of special situations. They may or may not benefit you, depending upon your unique circumstances. It is important to note, however, that the use of trusts in the estate planning process has grown in popularity in recent years, largely because trusts have evolved to meet a variety of new challenges. Your attorney will be able to help you decide whether they’re right for you.
You’ve probably seen advertisements or articles suggesting that a living trust can reduce your taxes. This claim is often made about revocable trusts – but it’s not true. The fact is that a revocable trust provides zero benefits where taxation is concerned. It won’t reduce your taxable income or shield wealth from the estate tax. The reason why is simple: legally, that money never really leaves your control while you’re alive, since you can revoke the trust and reclaim the assets any time you get the urge to do so.
As you probably know, New Jersey is one of six U.S. states that imposes an inheritance tax on estate beneficiaries. Like other states, however, that tax does not apply equally to all classes of beneficiaries. In fact, there is one class that is not subject to any sort of inheritance tax levy at all. That so-called “Class A” beneficiary group includes the deceased’s spouse, parents, grandparents, children (including adopted children), and any children or stepchildren that have been publicly acknowledged.
The simple answer is that yes, you can create your own will. The better question is this: should you do so? The sad reality is that many self-created wills are judged invalid every year. Your Last Will is a legally enforceable document that must be executed in accordance with statutory requirements if it is to be enforced. That can require at least some level of legal expertise of the sort that you can only get from a competent estate planning attorney.
The experts at the Augulis Law Firm can help you to get the wills, trust, and other estate planning tools you need to protect your estate and family. To find out more, contact us at our website or give us a call at (908) 222-8803.