Articles Posted in Estate Planning

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key-2114044__340-300x169Generally, before the estate of a decease person can sell real estate, the individual(s) named as executor in the will must probate and be formally appointed as executor.  If there is no will, then the closest heir at law must apply to the surrogate’s court to be appointed as administrator of the estate.  An administrator would follow the same steps as an executor in order to sell real estate.

Estates with a value in excess of $5,450,000 are subject to federal estate tax pursuant to IRC Section 6324.  IRS estate tax liens automatically attach to real property (“real estate”) which was owned by a decedent on her date of death.  In order to have this tax lien discharged, the seller must follow these steps in order to close on the sale of the property and have the federal estate tax lien discharged:

The executor of the estate must complete and file IRS Form 4422 and provide the required supporting documents.  In order to compete this form you must know the value of all estate assets and expenses.  And you must have the required supporting documentation including: the last will and testament, the contract for sale of the real estate, the closing statement or proposed closing statement for the sale (which shows all payments, credits, expenses and offsets), the federal estate tax form 706 and documentation reflecting the value of all the estate’s assets.  With Form 4422 the executor must also submit for 8821, a tax information authorization form.  Additionally, IRS Form 4422 must be filed at least 45 days prior to the closing of the sale of the real estate.

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twitter-292994__340-300x200When you think about estate planning, most people think about their physical possessions, their real estate and their financial assets, but in this day and age, you also need to consider your digital assets.   You may have as much as 20 years of active digital presence.  This can include documents, photos, and on-line accounts such as Facebook, Google,  back-up services, Linked In, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.  Such digital accounts generally have no expiration date.

It is important to consider what will happen when you die to your accounts and the data contained them.  It is important to consider what will happen if you do nothing, and decide if that is what you want to happen.   It is an often overlooked part of estate planning.

Many online accounts allow you plan during life for what will happen to the account upon death.  However, this is all very new and some of the most popular online accounts do not provide a way to plan for what will happen to the account upon the account owner’s death. For any accounts which do not allow you to plan, it is desirable to establish a plan now with a trusted loved one.

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Frequently, when you or a family member are first diagnosed with dementia, you still have the capatestament-1183175__340-300x200city and are legally “competent” to make your own estate planning decisions.  The four documents discussed here will assist a person with dementia and their loved ones as the disease progresses and they no longer have the mental capacity under the law to execute these documents and are no longer able to make decisions for themselves.   If a person has not already made these planning decisions and executed the necessary documents, they must act immediately while they still have the mental (and legal) capacity to do so.

In order to be legally capable to sign estate planning documents a person must have “testamentary capacity” – they must be able to understand the import and consequences of what they are signing.  They must understand the mechanisms being put in place and the who they are appointing to make decisions for them.  Even if a person only has periods of lucidity it does not mean they automatically lack the required mental capacity.   That can be complicated, as they need to review and execute the documents during a period of lucidity.  Sometimes meetings with their attorney will need to be rescheduled to accomplish this goal.

The most important documents for a person who has been diagnosed with dementia are the Durable Power of Attorney, the Living Will, the Health Care Proxy and the Last Will and Testament.

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The New Jersey Estate Tax is being phased out beginning with residents dying on or after January 1, 2017.  Governor Christie signed a new law calculator-385506__340[1], the new tax laws reduce the estate tax for resident decedent’s dying in 2017 by increasing the exemption amount to $2,000,000.00, and then eliminating the New Jersey Estate Tax altogether for resident decedents dying on or after January 1, 2018.  New Jersey is no longer one of the worst states in which to die, and New Jersey resident seniors may no longer feel the need to establish domicile elsewhere. Those New Jersey decedents dying in 2016 with estates exceeding $675,000 will remain subject to New Jersey estate tax. Further, the federal estate tax will continue to apply to estates greater than the federal exemption amount, currently $5,450,000, which increases annually based on inflation.  And, after the recent elections, we need to keep an eye out for new laws enacting changes to the tax code.

However, while the New Jersey Estate Tax is being phased out, the Inheritance Tax will remain.  New Jersey is one of only six states which impose an inheritance tax on transfers from a decedent to a beneficiary.   Whether an estate is subject to inheritance tax is determined by the relationship between the decedent and the beneficiary.  Bequests to “Class A” beneficiaries (i.e. spouses/domestic partners, parents, children) are not subject to inheritance tax.  The tax rate on transfers to non Class A beneficiaries depends on the “Class” of the beneficiary and the value of the asset transferred to that beneficiary.  Likewise, non-resident decedents who own New Jersey real estate or tangible personal property will continue to be subjected to the New Jersey Inheritance Tax.  Additionally, New Jersey Inheritance Tax Waivers will still be required in order to transfer title to real estate, brokerage accounts, securities and bank accounts.

Please call or e-mail the attorneys at McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC to create an estate plan or  review and update an existing plan.

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This is called dying intestate and if you die without a Last Will and Testament as a resident of the the State of New Jersey your estate will be distributed according to the New Jersey laws of intestacyhand-229777__180   Since there is no will to probate, your nearest living relative who is willing to do so will need to be appointed as administrator of your estate by the surrogate’s court.

However, not all of your assets will be distributed through the process of estate administration.  There are many assets which, through contract law, pass automatically to a designated beneficiary.  Examples of assets that pass automatically are:

  • Real estate owned with another person as joint tenants
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The general durable power of attorney is an important and powerful document. New Jersey law, N.J.S.A. 46:2B8-1, et seq., provides this mechanism so that you may appoint another to handle your affairs. A durable power of attorney is effective during the lifetime of the person who signs it (the “principal”). Its purpose is to appoint another person (or multiple people) who can stand in the shoes of the principal and act on their behalf. The designated person is referred to as the “agent”.

In a general durable power of attorney the principal designates one or more people to act on the principal’s behalf. If the principal appoints more than one persons, he can require that the designated agents must act together, or structure the power so that each person can act alone without the knowledge or consent of the co-agent. Appointing two agents who can act individually can however have drawbacks. If both do not agree on a proposed course of action, it can lead not only to discord and infighting, but to litigation. If one agent feels it is in the principal’s best interest to sell his home, but the co-agent disagrees, the co-agent might bring an action in court to block the sale. The situation would be more difficult if one of the agents had signed a contract for sale with a buyer, as now, the buyer may join the litigation to force the sale. If the agents were required to act jointly they would be forced to come to an agreement before third parties and/or the courts were involved. Finally, it is always recommended that the principal name a successor agent who can act if the first named agent is unwilling or unable to do so.

The most difficult decision the principal has is deciding who to name as agent. Since the agent under a power of attorney must handle the financial affairs of the principal, it is important to choose someone who is organized, responsible and financially savvy. Obviously, it should be a person the principal trusts implicitly. The principal should speak with the proposed agent prior to the appointment to ensure that the person would be willing to take on the responsibilities if it becomes necessary.

However, it is important to make this difficult decision and execute a power of attorney because without one there is no one who can make financial decisions for person once they are no longer capable of handling their own affairs. Unless appointed by a power of attorney, even a spouse does not have the power to handle her spouse’s affairs. For example a spouse cannot access IRA or 401K accounts, cannot mortgage or sell real estate and cannot speak to social security or the motor vehicle commission. Once a person is incapacitated and no longer able to handle their own affairs, they in all likelihood no longer have the capacity to execute a general durable power of attorney. At that point, the only option is to have a guardian appointed for the incapacitated individual. To appoint a guardian, a court action is required which, even if it is uncontested takes considerable time and expense.
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American_quarter_horse.jpgMany people feel that their pets are members of their family and want to make sure that their pets will be well cared for in the event of their death or incapacity. You must plan if you want to make sure that someone will care for your pet were you to pass away or become incapacitated, since that is not necessarily the case and people and normally under no obligation to do so. As a result, pets are often abandoned after their owners are no longer able to care for them.

In order to ensure that your beloved pets continue to be cared for, you can establish an “animal care trust,” which will designate a caregiver, provide funding for your pet’s care and appoint a trustee to fulfill the terms of the trust. New Jersey is one of forty-six states which have laws allowing for the creation of a pet trust. These trusts are gaining in popularity with pet owners who love their pets and want to guarantee that their pets are well cared for, and want to determine who will provide that care.

New Jersey law, NJ ST 3B:11-38, authorizes the creation of an animal care trust. The trust must be created specifically for the purpose of providing care for a domestic animal. It is only permitted to last for a period of 21 years, or the life of the pet (whichever is shorter). The trust must designate who shall be the caregiver of the pet in the event you are no longer able to provide such care. It must also designate a trustee who will be charged with carrying out the terms of the trust. TheTrustee will ensure that the pet is delivered to the caregiver and will oversee disbursement of the funds in the trust for the purposes of caring for the pet. The trust should designate an alternate caregiver and an alternate trustee to serve if the primary caregiver and/or trustee are not able or willing to do so. The principal and income of the trust must only be used to provide care for the pet. The trust must also designate who will receive any funds remaining upon the trust’s termination. The trustee’s final duty under the trust shall be to transfer the unused trust property pursuant to the terms of the trust.

Typically, an animal care trust will direct the trustee to utilize the principal and income of the trust as the trustee deems necessary for the care, maintenance and medical treatment of the pet. The caregiver must request funds from the trustee, and the trustee must decide if the funds should be paid out of the trust.
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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for hands-833821-s.jpgOur clients often ask how they can protect their assets from Medicaid in the event a spouse must enter an assisted living facility in the future. While the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Coverage Act of 1988 allows a community spouse (the spouse who does not require the coverage) to preserve certain assets,, the community spouse may only retain up to $113,640 (this is known as the “Community Spouse Resource Allowance”). However, often Community Spouse Resource Allowances will be insufficient for the community spouses to maintain their current standard of living.

One method which can be used to increase the funds available to the community spouse is an annuity which converts funds into income for the community spouse. As the community spouse’s income is not considered when determining Medicaid eligibility, the funds which would have been countable are removed from the eligibility determination. Those funds no longer need to be spent down prior to applying for Medicaid.

For instance, suppose a New Jersey couple has $500,000 in assets. While a community spouse may be permitted to retain $113,640, the balance of the assets would need to be “spent down” before the spouse would be permitted to apply for Medicaid. However, if the assets are transferred to the community spouse and then the community spouse uses the funds to purchase a qualifying annuity, then the assets are no longer “countable” for Medicaid purposes. This is a permissible way to protect assets for two reasons: First, transfers to spouses are permitted under the Medicaid rules and are not subject to the 5 year “look back” rule and, second, the money used by the community spouse to purchase the annuity was spent to purchase something of equal value and are also not subject to the five year look back rules. As the community spouse’s income is not considered for purposes of Medicaid eligibility, the assets have effectively been converted into an income stream and protected for the use of the community spouse. This, of course, is subject to the community spouse’s Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance restrictions. The income cannot exceed the allowed amount.
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Thumbnail image for hello-my-name-is-1428915-m.jpgIndividuals are permitted to change their names as long as they have a permissible reason to do so. Obviously, a name change will not be approved if the purpose or effect of the change is fraudulent, such as avoiding creditors or criminal proceedings. The court can also deny an application for a name change if the reason for the change is “frivolous.”

In order to change your name in New Jersey, you must prepare and file a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey. You must certify that the information contained in the complaint is true to the best of your knowledge. The complaint must include: the reason for the name change, your current name, your marital status, that you are not attempting to avoid creditors or criminal prosecution, your citizenship status, the place and date of your birth, and your parents’ names. There is a $200 filing fee which must be paid when the complaint is filed with the court.

After the complaint to change your name and related documents are filed with the Superior Court of New Jersey, the judge will issue an order with a hearing date. You must appear before the judge and ask for your name to be changed. In the order issued by the judge, you will be required to publish the hearing date in a newspaper and present an affidavit of publication to the court. Then, if you properly complied with the notice requirements and the judge is satisfied with the reason for your request, the information you provided and that you are not seeking a name change for a fraudulent purpose, the judge will issue a final judgment changing your name.

If you have pending criminal charges against you, you may still seek a name change. However, you must first notify the prosecutor by sending a copy of the verified complaint and order fixing the date of hearing by certified mail to either the prosecutor of the county where the matter is pending, or to the director of criminal justice in Trenton if the charges were brought against you by the office of the New Jersey attorney general.
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stock-photo-15852330-elderly-couple-talking-and-smiling.jpgThe American Bar Association Task Force on Real Property Probate and Trust Law issued a report discussing the following shortcomings of drafting your own estate planning documents using the services of a “Do It Yourself” package. Some of those short comings are as follows.

  • Things are often more complicated than they seem. When a person writes their own will, often the results are not what she intended. For example, an elderly widow wants to divide her assets equally between her two adult children. Her assets consist or a house worth $500,000 and an IRA worth $500,000. She decides to write her own will giving one child the house and the other the IRA. Then after her death, it comes to light that the IRA, which has designated beneficiaries, is to be shared equally by her two children. Moreover, at the time of her death, her IRA is valued at $200,000 and the value of the house has appreciated to $600,000. So, one child receives the house and $100,000 from the IRA house, a total value of $700,000 and the second child receives $100,000 from the IRA. This was not what she intended. Having an experienced estate planning lawyer can help prevent this.
  • An estate planning lawyer offers more than the expertise in drafting your documents. A significant role of an estate planning lawyers is to counsel clients when making these important and personal decisions, for example, guidance on whom to choose as a guardian for minor children. While this may seem simple, it is complex decision on who is best suited to nurture children, but consideration must also be given the ability to provide financial support. Moreover, when a couple makes decisions, it may be important to have an attorney help the couple chose guardians who are acceptable to both parties.
  • In the event of a dispute after a person’s death, the court will often hear a wide variety of allegations about the decedent’s intentions – all from family members who have an interest in how the court will decide. This is a difficult role for a judge who will look to hear from a person who had discussion with the decedent while she was alive about how she wanted her assets to be distributed. Often, that person is the estate planning lawyer.
  • Technical issues with your will can render it void. A will must unequivocally state the decedent’s intentions. If you draft your own will, you might inadvertently use words which are meaningless in the probate court. For example, if you state “I would like my niece to have my car” would be an unenforceable provision. Moreover, the will must be executed in accordance with New Jersey probate and estate law in order to be admitted to probate and enforced.
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