Your estate plan is an investment in you and your family’s future. As years pass, your family may grow, your assets will change, and new laws will be passed. We recommend all of our clients review their estate planning documents once every three to six years.
This Checklist focuses on the foundation of your estate plan, including documents such as a Last Will and Testament, Revocable Trust, General Durable Power of Attorney and Living Will. (Note that references to a “Will” on this Checklist are generally interchangeable with the term “Revocable Trust”, which can also be used as the centerpiece of an estate plan.) However, irrevocable trusts – such as a Life Insurance Trust – and other estate planning vehicles should also be reviewed periodically to see if they are performing as expected.
Below are some questions YOU should ask yourself when reviewing your existing NJ estate plan documents. This is a three-part series.
- Do you have a (i) Last Will and Testament, (ii) Revocable Trust, (iii) General Durable Power of Attorney (POA), and (iv) Health Care Power of Attorney/Health Care Proxy/Living Will? Every complete estate plan must contain at least three of these documents.
- Have you moved to another state since you last updated your New Jersey estate planning documents? If you moved from another state to New Jersey, there may be questions of the interpretation or validity of your existing estate planning documents.Generally, estate planning documents executed in one state will be valid in another state, but your new state of residence may have specific statutes or tax laws that are not addressed in your existing estate planning documents. You may want to contact an attorney in your new state or residence to advise you as to what might need to be updated.
- Do you have a separate personal property designation in your will or trust? This is a separate writing where you indicate who should receive specific items of your personal property such as photographs, jewelry, art work, etc. If you have one, you should review it and make sure that it is still an expression of your wishes. If you don’t have a personal property designation, you may want to consider creating one so that specific items will go to specific people.
- Is any person receiving your estate a minor (under 18)? If so, your estate plan should make provisions for that property to be held by the minor’s Guardian or trustee under a carefully written trust until he or she attains an appropriate age.
- Do you have any specific gifts or bequests you want to make? Any gift of a cash amount or of an asset other than personal property should be stated in your Will. If you have given away a specific asset to a person in your existing Will (i.e. your shore house), be sure that the asset still exists. Also, your Will should provide for what happens if the specific asset is sold during your lifetime.
- Are your total combined assets, including life insurance death benefits, greater than $675,OOO? If so, there may be a New Jersey Estate Tax imposed at your death. Both Federal and New Jersey Estate Taxes can be reduced or even eliminated with appropriate estate tax planning. If you are married, both spouses’ assets should be totaled together to see if they exceed $675,000. If you have a taxable estate your estate plan should contain trusts or other provisions to reduce taxes.
Fredrick P. Niemann is managing partner at Hanlon Niemann located at 3499 Route 9 North, Freehold, NJ. His practice focuses primarily in the areas of Elder Law, Asset and Estate Protection Planning, Medicare, Medicaid and Veteran’s Benefit Assistance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org/, or by calling 732-863-9900, Ext. 101.