Estate Planning For New Jersey Residents

Rich or poor every NJ family requires thoughtful estate planning.

Moving forward begins with us and continues with us. No family is fully protected without Estate Planning — or more specifically creating a set of legal documents that protect you, your children and your property in the event that you, your spouse or your parents should become incapacitated. They include wills, living wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney and more. Without these documents in place families in crisis are thrown into further, and completely avoidable, crisis. Good estate planning ensures the emotional well-being of your family and support your family’s decisions when you are not able to guide them directly. Estate planning also allows you to control how your wealth is given to those you care about most.

Estate Planning includes:

  • Instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die.
  • Naming a guardian and an inheritance manager for minor children.
  • Providing for family members with special needs without disrupting government benefits.
  • Providing for loved ones who might be irresponsible with money or who may need future protection from creditors or divorce.
  • Including life insurance to provide for your family at your death, disability income insurance to replace your income if you cannot work due to illness or injury, and long-term care insurance to help pay for your care in case of an extended illness or injury.
  • Providing for the transfer of your business at your retirement, disability, or death.
  • Minimizing taxes, probate costs, and unnecessary legal fees.

If you don’t have an estate plan you are abdicating all decision-making to the state and that can prove disastrous for families; putting them at greater risk for financial crisis and family infighting.

When do you need to discuss your estate plans? If you have never done it, the answer is right now! If you have done it, your estate should be reviewed annually. And if your life circumstances change, your estate plans will invariably need to change too: births, deaths, marriage, divorce, illness, large purchases, inheritances, business acquisition or sale — the list is long. Call us and take a most important step in caring for your family.

The Truth About Estate Planning

If you care about the impact of your wealth and wisdom on your loved ones, we’re here to help with our unique LifeSpan Planning Process™.

We call it LifeSpan™ because we counsel together with client families to develop, maintain, enhance, and ultimately carry out their plans to convey a lifetime of earned and learned wisdom along with their material wealth to future generations. Our clients care deeply about passing what they have, to whom they want, when they want and the way they want, making the most positive impact possible on those who will receive it.

It’s not about Documents, it’s about RESULTS!

The documents are not what estate planning is about. Documents are no more than tools in a toolbox, available to be pulled out and used as needed to achieve a result you want. Don’t look at the hammer or screwdriver. Stay focused on what you want to build.

•  What are you looking to achieve for your family? What do you picture happening? How can you make a difference in the lives of those loved ones?

• None of this can be accomplished by the typical documents that people customarily ask for.

• On the other hand, you can do any of this (and so much more) with an estate plan that is created by a thoughtful and proactive approach, working with a counseling-oriented attorney.

Most people start their estate planning with some limited knowledge of the subject. They approach their lawyer with a statement like this:

“I need a living trust” or

“I only need a simple will” or

“I need a life estate deed.”

“Maybe it’s “I need a general durable power of attorney” or

“I need a health care power of attorney and a living will.”

Whatever “it” is, then the question that follows is “How much will you charge me for it?” An interesting thing then occurs at most law firms: the lawyer or secretary quotes the person a word-processing fee — for that is all the lawyer is going to do to fill the order — and the client gets a standard, one-size-fits-all document named whatever they requested.

Upon what experience does the average person base their belief that they “need” whatever “it” is?

Most folks have experienced a death in the family. Perhaps mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa died. Maybe their aunt died and left them as Executor. Few people have been through more than one or two of these experiences first hand and carried the responsibility of winding up an estate.

Then add to that experience the “education” they got talking with the barber, chatting at the donut shop, visiting with their minister, or talking with their insurance agent. Slip in what their brother-in-law said about when his cousin died, and you can pretty much sum up the average person’s “knowledge” about estate planning.

Quiz time. Have you ever even asked your attorney specifically, “How much will the estate plan you are preparing cost my family when I die?” Without asking, how do you know? We find that only about 1 in 20 people have actually asked this question. That is by far the most expensive part of the typical estate plan, but almost no one ever thinks to ask about this basic, fundamental estate planning issue.
Based upon their “vast amount” of experience and research, the average person “knows” that all they need is one of those whatever-you-call-it—trust, will, deed, etc., you fill in the blank.
Sounds like they’re going to get an estate plan that will really work for them, right?
Yeah, right!

Imagine going in to the doctor and saying, “Doc, I need some penicillin; how much will you charge me for it? Please do not examine me. Do not discuss it with me. I already know my problem and the cure. I just want a prescription for penicillin.” Sound ridiculous? How different is it?
It’s just like going to the lawyer and saying, “I need a [fill in the blank with the document you have in mind], how much will you charge me for it?”

Unfortunately, getting an estate plan this way gives the client an unjustified peace of mind, and in our experience, most of those clients will go to their grave with a plan that will fall far short of their expectations. Unless they get to see it from the next life, they will never know that their plan didn’t work as intended.

How else might one approach planning?

Ask yourself this question: “If I am able to look down on my family after I am gone, what will I see that will make me truly happy with the planning I did for them?” Don’t focus in on a will, or a trust, or a power of attorney—focus on the picture. Describe what your loved ones are doing, how they are getting along, how the grandchildren are growing up, how your loved ones are missing you . . . yet enjoying the benefits of whatever you were able to leave them.
That’s a different focus, isn’t it?
Let’s go a little deeper with the questions now. Ask yourself:

  • “What real-life problems might occur that I would most hate to see happen to my loved ones?”
  • “What opportunities could I provide my loved ones? How might I be able to genuinely improve their lives?”
  • “What are the strengths of this family that I would like to see built upon? We have a lot of strong points: what are they and how could they be expanded?”

The documents are not what estate planning is about. Documents are no more than tools in a toolbox, available to be pulled out and used as needed to achieve a result you want. Don’t look at the hammer or screwdriver. Stay focused on what you want to build.

What are you looking to achieve for your family? What do you picture happening? How can you make a difference in the lives of those loved ones?

Did you know you can strengthen your child’s marriage? Most traditional planning creates marital tension.

Would you believe you can help assure that your family stays connected?

Do you realize you can assure that your grandchildren develop a strong work ethic?

Have you considered that you can protect your heirs’ inheritance from lawsuits?

Did you know you can promote your spiritual values and family heritage long after you’re gone?

Do you realize you can make sure your surviving spouse won’t be “taken advantage of” by a smooth-talking suitor after you’re gone? And that you can protect your children at the same time?

Did you know you can avoid estate taxes even if your estate is worth millions of dollars? (OK, most readers don’t have to worry about that one, but it’s true!)
Did you know that you can spell out how you will—and won’t!—be cared for if you become mentally disabled?
Did you know that even if you spend a long time in the nursing home, you can still make sure your loved ones inherit most, if not all, of your property?
Did you know that the less you spend in the short term, the more your family will spend overall on your estate planning? That what you save now by “self-diagnosing” your legal needs you will far more than pay again in the long run? (An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!)
Would you believe this is barely scratching the surface of what you can “build” with your estate plan?

 

It’s true. But none of this can be accomplished by the typical documents that people customarily ask for, as we described at the beginning.
On the other hand, you can do any of this (and so much more) with an estate plan that is created by a thoughtful and proactive approach, working with a counseling-oriented attorney. Take advantage of the attorney’s years of experience seeing what results clients sought and working through the process of achieving those results for them. Learn from their experience with plans that failed—miserably—to achieve the client’s expectations, and learn how to avoid those pitfalls, most of which end up costing the family many times more than the proactive planning ever will.

Planning For Change

Life is full of change. Witness just the last few years of American history. An unprecedented Presidential election and contest. Radical changes in tax laws (four major changes in four years) and almost constant revisions to retirement plan income taxation regulations. A dramatic decline in the stock market and significant increases in unemployment as some of the economic policy of the last few years plays out. Terrorism – BIG terrorism – on our own shores. Declaration of war on terrorists and those who harbor them – some 50+ countries! A recently confirmed economic “recession” and ongoing recovery. Enron … and more brewing.

Never in my lifetime have Americans been quite so insecure, frustrated, and concerned – but also focused on our families, God, charity and country.

It really forces us to think again about our own financial and estate plans. If something happened to me now, would my family be okay? Would they have a legal and financial mess to clean up, or a carefully thought-out plan to follow with minimal expense and hassle? Will they have sufficient resources to take care of them in the standard of living I would hope? Are the investments and insurance I have adequate to provide for them? Maybe my plan looked pretty good two or three years ago, but things are different now.

Estate plans must be adaptable to change. We find that most people have thought about doing an estate plan, but they have only considered one step of what is actually a three step process. Every estate plan goes through three phases. Your plan (1) is initially created. Then you do not become disabled or die immediately so that plan (2) needs to be reviewed and updated periodically to stay current with your life and the world around you; then (3) you become disabled or die and the plan has to be carried out to do for you and your family what you intended.

So when you consider your estate plan, consider more than what it takes to just “create” the plan. Think also about what follow-through is required to make sure the plan will actually WORK!

We suggest that people assure themselves of a plan that will work by taking three strategic steps:

Strategy One: Work with counseling-oriented professional advisors in order to create a plan that matches your goals instead of one-size-fits-all legalese plan that a word-processing attorney would put you in (matching his goal of simple drafting!).

Strategy Two: The follow-through that is so often missed. This step has never been so important as in our world of change. To get a plan that will work, you should enter into a formal maintenance and education program. If you could design that updating program, what would it look like? We would suggest that it be designed to help you:

  • Maintain a reasonable awareness of your planning and how your day-to-day life might impact that planning;
  • Assure from day one, and thereafter maintain, proper titling of your assets as you buy, sell, trade, invest .as your assets change;
  • Educate those family members (or other helpers) who you want to take care of your affairs, so they will be prepared for their roles if you become disabled, and when you die;
  • Receive professional recommendations as to changes that occur in the law and have your plan documents updated to account for those changes, so your goals will be met despite changing laws that apply to those documents;
  • Be reminded to review and update the instructions you put in your plan as your family and your hopes for them evolve over the years; and
  • Receive these benefits at a predictable, low cost, while assuring yourself that a licensed professional is responsible to deliver them.

Because clients seem to want these benefits, we designed our LifeSpan™ (built upon on what we originally called TLC Planning™) annual maintenance program with these and many more specific, detailed benefits in mind.

Finally, your family can only stay in control of your estate planning process if you press on to

Strategy Three: SECURE appropriate assistance for you and your family to Transfer your wisdom along with your wealth.

Only if you get commitments now from the professionals who will have to help your family with administration of the plan upon disability and death will you stay in control of all three steps of the planning process.

If you care about the impact of your wealth and wisdom on your loved ones, we’re here to help with our unique LifeSpan Planning Process™.

We call it LifeSpan™ because we counsel together with client families to develop, maintain, enhance, and ultimately carry out their plans to convey a lifetime of earned and learned wisdom along with their material wealth to future generations.

Our clients do not all have large estates. But they all care deeply about passing what they have, to whom they want, when they want and the way they want, making the most positive impact possible on those who will receive it.

For some people, your only interest is in passing your material wealth. Our LifeSpan Planning Process™ is designed to help you do so efficiently and effectively.
More than ever before, people are expressing that the intangible assets in their life such as character, faith, morals and life lessons are dramatically more important than their tangible or financial assets. The LifeSpan Planning ProcessTM integrates these intangible assets into your planning efforts.

We encourage our clients to participate actively in their planning and commit to the lifelong process of carrying out their goals and objectives. LifeSpan™ planning generally costs less overall than traditional, reactive methods of will or living trust planning, but at the same time delivers significantly better results for you and your family.

We invite you to become a client of our firm. Check us out with no obligation by attending one of our client orientation Truth About Estate Planning™ workshops.

We offer no insurance or investments. We like to cooperate with your existing, trusted financial professionals to ensure that your financial tools and strategies will support your real-life estate planning goals and objectives.

Definition of Estate Planning

“Well, what would you like to do?” Husband and wife look at each other, then back to the estate-planning lawyer. “What should we do? That’s why we came to you.”

Every lawyer has had this conversation, and frequently it wanders off into a discussion of methods and strategies – lawyer talk – and leaves behind any focus on this unique family and its hopes, fears, needs, values and dreams. Deciding first on a technique, such as choosing between a will or a trust or how to avoid probate, does not identify the clients’ objectives that one method or the other might reach. But helping clients to decide on their planning goals puts them in control of the decisions and eliminates methods that do not fit. So, I will offer a set of underlying client goals, an “Estate Planning Definition,” from the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys. Once clients understand this definition, buy into it and make it their own, they can ask “Does our plan do all this?” and have a clear standard of success to provide their own confident answer.
“I want to control my property while I am alive and well.”

This sounds so obvious, but many people put off estate planning because they don’t want their property “tied up in trust” or taken away through a general power of attorney. Effective client education can ease some of this anxiety by showing that self-help methods such as joint ownership actually reduce their control by requiring the co-owner’s consent. Clients can achieve a measure of asset protection even during lifetime with appropriate titling of their property. Beyond that, clients want to preserve their liberty to buy and sell, change their plans, choose the helpers who will follow their instructions, and provide the liquidity to make the plan work through insurance and good investments. For most clients, controlling their assets means controlling their lives, and crossing that threshold provides the confidence to look at the many appealing choices available to people who want to express their family devotion by securing their legacy.
“I want to provide for myself and my loved ones if I become disabled.”

Married couples have a simple plan – my spouse will take care of me – but the death or disability of either spouse creates a whole new problem. Single people may ask, “What will happen to me? What will happen to my property?” Controlling the decision to surrender or take away control requires starting early – while people still have all their senses. The default plan of delegating the decision to one doctor, whether pediatrician or proctologist, leaves out the people who know and love the disabled person. A “disability panel” of family and medical input gives greater assurance that both the disabled person and financial institutions will honor the decision. Placing this process in a fully-funded living trust gives great flexibility in the standard of decision and the timing. Clients can sharpen the focus by making planning decisions about spending priorities, family responsibilities, medical care and preferences, management of property, and continuation of gifting. By deliberately planning for their own disability, clients provide the guidance and resources for their chosen helpers to care for them when they can’t do it themselves.

“I want to give what I have to whom I want, when I want, and the way I want.”

Clients don’t have options unless they know about them. Once clients learn that they can protect the surviving spouse and later beneficiaries from catastrophic creditor claims like an accident with a school bus (asset protection), provide for the special needs of a disabled beneficiary, keep their money in their bloodline (remarriage protection), assure a legacy for their grandchildren (divorce protection), and transmit their values through incentive trusts, they begin to see the expansive opportunities of pro-active preparation. And when parents bring their adult children into the process of inheritance planning, the children appreciate both the convenience and protection of receiving the assets in trust. Clients who provide their planning team with complete family and financial information as a basis of their goals can then select just the right strategies for carrying out their loving objectives.
“All with fully disclosed and controlled settlement costs to me and those I love.”

What part of the iceberg did the Titanic hit? The part that the captain couldn’t see. The unseen part of the iceberg of lifetime estate planning costs comes after death, when the size of the bill depends upon whether the estate plan actually works. Concentrating on the price of the paper documents, and ignoring what it takes after the ink dries to make the plan work for the rest of the trustmakers’ lives, insures that the plan won’t work. So, what costs can we control? The family and the team can eliminate court costs by staying out of court, and for this we need a fully funded living trust that still controls all the assets at the trustmaker’s death. We can disclose, predict and control legal fees by updating the asset information that lawyers and CPAs need for asset transfer after death and preparation of the estate tax return. We can reduce family fights by involving the family in the process from the beginning and training the trustees before the funeral in how to do their jobs. Controlling death administration costs requires sharing the responsibility for making the plan work, and eliminates the conditions that inflate the court costs, lawyer’s fees, unnecessary taxes and “incidentals” that deprive families the full benefit of their parent’s generosity.

Asking the question “Does our design stay within the Estate Planning Definition?”

gives both the clients and their planning team a bull’s-eye to aim at and decide whether the plan will accomplish what an informed family wants. Hitting the target takes responsible clients, an involved family, a skilled legal counselor, and a participating financial advisor, sharing the same expectations about the outcome. Completion of the design and funding marks the beginning, not the end, of the lifelong estate planning process.