Oleg Ikhelson, Esq., CPA
55 Madison Ave., Suite 400
Morristown, NJ 07960
Tel. (973) 285-3365
Fax (973) 201-6187
NEW JERSEY ESTATE LAW. ESTATE PLANNING. ESTATE TAX FOR RESIDENTS AND NON-RESIDENTS
Estate Planning is the process of efficiently and effectively passing property that people have accumulated during their lifetime to their loved ones or other recipients, with minimum tax consequences. However, a successful planning process doesn't start or stop at death planning. It includes lifetime gifts and wealth transfer, business, succession, analysis of charitable giving, etc.
Many people think that they don't have enough, so no wealth transfer planning is warranted. This is a common mistake. The current New Jersey estate law is confusing and at times counter-intuitive. Rules of wealth succession for people dying without a will can produce unintended and sometimes strange results, with property passing to heirs not favored or simply forgotten by the deceased person. Also, straight inheritance by minors or spendthrifts can devastate hopes and expectation of other family members. Appointment of administrators by a probate judge entails a lot of red tape that would be avoided by drafting a simple provision in a will. In short, dying intestate (without a will) is a luxury most New Jersey residents can't afford.
Creating an inter vivos (during lifetime) or testamentary (inside a will) trust can solve the majority of problems that normally arise with straight inheritance. However, estate administration in NJ is relatively simple, so avoiding probate that generally makes sense in New York and other similarly situated states should not be viewed as a major goal.
Some people prefer to hold all marital assets in joint names. While it can and does work in some circumstances, it may not be the best setup for everybody, especially if there are children from prior marriage involved.
It is terribly important to be mindful of certain assets that are not governed by wills or estate probate: 401K plans, live insurance policies, etc. Most of those plans have their own beneficiary designation procedures, and it is crucial that the overall estate plan is coordinated with non-probate assets.
It is also important to update estate plans at least bi-annually, especially in today's environment of changing laws and exemptions. Even the best estate plan, carefully drafted and approved, can become worthless if situation changes or the assets get re-titles or disposed otherwise.
In other words, most people need competent legal advice when it comes to wealth succession. Whether you have multiple real estate holdings in many states, or simply live modesty off of social security payments, chances are you need at least some help with estate planning in order to minimize your taxes and ensure smooth and appropriate wealth succession.