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Estate planning is not just for the wealthy

When most New Jersey residents consider estate planning, they usually think about wealthy people with considerable assets to protect and high powered legal teams to provide that protection. However, making estate decisions earlier rather than later makes sense for people of all ages and income levels.

Accidents and illnesses can incapacitate people at any time, and having a living will or health care power of attorney in place can save loved ones the stress of making some very difficult decisions. A durable power of attorney can also be a useful tool to ensure that financial matters are attended to if a person is incapacitated or otherwise unable to tend to them.

A last will and testament is a document that most people are familiar with, and having a will in place ensures that the wished of a deceased person are followed. Without one, standard rules, which vary from state to state, will dictate how assets are distributed to heirs, and who will be appointed the guardian of minor children. Another issue to consider is the possibility of a court administering the estate through probate. This can be avoided in many cases by having clear beneficiary designations, joint ownership of assets or a living trust.

Many people avoid thinking about subjects like estate planning as they would rather enjoy their lives than contemplate death, but failing to address these matters can have unforeseen consequences. Estate taxes can be sizable when assets are not protected, and heirs can sometimes become involved in bitter legal fights over how an estate is divided. An attorney experienced in estate plans could offer strategies on how to avoid these unfortunate outcomes

Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning For The Rest Of Us", Liz Davidson, September 12, 2013

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