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Single people can and should create a simple estate plan

When discussing estate-planning needs, a great deal of focus is placed on preserving assets and dictating the manner in which one's accumulated wealth will pass on to intended heirs. Often, we discuss these matters in terms of family connections, spouses and children shared within the same family unit. Single New Jersey residents may feel as if their own circumstances do not merit even a simple estate plan. This, however, is a misconception.

Should a single person die without a will, the laws of the state would dictate how their assets are to be divided. The result usually follows lines of genetic connection; any children would be first in line, followed by parents, siblings and more distant relatives. However, anyone who falls outside of this basic framework would be excluded, such as a partner, close friends or others. In cases in which no relatives can be found, those assets will eventually pass to the state itself.

In addition, passing wealth on to charitable organizations is not possible without a legal directive. While some might argue that the state will ultimately benefit from an intestate death, few would consider this a charitable contribution. The best way to avoid this fate is to take a proactive approach to the final distribution of one's amassed wealth in the form of a will or trust.

A simple estate plan will contain a will or a revocable living trust. A will allows an individual to outline his or her wishes regarding how assets will be passed on after the time of death, naming an executor who is tasked with carrying out those wishes. A revocable living trust is a tool that allows one's estate to avoid probate, as well as the time and costs associated with that process. While each and every New Jersey resident will have a unique set of needs and goals, there is an estate-planning solution that can meet any set of requirements.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Estate-Planning Essentials for Single People", Carolyn T. Geer, Dec. 7, 2014

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