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Is a will an outdated type of estate planning tool?

New Jersey residents have more estate planning options today than ever before. In fact, the sheer volume of available choices can be confusing and can lead many to feel overwhelmed. Some people feel that, with all of the available options, the will has become obsolete as an estate planning tool.

For example, many families choose to pass down assets in the form of gifts while the original owner is still alive. This allows individuals to decrease the value of their taxable estate, and also affords the ability to watch loved ones make use of their inheritance. Another popular estate planning option is joint ownership, in which assets are titled in the name of the current owner and the intended heir. Upon death, full ownership of the property passes to the joint owner.

Some families rely on transfer-on-death (TOD) designations to hand down assets outside of probate. The types of accounts that can make use of a TOD designation differ from one state to another, but typical examples are vehicle registrations, land deeds and certain bank accounts. Many states are taking steps to broaden the scope of TOD designations, and more assets might be eligible for this type of inheritance in the future.

These are just a few of the means by which New Jersey families can pass down wealth to their loved ones outside of probate. Because the options are so varied, many people feel that there is little need for a traditional will. Each family has a unique set of circumstances, but a will is a valuable tool for many, as it offers one central vehicle for the transfer of assets. As such, many families will make use of the estate planning options mentioned herein, while also drafting a traditional will.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Are Wills Obsolete?", Brad Reid, Sept. 9, 2015

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