One thing people in New Jersey can’t control in life is death. It often comes when people least expect it. If that person hasn’t engaged in appropriate estate planning, the surviving family members may be at a disadvantage in handling the estate. If there is not even a simple will, the assets may not be distributed according to the actual wishes of the individual who died.
Estate planning addresses these issues. Improper planning can result in ongoing problems for surviving family members and even lead to disputes over specific items of property. Some essential documents to include in an estate plan are a will and/or trust, a durable power of attorney and a medical directive.
The will details which assets will be distributed to which beneficiaries, while a power of attorney that is durable typically authorizes another person to handle one’s tax affairs as well as personal business affairs. For instance, the designated individual can help to sell real estate for a person who has become incapacitated or disabled. The medical directive declares who will be responsible for making healthcare-related decisions on one’s behalf in the event of incapacitation.
It’s also important to update one’s estate planning documents when an important life event takes place, such as a birth, divorce or marriage. If a person in New Jersey dies without having accomplished proper estate planning, the individual’s estate may have to go through an administration proceeding in probate court. In that event, the assets are typically divided according to the state's laws of intestacy as opposed to the specific wishes of the person who passed away.
Source: mainstreet.com, "Estate Plan Overhaul: Time to Shape Up Your Strategy", Bruce W. Fraser, June 10, 2014