Estate planning is the process of planning for the disposition of your assets during your lifetime and at your death. It involves identifying your assets, deciding who you would like to receive each or all your assets, deciding how and when your beneficiaries will receive them, and who will manage the affairs of your estate. For many estates, the process also involves planning to minimize or avoid federal and state estate and income taxes. Levine Staller estate planning attorneys represent clients in all aspects of estate planning from drafting simple wills to planning and implementing complex estate plans for high net worth clients.
A will is a legal document that states how the testator, the person who signs the will, wants his or her assets to be distributed to his or her beneficiaries upon his or her death. It also allows the testator to name the person(s) that will have the authority to wind up the testator’s affairs. Wills can be simple or very complex depending on the testator’s desires and the types of assets in the testator’s estate. Every state has its own requirements as to what makes a valid will. The assets of a person that dies without a will passes pursuant to state law without regard to the testator’s intent.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney permits a person, known as the principal, to appoint an agent to conduct certain specified financial affairs for the principal during his or her lifetime. It is most often used when the principal is not able to act for him or herself.
A power of attorney that is drafted to be a durable attorney continues in effect, even if the principal is no longer competent to make his or her own decisions.
A living will enables a person to retain control of decisions about his or her healthcare in situations where he or she is not capable of expressing decisions for themselves. For example, a living will may indicate your preference to refuse life-sustaining treatment if you have permanently lost consciousness or you have a condition that is terminal, where such treatment will only prolong the process.
A living will permits you to appoint a health care agent to act for you when you are unable to do so yourself. This has become increasingly important in light of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA, which severely restricts the disclosure of health care information to assure a patient’s privacy. Unfortunately, this law makes it very difficult for family members to assist in your medical care. Appointing a health care agent reduces the restrictions imposed by this law.
Business Succession Planning
Business succession planning is the process of designing and implementing a plan to pass active business interests to the next generation of owners and operators and/or to co-owners. Business succession plans identify the individuals that receive the business assets either by gift or purchase, the valuation of the business, and the structure of the transfer of the business to the successors. Transfers to younger generations may be accomplished by gifts pursuant to a will or trust.
Transfer to third parties are usually addressed in a buy-sell agreement. A buy-sell agreement is an agreement between or among the owners of a business that address the purchase of each owner’s interest following events such as retirement, death, and permanent disability. Buy-sell agreements may also address voting rights, owner compensation, and other matters. Levine Staller’s business attorneys represent clients in all aspects of business succession planning, including the design and implementation of a business succession plan for small and large business interests and drafting simple and complex buy-sell agreements.
Estate Administration and Probate
Probate is the legal process that affirms the appointment of an execution or administrator. In New Jersey, a decedent’s will is usually submitted to the Surrogate’s Court in the county where the decedent last lived to verify its validity and authorize the named executor to act on behalf of the estate.
Once appointed, an executor or administrator takes control of the decedent’s assets, pays his or her final bills and debts, files all required tax returns, pays all taxes that may be due, provides an accounting of the assets, income, and expenses of the estate, and distributes the decedent’s remaining assets in accordance with the decedent’s will.
When an individual becomes incapacitated or otherwise incapable of making important medical or financial decisions without assistance, the court can appoint a trusted family member, friend, or other neutral party to serve as a guardian.
There are two types of guardianship arrangements in New Jersey. The first is a limited guardianship, which allows the individual to be a part of the decision-making process. The second, a general or “plenary” guardianship, may be assigned when a person is determined totally incapable of making reasonable decisions on their own. Because this option strips a person of many of their rights, it should only be used when necessary to protect the individual’s health and well-being.
South Jersey Wills, Trusts & Estates Lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. Assist Clients with Estate Planning
If you have questions about estate planning or want to set up a living will, the South Jersey wills, trusts & estates lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. can assist you. We are knowledgeable in all aspects of estate planning and can help with any questions and concerns you may have. Located in Atlantic City, New Jersey, we serve clients from the surrounding areas, including Atlantic County, Ocean County, and Cape May County. Contact us online today for an initial evaluation or call us at 609-348-1300.