Everyone has an estate, even those who do not consider themselves wealthy.  An estate is comprised of anything someone owns including their home, vehicle, bank accounts, life insurance policies and other personal possessions like jewelry.  Estate planning is the process of determining what will be given to whom (individuals and organizations), when an untimely death occurs.  Top estate law attorneys emphasize the critical nature of estate planning.  Here are some of the most common questions they receive regarding this topic.

Why does someone need an estate plan?

An estate plan is a very useful set of documents that allows medical and financial decisions to be made for the estate holder in the event they are unable to make those decisions themselves. Furthermore, it will help in planning for the distribution of assets following a death. Otherwise, the government could be the beneficiary, instead of the children or charities of the estate holder’s choosing.

When should someone start planning?

It is never too early or too late to start estate planning.  Most top trust and estate attorneys in New Jersey recommend meeting with an attorney in one’s early forties for the best planning outcomes.

What happens if someone dies without an estate plan? Questions about Estate Planning estate plan be reviewed

If someone dies without a will, the assets will pass to either the estate’s joint owner or the account’s beneficiaries. If no beneficiaries have been chosen, the children will receive an equal distribution of half of all assets, while the spouse will receive the other half.   Essentially, dying without a will leaves things up to the courts to decide and, therefore, much of the estate may not be distributed according to the estate holder’s wishes.

Can estate planning be done online?

The short answer is yes, but the more complete answer is that online forms are often too generic to reflect the estate holder’s specific financial situation. The advantage to having an attorney who specializes in estate planning is that he can devise a more comprehensive estate plan that accounts for all of someone’s financial and medical needs.

Who should make decisions when the estate holder is unable to do so themselves?

For someone who is physically or mentally unable to make decisions on their own behalf, remember to appoint a trustworthy friend or family member to handle such important decisions. Since that individual will also be managing the estate, they should have some financial or investment experience. Above all, make sure you trust their judgment, and are confident that the person chosen will be acting in the best interest of the estate holder.

What is guardianship or conservatorship?

If there is no one who can be appointed as a trustee of the estate, guardianship and conservatorship are both options. Working together, the conservator will handle financial responsibilities while the guardian will make any necessary medical decisions that the estate holder is unable to make. One person can serve in both capacities, but to be officially approved for either position, the individual being appointed must file a court petition, obtain a bond, and attend a hearing where people may object to the individual’s appointment.  In this instance there would be another review of the guardianship or conservatorship.

How often should an estate plan be reviewed?

A thorough review of an estate plan should be conducted every three to five years, or more often for those who have more pressing healthcare concerns. For a small fee, an estate attorney can conduct an annual or semi-annual review of the estate plan. The attorney will be much more aware of changes in taxation and legislation, and can adjust the estate plan accordingly.

What are the criteria for choosing an estate planner?

The first step in choosing an effective trust and estate attorney in New Jersey is to ensure that their primary focus is actually estate planning. The next step is to ask whether the planner offers a fixed or hourly rate. Fixed rates are preferable, as an estate planner who bills hourly may not work as efficiently as someone who gets paid by the job. Once the two criteria are met, make sure that there is someone else in the office who is readily available to answer any urgent questions in the event the estate planner is unavailable. Ensure that the documents can be sent promptly for review, so that the estate planner is kept well aware of all changes made to the plan.

For those who have questions about wills, trusts, or estate planning, please contact an estate law attorney in New Jersey to get started.