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Three key estate planning documents everyone should have

I don't have a very large estate. Do I really need a will?

A prevalent myth is that unless you have a considerable amount of money or assets, you really don't need to have a will. Nothing could be further from the truth. A properly drawn will does many things, among which are:

  • Naming an executor or personal representative to carry out your last wishes, pay your debts, and make sure your estate is administered in an orderly fashion
  • Detailing how your money and assets are to be distributed and to whom.
  • Naming a guardian for minor or special needs children, to insure proper care
  • Appointing a trustee to handle the money or other property left to your minor or special needs children or any other minors to whom you make any bequests.
  • Making specific bequests of personal property of great sentimental or monetary value, such as jewelry, a coin collection, or similar family heirlooms
  • Directing the continued care of your beloved pets
  • Donating to your favorite charities

If you do not have a proper will in place, the intestate laws of your state will determine how and to whom your estate is administered and distributed, which may not be in comportment with your wishes and desires.

More importantly, what you don't know about the federal estate tax, as well as the New Jersey estate and inheritance taxes, can really hurt you, especially if your estate exceeds the exemption limits, and/or if you're leaving any money or property to people other than your spouse or children.

What is a "living will" and should I have one?

A living will, quite simply, is a document used to detail any extraordinary medical procedures you wish taken or not taken in the event you are unable to make such medical treatment decisions for yourself, either through mental or physical illness or incapacity. Moreover, a living will allows you to name a healthcare "proxy" (i.e., another person) to make any such decisions on your behalf.

In light of the stringent privacy laws now in place, it is vital to have a living will so that your named proxy can have access to your doctors and medical records, as well as the authority to act on your behalf if the need ever arises.

What is a power of attorney and why is having one necessary?

A general durable power of attorney is arguably the single most important document in your estate "arsenal". The POA (as it is generally known) enables you to name an individual who can manage your money, business and general affairs if you are ever unable to do so because of any physical or mental disability (permanent or temporary).

Many people believe that because they have a will, they are fully prepared and protected. However, unless you die, the will can do nothing for you, as a will only "comes to life" when you are deceased. What happens if you are in a coma, seriously injured in an accident, afflicted with dementia or alzheimers, and cannot govern your own affairs? Unfortunately, unless you have a proper POA in place, no one can do anything to help you - not even your spouse - unless that person first goes to court and asks a judge to appoint him/her as your guardian or conservator. This is a very costly and time-consuming process. Your family must even pay a doctor to come to court to testify as to your incapacity, before a judge will permit someone else to manage your affairs. If granted, the guardian or conservator must then report to the court on a regular basis. All of these unnecessary costs and expenses, not to mention emotional turmoil, can be avoided with a sound POA in place, allowing another to act for you when you can no longer act on your own behalf.

How do I get started?

At Mariano & Coiro, P.C., we have over 30 years of experience in estate planning and administration. Put our experience and knowledge to work for you. Let us show you how to put a comprehensive estate plan in place at a reasonable fee. Contact us for a FREE & CONFIDENTIAL consultation and we will show you how to best address your needs.

Remember, this isn't only about you. This is about assuring peace of mind to your family and loved ones when the need arises. You owe it to them as well as to yourself to take care of this important task now. 

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