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Morristown Estate Litigation Blog

Common estate planning myths you should not believe

Myths, by definition, are widely held beliefs or ideas that are actually false. There are many myths about estate planning, and these false beliefs are often enough to stop numerous New Jersey residents from getting their estate plans prepared. This week, this column will discuss estate planning myths versus reality in the hopes of encouraging people to take the time to get their estate planning done.

Myth number one: estate planning will cause one to die sooner. No one knows exactly when they are going to die. Planning for it does not mean it will happen sooner. In fact, taking the time to put together an estate plan has actually shown to help people live longer because they have peace of mind knowing their assets and loved ones are protected.

When sibling rivalry leads to estate litigation

Siblings do not always get along. Fighting and disagreements are normal in sibling relationships. Unfortunately, some sibling relationships are worse off than others. When parents pass away, sibling rivalry may affect estate administration. In New Jersey and elsewhere, estate litigation may be the only way to resolve any disputes that arise if this is the case.

Parents know their kids best and can take steps to prevent fights that may arise when it comes time for their children to administer their estates. A few things parents can do include giving gifts while they are still alive, tagging items and leaving clear instructions for what is to happen to their assets. In an ideal world, every adult would have an estate plan in place. Unfortunately, this is not typically the case.

Elder law: Nursing home problems behind recent federal hearing

Numerous people in New Jersey and other states reside in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. They depend on the medical staff employed by these facilities to take care of them. The problem is, too many residents fall victim to abuse and neglect. This very issue was recently discussed in a federal hearing. It is undoubtedly an elder law issue that needs addressing at both the federal and state levels.

Several people had time to share their opinions on the current state of nursing homes in the United States. The CEO of the American Health Care Association claims that nursing home abuse is rare and that quality of care in such facilities has vastly improved over the past decade. Aging advocates, however, believe that profits take precedence over patient care and that abuse in nursing homes is far more prevalent than people realize.

How much time do you have to contest a will?

The contesting of a will is an unfortunate occurrence in a family, especially after the loss of a loved one. One family member feels cheated, and under some circumstances, those feelings are valid. From the testator lacking the capacity to change the will to the will receiving revisions through fraud, there are numerous grounds for contesting. When a family member feels cheated, it is critical for that individual to know when to file the proper paperwork. 

New Jersey has strict laws in place regarding how long a person has to contest a will. You have a right to contest any estate plan that you feel is unfair, but you need to be cognizant of your rights and the statute of limitations in our state. 

Estate litigation: Fighting with creditors over a house

In New Jersey, as in other states, when someone dies, his or her creditors have the right to be notified. They also have the right to make claims against the estate in an effort to collect what is owed to them. Creditors only have a short window to file their claims, but in that time, they can do a lot of damage. For instance, liens may be placed on property, such as a house, preventing beneficiaries from doing anything with it until the lien is dismissed or paid. Fights with creditors can, of course, lead to estate litigation, which can take time to resolve fully.

If a house with an existing mortgage is passed on to someone else when the owner dies, the mortgage doesn't just go away. The lender may seek payment in full from the estate. If a lien is placed on the property, it means that the lienholder has the right to take the property if the lien is never paid or dismissed. The estate representative may pay off the debt with funds from the estate, or the beneficiaries may pay off the lien on their own if getting it dismissed is not an option.

Electronic wills not yet an estate planning option in New Jersey

Few people in New Jersey have or want to create wills. Even fewer want to take the time to go to an attorney's office to go through the entire estate planning process. Electronic wills are being pushed for across the country, as people like the idea of them. They are not yet available to New Jersey residents, though, and that may not be a bad thing.

Electronic wills are all about convenience. They allow people to sit at home, create their own documents, and have them electronically signed and notarized. It doesn't take much time, and it doesn't cost much. Sounds great, right?

Lessons from singer's estate

Estate plans are beneficial for people from various walks of life. However, for those with expansive estates, such as certain iconic singers, it can be essential.

As the world looks on during the litigation of one singer's estate, it has become a cautionary tale. In fact, there are a few lessons people can take from watching this situation unfold.

A case for talking about one's estate plan

There is value in planning for what is to happen to one's estate. An estate plan gives guidance to loved ones and lets them know what one wants for them. According to a recently published article, there is also value in discussing these plans with beneficiaries. Why might New Jersey residents want to do this?

If passing on money or property, whether it is a lot or a little, talking to heirs may be wise so they understand why they are getting it and one's hopes of how they will use it. Too many beneficiaries know too little about money management and end up blowing through their inheritances. This defeats the purpose of passing it on to them in the first place.

Estate litigation: When a hidden will leads to a lost inheritance

Too many people in New Jersey and elsewhere do not have wills or proper estate plans in place. Those who do may not have their estate planning documents stored in locations that are accessible to all concerned parties. An individual in another state recently shared a story of how a hidden will resulted in the loss of his or her inheritance. Now this person and his or her siblings are wondering what can be done about it. Through estate litigation, it may be possible for these family members to take back what they believe is rightfully theirs.

According to the story, this person's father supposedly wrote a will before he died. It was common knowledge that he wanted to provide for his wife -- the stepmother to his children -- so she remained in the home they had shared until her death. Upon her death, her own daughter was given the house. Her husband's children ended up with nothing, and they believe that is because their stepmother hid his will.

Concerns of undue influence may lead to estate litigation

Working through the estate administration process, whether in New Jersey or elsewhere, can be challenging in many ways. This is particularly true if there are concerns that undue influence was behind a loved one's estate planning decisions. When this is suspected, estate litigation may be unavoidable.

Undue influence is defined as an uneven or unhealthy relationship in which the victim is easily persuaded to make decisions that are to his or her influencer's benefit. For example, an influencer may suggest the need for a will update and convince the victim to name him or her as the sole or primary beneficiary -- cutting out previously named beneficiaries or at least reducing how much other heirs receive. Sometimes, will updates may include changes that the victim is not fully aware of because he or she trusted his or her influencer to write up the document and then signed it without giving it a second thought.

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Thomas N. Torzewski, LLC

Torzewski & McInerney, LLC
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Morristown, NJ 07960

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