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Morristown Estate Litigation Blog

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.

Pour-over wills and trust-based estate planning

Preparing a living trust can help New Jersey residents ensure their property is passed on to the appropriate beneficiaries when the time comes. However, a trust is only good if it is funded, which some people fail to do. When this happens, an estate becomes subject to the probate process, and absent a last will and testament, the state may have to decide how and to whom one's assets are divided. Creating a pour-over will when going through trust-based estate planning can help ensure assets make it into the right hands.

A pour-over will is not like a standard last will and testament. This will only addresses what is to happen with assets that are supposed to be in one's living trust. The only beneficiary mentioned in this type of will is the trust. This is not a legal document used to identify living heirs.

Estate planning includes planning for document storage

Too few New Jersey residents have estate plans in place. Of those who do, some may not have them stored adequately so that they do their loved ones any good. Estate planning does not just involve planning for one's assets, loved ones and self-protection; it includes planning for proper document storage as well.

There are just a few places that estate planning professionals recommend finished estate plans be kept. First, at home, in a fire-proof safe, is a good place to keep the original or even a copy. Second, at one's attorney's office. Estate planning attorneys often keep client documents -- both hard copies and digital. Third, with a trusted family member or friend.

Estate litigation: Are you worried about an executor's actions?

Losing a loved one, no matter when or how it happens, can be painful in a number of ways. When his or her estate is being administered, the last thing you should have to worry about is whether the executor is fulfilling his or her duties honestly and with the best interests of the estate in mind. Unfortunately, while working through the loss of your loved one, you have found yourself questioning the executor's actions. In New Jersey, this type of issue may be resolved through estate litigation.

An executor does have a difficult job. There are a lot of details that must be tended to when closing out an estate, so he or she may do things that do not sit well with everyone. However, there is a big difference between family/beneficiaries not being happy and an executor breaching his or her duty.

Do I need a will, a trust or both?

Too few New Jersey residents have taken the time to go through the estate planning process. Some believe it is not necessary, while others think about it but just never get around to it. Having some sort of plan in place is better than nothing, but how in-depth does that plan need to be and what should it include -- a will or trust, for example?

A will is a document in which a person expresses his or her wishes for the passing on of his or her estate. One can name beneficiaries and specify who gets what -- among other things. It is a formal document that is definitely good to have as a starting point, but it can be challenged in court if there are any concerns regarding its validity or contents. If a will is successfully contested, one's wishes may not be carried out as envisioned. Revisiting and updating wills every few years or after a significant life change is always recommended.

3 reasons to try mediation to resolve probate disputes

When a loved one dies, it not only brings grief, but also complicated estate administration. The more current and thorough the deceased's estate plans, the smoother the process will go.

However, problems may arise in the form of will contests, executor error or beneficiary disputes. You may rush to the courtroom to take care of these matters, but you should consider choosing mediation instead to obtain the following benefits.

Proper estate planning matters when leaving assets to children

Many parents in New Jersey want to make sure their estates pass to their children in equal portions. The problem is, many of them try to make it work out without going through the proper estate planning process. This may result in one's estate being divided in a way that one did not intend, and could even cause one's beneficiaries to endure probate litigation.

Recently, a mother in another state sought advice on this exact issue. Her estate, as she described it, is small. She does have money in two accounts that she would like passed on to her two daughters, though. She wanted to know if naming her daughters as beneficiaries on her accounts would help her accomplish her goal and help them avoid probate.

Tax planning for those with special needs family members

Many people in New Jersey have family members -- children or adults -- residing in their homes, who have special needs. These individuals pay and sacrifice a lot to care for these family members. With careful tax planning, it is possible for them to save a bit, reduce costs and limit their tax liabilities.

When it comes to tax liabilities, there are a number of items that can be deducted and various credits that can be applied that can reduce how much a family with a special needs person has to pay. Where people can save the most is by deducting qualifying medical expenses. The list of what that includes is fairly long, but a few examples include:

  • Medication costs
  • Therapy expenses
  • Capital expenditures
  • Special schooling costs
  • Medical facility and in-home care expenses

New Jersey estate litigation: Fighting over consumer debt

Most people in New Jersey will die with some amount of consumer debt. In fact, according to the New York Federal Reserve, it is believed that 75% of Americans will die in debt. Figuring out who is responsible for that debt may lead to estate litigation. 

Generally, when a person dies, any financial obligations he or she may have are paid by the estate. This means that any positive assets may be utilized to cover the debts owed. This way, beneficiaries are not left paying off the decedent's creditors at their own expense. Accounts with joint owners will not be immediately paid from the estate. The responsibility of repayment falls on the remaining account owner. 

Sibling disputes can lead to estate litigation

Brothers and sisters do not always get along, and they do not always agree on the right way to handle various situations -- such as when a parent dies. Recently, a story was shared about how one sibling, out of three, took charge when their mother died. The decisions this one sibling is making are not sitting well with at least one of the other siblings. This kind of thing, whether it happens in New Jersey or elsewhere, may require estate litigation to resolve.

According to the story, the mother had lived with one of her daughters for three years before she was placed in hospice for pulmonary disease. When she died, the oldest sibling took charge, told the others there was no will, made plans to cremate their mother's body and began selling her assets. None of this sat well with the middle child who is insistent a will had been created years prior. Even if a will is never found, this individual believes that she should have a say in the administration of the estate. 

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Thomas N. Torzewski, LLC

Torzewski & McInerney, LLC
60 Washington St
Suite 104
Morristown, NJ 07960

Phone: 973-532-2868
Fax: 973-359-0077
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