ESTATE PLANNING FOR GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES WHO HAVE NOT ENTERED INTO A CIVIL UNION OR REGISTERED AS DOMESTIC PARTNERS
"SAVE MONEY AND PROVIDE FOR YOUR LOVED ONES "
By Kenneth A. Vercammen
As average Americans, we work 80,000 hours in a lifetime, or 45 to 55 years. In spite of all the resources and assets we earn, the vast majority of Americans with assets do not take the time to create a Will.
National statistics indicate that 80% of Americans die without leaving a Will. There are several reasons for this: fear of death; procrastination; and misinformation (people presume that only the rich or married with children need to have Wills). Whatever the excuse, it is clear that people would benefit from having a Will.
In the absence of a Will or other legal arrangement to distribute property at death, your partner cannot receive any assets and cannot administer your estate. The result can be lengthy delays and other problems. Individuals in gay or lesbian relationships need properly drafted Wills and estate planning documents more than straight persons. The probate laws generally provide if a person dies without a Will, their property goes to family, rather than a partner they had a relationship with for years or decades.
IF YOU HAVE NO WILL:
If you leave no Will or your Will is declared invalid because it was improperly prepared or is not admissible to probate:
* State law determines who gets assets, not you
* Additional expenses will be incurred and extra work will be required to qualify an administrator
* Possible additional State inheritance taxes and Federal estate taxes
* If you have no s Civil Union , spouse, or close relatives the State may take your property
* The procedure to distribute assets becomes more complicated-and the law makes no exceptions for persons in unusual need or for your own wishes.
* It may also cause fights and lawsuits between your partner and your family
When your loved ones are grieving and dealing with death, they shouldn’t be overwhelmed with disputes over property and Financial concerns. Careful estate planning helps take care of that.
THE FOLLOWING IS A SAMPLE OF A VARIETY OF CLAUSES AND ITEMS WHICH SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN A WILL FOR UNMARRIED PERSON:
1ST: DEBTS AND TAXES
2ND: SPECIFIC BEQUESTS TO PARTNER, CHARITY, ETC
3RD: DISPOSITION TO PARTNER
4TH: DISPOSITION OF REMAINDER OF ESTATE IF PARTNER IS PREDECEASED
5TH: CREATION OF TRUSTS FOR PARTNER
6TH: DISTRIBUTION TO CHILDREN OR TRUST FOR CHILDREN
7TH: OTHER BENEFICIARIES UNDER 21
10TH: GUARDIANS OF CHILDREN
11TH: NO SURETY OR BOND REQUIRED
13TH: SELF PROVING WILL
14TH: PRINCIPAL AND INCOME
15TH: NO ASSIGNMENT OF BEQUESTS
17TH: CONSTRUCTION OF WILL
18TH: NO CONTEST CLAUSE
A Will must not only be prepared within the legal requirements of the New Jersey Statutes but should also be prepared so it leaves no questions regarding your intentions.
WHY PERIODIC REVIEW IS ESSENTIAL
Even if you have an existing Will, there are many events that occur which may necessitate changes in your Will. Some of these are:
* Domestic Partnership, Marriage, death, birth, divorce or separation affecting people named in your Will
*Significant changes in the value of your total assets or in any particular assets which you own
* Changes in your relationships
* A change in your State domicile
* Death or incapacity of a beneficiary, or death, incapacity or change in residence of a named executor, or of one of the witnesses to the execution of the Will if the Will is not self- proving
*Annual changes in tax law
MAY I CHANGE MY WILL?
Yes. A Will may be modified, added to, or entirely changed at any time before your death provided you are mentally and physically competent and desire to change your Will. You should consider revising your Will whenever there are changes in the size of your estate.
Beware, if you draw lines through items, erase or write over, or add notations to the original Will, it can be destroyed as a legal document. Either a new Will should be legally prepared by an attorney or a Codicil prepared by an attorney signed to legally change portions of the Will.
Probate in New Jersey is not difficult. Your estate will be subject to probate whether or not you have a Will and in most cases, a Will reduces the cost by eliminating the requirements of a bond. When you meet with your attorney to draft a Will, you may also learn ideas to reduce death taxes and other expenses. Don’t pinch pennies now to the detriment of your Partner and beneficiaries. We have attempted to briefly explain in this article some of the issues, techniques, and decisions involved in Wills, Estate Planning, and Administration of an Estate. Because the matters covered are complicated and the Federal and New Jersey laws frequently change, this article can only outline some of the many legal issues you should consider.
The cost of a Will depends on the size and the complexity of the estate and the plans of the person who makes the Will.
A properly drawn Simple Will without Trust costs approximately $300.00 to $600.00. It is one of the most important documents you will ever sign, and may be one of the best bargains you will ever have.
Also, ascertain if your Will is “self-proving”, which would dispense with having to find the Will’s witnesses after death.
WHAT IS A WILL?
“A Will is a Legal written document which, after your death, directs how your individually owned property will be distributed, who will be in charge of your property until it is distributed. You should remember that the term “property” under the law includes "real estate as well as other possessions and rights to receive money or items of value.” Everyone who has at least $3,000 in assets should have a Will. You do not have to be wealthy, married, or near death to do some serious thinking about your Will.
ADMINISTRATION OF AN ESTATE
If you are named the executor or executrix, you must visit the County Surrogate to probate the Will. You will need the following items:
1. The Death Certificate
2. The Original Will
3. Names and Addresses of decedent's next of kin and will beneficiaries
4. Minimum of $100.00 for Surrogate fees
A state inheritance tax return must be filed and the tax paid on the transfer of real or personal property within eight months after death.
OTHER ITEMS OF CONCERN TO BE PREPARED BY YOUR ATTORNEY
-Power of Attorney- to allow your partner or another person to administer your assets during your lifetime, either upon disability or now
-Living Wills/ Advance Directive- to state your wishes concerning medical care in the event of your serious illness and to allow your partner or another person to make medical decisions.
In the absence of a Power of Attorney or other legal arrangement to distribute property if you become disabled, your partner cannot pay your bills or access your assets. The result can be lengthy delays.
Reasons to have a Power of Attorney
What are these powers of attorney?
A Power of Attorney is a written document in which a competent adult individual (the "principal") appoints another competent adult individual (the "attorney-in-fact") to act on the principal's behalf. In general, an attorney-in-fact may perform any legal function or task which the principal has a legal right to do for him/herself. You may wish to sign a Power of Attorney giving your partner the power to handle your affairs if you become ill or disabled.
The term "durable" in reference to a power of attorney means that the power remains in force for the lifetime of the principal, even if he/she becomes mentally incapacitated. A principal may cancel a power of attorney at any time for any reason. Powers granted on a power of attorney document can be very broad or very narrow in accordance with the needs of the principal.
Why is Power of Attorney so important?
Every adult has day-to-day affairs to manage, such as paying the bills. Many people are under the impression that, in the event of catastrophic illness or injury, a live-in partner, or child can automatically act for them. Unfortunately, this is often wrong, even when joint ownership situations exist. Even under the "new" NJ Domestic Partner Act, you cannot act on behalf of a partner if they become disabled. A Power of Attorney allows your partner or another person to administer your assets during your lifetime, either upon disability or now.
The lack of properly prepared and executed power of attorney can cause extreme difficulties when an individual is stricken with severe illness or injury rendering him/her unable to make decisions or manage financial and medical affairs. New Jersey has a detailed, expensive legal procedures, called Guardianships or conservatorships, to provide for appointment of a Guardian. These normally require lengthy, formal proceedings and are expensive in court. This means involvement of lawyers to prepare and file the necessary papers and doctors to provide medical testimony regarding the mental incapacity of the subject of the action. The procedures also require the involvement of a temporary guardian to investigate, even intercede, in surrogate proceedings. This can be slow, costly, and very frustrating. In addition, the domestic partner can be challenged in a guardianship by the incapacitated person's family members.
Advance preparation of the Power of Attorney could avoid the inconvenience and expense of guardianship proceedings. This needs to be done while the principal is competent, alert and aware of the consequences of his / her decision. Once a serious problem occurs, it is usually too late.
The Power of Attorney can be effective immediately upon signing or only upon disability. Some examples of legal powers contained in the Power of Attorney are the following:
1. REAL ESTATE: To execute all contracts, deeds, bonds, mortgages, notes, checks, drafts, money orders, and to lease, collect rents, grant, bargain, sell, or borrow and mortgage, and to manage, compromise, settle, and adjust all matters pertaining to real estate.
2. ENDORSEMENT OF NOTES, ETC.: To make, execute, endorse, accept, and deliver any and all bills of exchange, checks, drafts, notes and trade acceptances.
3. PAYMENT OF NOTES, ETC.: To pay all sums of money, at any time, or times, that may hereafter be owing by me upon any bill of exchange, check, draft, note, or trade acceptance, made, executed, endorsed, accepted, and delivered by me, or for me, and in my name, by my Agent.
4. STOCKS, BONDS, AND SECURITIES: To sell any and all shares of stocks, bonds, or other securities now or hereafter, belonging to me, that may be issued by an association, trust, or corporation whether private or public, and to make, execute, and deliver any assignment, or assignments, of any such shares of stock, bonds, or other securities.
5. CONTRACTS, AGREEMENTS, ETC.: To enter into safe deposit boxes, and to make, sign, execute, and deliver, acknowledge, and perform any contract, agreement, writing, or thing that may, in the opinion of my Agent, be necessary or proper to be entered into, made or signed, sealed, executed, delivered, acknowledged or performed.
6. BANK ACCOUNTS, CERTIFICATES OF DEPOSIT, MONEY MARKET ACCOUNTS, ETC.: To add to or withdraw any amounts from any of my bank accounts, Certificates of Deposit, Money Market Accounts, etc. on my behalf or for my benefit. To make, execute, endorse, accept and deliver any and all checks and drafts, deposit and withdraw funds, acquire and redeem certificates of deposit, in banks, savings and loan associations and other institutions, execute or release such deeds of trust or other security agreements as may be necessary or proper in the exercise of the rights and powers herein granted; Without in any way being limited by or limiting the foregoing, to conduct banking transactions.
7. TAX RETURNS, INSURANCE AND OTHER DOCUMENTS: To sign all Federal, State, and municipal tax returns, insurance forms and any other documents and to represent me in all matters concerning the foregoing.
You should contact your attorney to have a Power of Attorney Prepared, together with a Will, Living Will and other vital Estate Planning documents.
Gay and Lesbians- Living Will/ Advance Directives
Planning Ahead For Your Health Care:
Compiled by Kenneth Vercammen
In the absence of a Living Will or other legal arrangement if you become disabled, your partner generally has no say regarding medical care or life support. Your partner cannot access your assets. Your partner cannot receive information on your medical status or medical care. Advance directives are very personal documents and you should feel free to develop one which best suits your own needs.
All States have declared that competent adults have the fundamental right in collaboration with their health care providers, to control decisions about their own health care. States recognize in their law and public policy, the personal right of the individual patient to make voluntary, informed choices to accept, to reject or to choose among alternative courses of medical and surgical treatment. If you have a Living Will, you can designate your partner as a decision maker.
WHY LIVING WILLS
Modern advances in science and medicine have made possible the prolongation of the lives of many seriously ill individuals, without always offering realistic prospects for improvement or cure. For some individuals the possibility of extended life is experienced as meaningful and of benefit. For others, artificial prolongation of life may seem to provide nothing medically necessary or beneficial, serving only to extend suffering and prolong the dying process. States recognize the inherent dignity and value of human life and within this context recognize the fundamental right of individuals to make health care decisions to have life-prolonging medical or surgical means or procedures provided, withheld, or withdrawn.
States recognize the right of competent adults to plan ahead for health care decisions through the execution of advance directives, such as Living Wills and durable powers of attorney, and to have their wishes respected, subject to certain limitations.
PURPOSE OF LIVING WILLS
In order to assure respect for patients' previously expressed wishes when the capacity to participate actively in decision making has been lost or impaired; to facilitate and encourage a sound decision making process in which patients, health care representatives, families, physicians, and other health care professionals are active participants; to properly consider patients' interests both in self-determination and in well-being; and to provide necessary and appropriate safeguards concerning the termination of life-sustaining treatment for incompetent patients as the law and public policy of this State, the Legislatures have enacted Living Will/ Advance Directives for Health Care Acts.
REQUIREMENTS OF STATUTE
The advance directive for health care (Living Will) requires a writing executed in accordance with the requirements of the state law. It must be either signed and dated in front of an attorney at law or other person authorized to administer oaths, or in the presence of two subscribing adult witnesses. If the two adult witnesses are used, they both must attest that the declarant is of sound mind and not under undue influence. A designated health care representative shall not act as a witness to the execution of the advance directive. Since this is a legal document, it must be executed properly to be valid under the statute.
HEALTH CARE REPRESENTATIVE
The declarant must designate one or more alternative health care representatives. "Health care representative" means the person designated by you under the Living Will for the purpose of making health care decisions on your behalf.
WHEN DOES THE ADVANCE DIRECTIVE BECOME OPERATIVE
An advance directive becomes operative when (1) it is transmitted to the attending physician or to the health care institution, and (2) it is determined pursuant to the Act that the patient lacks capacity to make a particular health care decision.
Treatment decisions pursuant to an advance directive shall not be made and implemented until there has been a reasonable opportunity to establish and where appropriate confirm, a reliable diagnosis for the patient which shall include the attending physician's opinion concerning the nature, cause, extent, and probable duration of the patient's incapacity, and shall be made a part of the patient's medical records. For additional information or to have a "Living Will" prepared, see your attorney. In addition, be certain your Last Will and testament is up to date.
As Americans, we take it for granted that we are entitled to make decisions about our own health care. Most of the time we make these decisions after talking with our own physician about the advantages and disadvantages of various treatment options. The right of a competent individual to accept or refuse medical treatment is a fundamental right now fully protected by law.
But what happens if serious illness, injury or permanent loss of mental capacity makes us incapable of talking to a doctor and deciding what medical treatments we do or do not want? These situations pose difficult questions to all of us as patients, family members, friends and health care professionals. Who makes these decisions if we can't make them for ourselves? If we can't make our preferences known how can we make sure that our wishes will be respected? If disagreements arise among those caring for us about different treatment alternatives how will they be resolved? Is there a way to alleviate the burdens shouldered by family members and loved ones when critical medical decisions must be made?
By using documents known as advance directives for health care, you can answer some of these questions and give yourself the security of knowing that you can continue to have a say in your own treatment. A properly prepared Living Will permits you to plan ahead so you can both make your wishes known, and select someone who will see to it that your wishes are followed.
After all, if you are seriously ill or injured and can't make decisions for yourself someone will have to decide about your medical care. Doesn't it make sense to
• Have your partner or another person you trust make decisions for you,
• Provide instructions about the treatment you do and do not want, or
• Both appoint a person to make decisions and provide them with instructions.
About Kenneth Vercammen
Kenneth Vercammen is a Litigation Attorney in Edison, NJ, approximately 17 miles north of Princeton. He often lectures for the New Jersey State Bar Association on Probate, personal injury, criminal / municipal court law and drunk driving. He has published 125 articles in national and New Jersey publications on municipal court and litigation topics. He has served as a Special Acting Prosecutor in seven different cities and towns in New Jersey and also successfully defended hundreds of individuals facing Municipal Court and Criminal Court charges.
In his private practice, he has devoted a substantial portion of his professional time to the preparation and trial of litigated matters. He has appeared in Courts throughout New Jersey several times each week on many personal injury matters, Municipal Court trials, arbitration hearings and contested administrative law hearings.
Since 1985, his primary concentration has been on litigation matters. Mr. Vercammen gained other legal experiences as the Confidential Law Clerk to the Court of Appeals of Maryland (Supreme Court), with the Delaware County, PA District Attorney Office handling Probable Cause Hearings, Middlesex County Probation Dept as a Probation Officer, and an Executive Assistant to Scranton District Magistrate, Thomas Hart, in Scranton, PA.
KENNETH VERCAMMEN & ASSOCIATES, PC
ATTORNEY AT LAW
2053 Woodbridge Ave.
Edison, NJ 08817