WILLS AND ESTATE PLANNING FOR GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES
"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 us 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 before the rightful heirs receive their property. And because you have no instructions , no charitable gifts can be made.
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 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 8TH: EXECUTORS 9TH: TRUSTEES 10TH: GUARDIANS OF CHILDREN 11TH: NO SURETY OR BOND REQUIRED 12TH: POWERS 13TH: SELF PROVING WILL 14TH: PRINCIPAL AND INCOME 15TH: NO ASSIGNMENT OF BEQUESTS 16TH: GENDER 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:
* 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 or a codicil 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 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 proper preparation of a Will can involve a careful analysis of the client¹s assets, and his/her desires. Estate Planning is the process of examining what will happen to your property when you die and arranging for its distribution in such a manner as will accomplish your objectives. 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 $200.00 to $500.00. 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 $80.00 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.
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, spouse or child can automatically act for them. Unfortunately, this is often wrong, even when joint ownership situations exist.
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. All states have 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.
Advance preparation of the Power of Attorney can avoid the inconvenience and expense of legal 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.
SPECIAL NOTE: This information was issued to inform and not to advise. The statements are general, and individual facts in a given case may alter their application or involve other laws not referred to here. For specific legal advice, contact an attorney. Kenneth A. Vercammen is a Middlesex County trial attorney who has published 125 articles in national and New Jersey publications on litigation topics. He has been selected to lecture to trial lawyers by the American Bar Association, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association. Call our office to schedule a "confidential" appointment 732-572-0500
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Kenneth Vercammen is the Managing Attorney at Kenneth Vercammen & Associates in Edison, NJ. He is a New Jersey trial attorney has devoted a substantial portion of his professional time to the preparation and trial of litigated matters. He has appears in Courts throughout New Jersey each week for litigation and contested Probate hearings.
Mr. Vercammen has published over 125 legal articles in national and New Jersey publications on elder law, probate and litigation topics. He is a highly regarded lecturer on litigation issues for the American Bar Association, NJ ICLE, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association. His articles have been published in noted publications included New Jersey Law Journal, ABA Law Practice Management Magazine, and New Jersey Lawyer.
He is chair of the Elder Law Committee of the American Bar Association General Practice Division. He is also Editor of the ABA Estate Planning Probate Committee Newsletter and also the Criminal Law Committee newsletter. Mr. Vercammen is a recipient of the NJSBA- YLD Service to the Bar Award. And past Winner "General Practice Attorney of the Year" from the NJ State Bar Association. He is a 22 year active member of the American Bar Association. He is also a member of the ABA Real Property, Probate & Trust Section.
He established the NJlaws website www.njlaws.com which includes many articles on Elder Law. Mr. Vercammen received his B.S., cum laude, from the University of Scranton and his J.D. from Widener/Delaware Law School, where he was the Case Note Editor of the Delaware Law Forum, a member of the Law Review and the winner of the Delaware Trial Competition.
RECENT SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS ON WILLS, ELDER LAW, AND PROBATE
Edison Adult School -Wills, Elder Law & Probate- 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 [inc Edison TV], 2001, 2000,1999,1998,1997
Nuts & Bolts of Elder Law - NJ Institute for Continuing Legal Education/ NJ State Bar ICLE/NJSBA 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999, 1996
Elder Law and Estate Planning- American Bar Association Miami 2007
Elder Law Practice, New Ethical Ideas to Improve Your Practice by Giving Clients What They Want and Need American Bar Association Hawaii 2006
South Plainfield Seniors- New Probate Law 2005, East Brunswick Seniors- New Probate Law 2005
Old Bridge AARP 2002; Guardian Angeles/ Edison 2002; St. Cecilia/ Woodbridge Seniors 2002;
East Brunswick/ Hall's Corner 2002;
Linden AARP 2002
Woodbridge Adult School -Wills and Estate Administration -2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996
Woodbridge Housing 2001; Metuchen Seniors & Metuchen TV 2001; Frigidare/ Local 401 Edison 2001; Chelsea/ East Brunswick 2001, Village Court/ Edison 2001; Old Bridge Rotary 2001; Sacred Heart/ South Amboy 2001; Livingston Manor/ New Brunswick 2001; Sunrise East Brunswick 2001; Strawberry Hill/ Woodbridge 2001;
Wills and Elder Law - Metuchen Adult School 1999,1997,1996,1995,1994,1993
Clara Barton Senior Citizens- Wills & Elder Law-Edison 2002, 1995
AARP Participating Attorney in Legal Plan for NJ AARP members 1999-2005
Senior Legal Points University of Medicine & Dentistry UMDNJ & St. Peter's-2000, 1999,1998
East Brunswick AARP Wills 2001; -Iselin/ Woodbridge AARP Wills 2000
Metuchen Reformed Church; Franklin/ Somerset/ Quailbrook Seniors 2001
North Brunswick Senior Day 2001
Wills, Elder Law and Probate-South Brunswick Adult School & Channel 28 TV 1999, 1997,1993
Wills and Estate Planning-Old Bridge Adult School 1998,1997,1995
Senior Citizen Law-Perth Amboy YMHA 1995; Temple Beth Or 2002;
Wills, Living Wills and Probate-Spotswood Community School 1995,1994,1993
Wills and Probate-Sayreville Adult School 1997, 1996,1995,1994
Living Wills-New Jersey State Bar Foundation and St. Demetrius, Carteret 1994
Wills and Estate Planning-Edison Elks and Senior Citizens January 1994
"Legal Questions Clinic" Metuchen Adult School March 1995,1994,1993
Estate Planning to Protect Families-Metuchen Chamber of Commerce April 1993
BUSINESS AND AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS:
Improving Your Elder Law & Estate Practice San Francisco, CA 2007
Elder Law and Estate Planning- ABA Miami 2007
Elder Law Practice, New Ethical Ideas to Improve Your Practice by Giving Clients What They Want and Need ABA Hawaii 2006
Marketing Success Stories ABA Toronto 1998
Opening a Business-Sayreville Adult School 1997,1996,1995
Olympians of Marketing- ABA Annual Meeting-Orlando, Florida 1996
Contact the Law Office of
Kenneth Vercammen & Associates, P.C.
for an appointment.