A Last Will and Testament designates an Executor who has legal authority to handle the estate assets. The Will also specifies who receives what, and in what way; the language of the Will specifies if the share is to be put in a Trust or is to pass outright, and who will receive the share if the named beneficiary has died. If assets are jointly owned or if they have named beneficiaries, they are handled differently and usually they are not controlled by what the Will says, although individual cases may have legal nuances that differ.
When a person passes away with a Will, the first step is to present that Will to be probated at the County Surrogate. In New Jersey, probate is a quick and easy process, although right now it is more cumbersome due to the COVID-19 procedures. Call your County Surrogate for their specific drop-off procedures. Generally, the named Executor has to send in the original Will, an original death certificate, and some payment. Once the executor is appointed, s/he has legal authority to handle the estate’s assets.
The next steps involve obtaining an EIN# from the IRS (because an estate is an independent entity); setting up an Estate checking account; collecting the bills; dealing with personal property; identifying all of the assets and determining whether any of them have a named beneficiary or co-owner; making decisions about liquidations of assets; and dealing with real estate (to name a few). There will often be a need to file the final income tax returns as well.
Much of our work in the area of guardianships, probate and estate administration involves our County Surrogates. As we continue to adjust to working with COVID-19, be aware that each Surrogate Office is adjusting their hours and policies to deal with the pandemic. The overview of changed hours and policies in each county can be found here. In Union County, the new hours are Mon. & Thurs. 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. to reach staff by phone and schedule emergent matters.
Court proceedings for uncontested Guardianships are being handled on the papers. The court-appointed counsel files his or her report, the Judgment (Order) is exchanged between the parties and then the Court handles the case on its regularly-scheduled date. In some cases, the Court may hold that hearing by telephone. Our office handled a guardianship case in Essex County last week which involved some unusual issues and the Court decided to conduct a hearing with all the parties present. The Judge was on the bench with his clerk, and six people as well as the Judge called in to the conference from various locations. Witnesses were sworn, oral argument was made, testimony was taken, the Judge issued the ruling. All by telephone and it worked out very well for everyone concerned.
We continue to keep in touch with Union, Middlesex and other Surrogate’s Offices to facilitate mail in and email qualifications for guardians, executors, and administrators, as well as all related necessary filings with this office. Thank you County Surrogates!
I have been saying for years that taking the time to put things in order in proper legal documents can save a lot of headache and money in the long run. “Careful planning can prevent a crisis” has been one of my professional mottos for many years now. New Jersey has a statute that allows a person to sign a document that designates a Funeral and Disposition Representative who has authority to make the decisions about final disposition of the body at death. A person can write these instructions in a Last Will and Testament or can sign a separate document and provide it to whoever might need to know. A new court decision called In the Matter of Estate of John Travers Jr. Travers App Div tackles the thorny problem of who is entitled to make those decisions for a person who died without a Will and without any written designation.
John Travers, Jr., died without any written instructions concerning his remains. He had no Will. He was single and had no children. His parents survived him, but they were divorced They disagreed over what should happen — the father believed that his son should be buried, but the mother believed that his remains should be cremated. . The court noted that under the statute, the priority would be given to (1) spouse if any; (2) majority of the adult children if any, and then (3) the surviving parents. However, the statute said nothing about what to do when there is a dispute between the parents, who are the equally-situated next-of-kin.
The Appellate Division decided that the Legislature would want the decision to be as much in accordance with the individual’s preferences as a court could discern . Here, he had failed to make his wishes known, but there was evidence that he had a closer relationship with his father at the time of his death. The Court decided that the father was therefore in a better position to determine what his son’s wishes would be. Another factor that impressed the Court was that the father was likely to be appointed administrator of the estate and would also likely pay for all disposition arrangements himself since his son had few assets.
Family planning is full lifetime planning. Call us for individualized assistance and solutions ……. 732-382-6070
The house is sold, the estate’s debts and bills have all been paid, the accounting has been presented to the beneficiaries, they have signed off on the Release & Refunding Bonds, and now it’s time for the estate’s Executor or Administrator to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries according to the Will or according to the requirements of the law. The estate may have acquired dividends or interest or rents on which income tax must be paid. An income tax return has to be filed for the Estate if more than $600 in gross income was received, and in fulfilling his/her fiduciary duty, the Executor/ Administrator wants to be sure to investigate all available income-tax saving opportunities.
What is the estate’s expected marginal tax bracket?
Is it beneficial to pass the estate’s income and losses (if there is a loss on sale of assets such as stock or real property) through to the beneficiaries?
Can income or loss be passed through in a year that the property isn’t actually distributed?
If assets have to be distributed out in order to pass thru the tax liability, which plan saves the most taxes — distributing or holding?
Is there any limit on the amount of losses that can be passed through to the beneficiaries?
Serving as Executor or Administrator is a job with many responsibilities. It’s vital that the fiduciary get advice on all of the steps required so that the interests of the beneficiaries are protected, and so that the fiduciary can be protected as well.
Call us for complete advice “A to Z” about the estate administration for decedents’ estates … 732-382-6070
As elder law attorneys, our clients have presented us with many difficult situations involving adult children or grandchildren who live in their houses. Sometimes a child has run into some hard times and sees the parent’s home as an economical option; the child may move into his parent’s house along with his spouse and children. Sometimes the child just never became self-sufficient and never made any plan to move out. The adult child may or may not be disabled. Sometimes the expenses are being shared to a degree, but often the parent pays for most of the expenses. The parent may be wrestling with a feeling of obligation, and the child may have a feeling of entitlement. The child may feel that they are “taking care of the parent,” yet the actual need for care or the work being done may be imprecise and doubted by others in the family.
The longer the arrangement lasts, the more difficult it can be for the parent to move on. The dynamic can really change when there are other children who are upset at the arrangement. The parent’s financial security may get on edge. Things can particularly blow up when the parent has to hire a caregiver or wants to sell the house in order to downsize or move to assisted living or nursing home. How can all of these competing interests be managed? How will the house be sold, and where will the child go?
Aging parents who are still supporting their adult children may want to do some careful planning. They need to consider what will happen to them if they need their funds for care but their child is counting on all of that ongoing financial support. There are many issues to consider. Should they charge actual rent? Should there be a written lease that specifies that occupancy only continues of the occupancy fees are paid? Should they put restrictions on the child’s behavior so that the parent’s peaceful residence isn’t disturbed? A parent may want to put a provision in his or her Will that allocates some extra amount for the dependent child so that at the parent’s death, there are extra funds for relocation. By putting protective provisions into the estate plan, the parent may be able to provide better protections than counting on other family members to honor the parent’s verbal “wishes.” It may not work well to just assume that the whole family will be able to work out an agreement to support the dependent one after mom or dad passes on.
At some point, should the parent insist that the child move out, but agree to pay for the alternate housing for some period of time? What if the house is going to be sold. Does the parent want to give the child written, enforceable rights to remain in the house for a certain amount of time under certain terms & conditions if the parent dies or moves out? How will that impact the parent’s well-being, or the ability of their Executor to wrap up the estate after death? Will the child need a new guardian or life care planner?
Call us for legal advice on developing a family well being plan … 732-382-6070