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Almost every New Jersey family needs an estate plan

In other posts, we have spent a great deal of time talking about complex special needs trusts and using trusts to transfer property or businesses between generations. However, if you do not have a special needs loved one, or if you are not passing your family business to your children, you likely still have a need for an estate plan.

Chances are, if you live in New Jersey, you need an estate plan. Even if you don't have a great deal of assets, as estate plan can help ensure your children are protected and your property is divided according to your wishes.

When people die without a will, it is known as dying intestate. In those circumstances, New Jersey legislature determines what will happen with your children and your assets. Although do-it-yourself software is available for drafting basic wills and trusts, an attorney can help make sure the documents meet your personal needs.

Typically, wills and trusts are the two most basic estate planning tools.

Wills provide a specific set of directions regarding what should happen with your children and assets. Guardians are named to take care of minor children, and an executor is named to pay the bills and identify assets and beneficiaries. Naming beneficiaries allows you to decide how your property should be divided and who gets what proportion.

If you are interested in avoiding probate, a trust can be the most effective tool. Using a trust prevents the transactions associated with your estate from becoming public record. The trust also names someone who will be in charge of distributing your assets after you die.

Although trusts and wills offer a variety of benefits, they are not cure-alls. Individuals should take the time to learn about the details of estate planning as well as some of the basic laws.

Finally, creating an estate plan is not the last step of the process. Your life changes constantly, and it's important to make sure your estate plan reflects your current situation. Anytime you have significant changes in your life, it is a good idea to review your estate plan to determine whether everything is still correct.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Why Most People Need an Estate Plan," Bill Bischoff, 22 March 2011

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