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Cherry Hill NJ Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Three reasons to get legal help with probate

Probate is the process by which courts adjudicate estates. Courts apply state laws to the matter, and they also consider the legal documents that are present in the estate, including wills and trusts. Most estates go through some version of the probate process, though certain assets can be protected from the process by placing them in trusts. Payable-on-death accounts such as life insurance policies also don't have to go through probate.

When dealing with probate matters, there are numerous reasons you might want to have an experienced professional on your side. One of those reasons is to protect the wishes of the loved one who has passed away. Likely he or she had certain desires for the legacy of the estate, and other people might want to change how those things are being handled. By working with a probate lawyer, you can help protect your loved one's legacy.

Giving money away now to avoid taxes later

If you know that you are going to pass away with a healthy level of assets in your estate, experts say that giving gifts to your heirs now and throughout your life can reduce the amount of tax that is levied on your estate. Federal estate taxes don't kick in until your estate is valued more than at $5.49 million, and married couples can leverage their status for an exemption that is effectively double the number for a single person.

It's easy to underestimate the value of your total estate, though; when you throw in real property such as land and homes, you could end up over that threshold. Even if you don't reach the federal threshold, many states have their own estate or inheritance taxes that can be a burden for heirs, and the threshold for those taxes is often lower.

Whom should you notify when someone dies?

The obvious answer is that you should notify family and close friends, but that's the immediate answer. Beyond that, the executor of an estate has to make numerous notifications to begin closing out accounts and transferring assets appropriately into the ownership of the estate. Notification of the death might also spur the release of payable-upon-death benefits associated with life insurance or financial accounts.

How and when you make notifications of a death depend on a number of factors. In some cases, you might need copies of the death certificate; in others, you must complete specific forms provided by the company in question. As the executor of an estate, you definitely want to conduct research to discover all insurance policies that were either held by the decedent or covered the decedent. Notify car insurance, home insurance, health insurance and life insurance companies that are associated with the decedent.

Personal representatives have duties that can vary

When someone dies, there might be a need to go through the probate process. This is necessary if the person had significant assets that need to be handled. The probate process involves the administration of the decedent's estate by the person the named executor or personal representative.

The exact method for administering the estate depends on a host of factors. One factor is whether there are any disagreements about the estate or not among the heirs. The process for handling an estate that has a contested will is going to be much more complicated than an estatewhere all the heirs agree about the probate process.

Learn about probate litigation if you are facing an estate issue

After your loved one passes away, you will likely dread the day when you have to start going through his or her belongings. This is often a very difficult time for family members. If your loved one had a will, this process might be a bit easier because it would include information about who get what; however, this isn't always a smooth process.

We know that some family members feel like the estate plan left behind might not be correct. Some potential problems, such as accusations of the estate plan being made under duress might occur. When these arise, the estate might end up having to go through the probate litigation process.

Can the 'Four A's' help you deal with probate litigation stress?

Anytime you have to deal with the legal system or courts, it can be stressing. While there's typically nothing to fear from the probate process, there might be a lot at stake.

Simply dealing with the unfamiliar formalities of the legal process can be overwhelming. One of the best ways to reduce your stress level during probate litigation is to work with an estate law professional that you trust and who can explain each step to you while handling the details.

Leaving retirement savings to your spouse

A few weeks ago, we covered some benefits of Roth IRAs to the estate planning process. We know that many financial planners promote matching IRA savings and lifestyles, making it so that you spend most of your retirement savings during your retirement. It does make sense: You saved for decades so you could enjoy these golden years, so if you have the savings, why wouldn't you travel or enjoy new hobbies?

Often, however, people do pass away with at least some amount in their IRA. It's kind of hard to predict life down to the nickel. What happens when you pass away with money still left in a regular -- not a Roth -- IRA? If you have a surviving spouse, there's good news.

Should you bring up estate planning during the holidays?

The gut-check reaction is probably, "No, don't dampen the festive mood with talk of depressing matters." Experts, however, often disagree with your gut reaction. They say talking about estate planning doesn't have to be depressing, and the holidays often come with benefits no other time does.

First, know that when estate planning topics are broached in a caring and tactful manner, they can be uplifting. Whether you're talking to an older parent about getting their affairs in order or you want to pass on some information about your estate planning efforts to adult children, the reasons for the discussions are love and concern. Those go hand-in-hand with much of what the holidays are about for many.

Avoid these four estate-planning mistakes

We've covered estate-planning statistics in previous blogs, so it's probably no surprise to our readers that over half of all adult Americans don't have a will. Common estate-planning misunderstandings are one reason this is the case, and even once you get around to planning, you might make more common errors that can lead to financial loss or extra work and worry in the future.

One common error is simply not thinking that you need a will or other estate planning document. Some people think that wills are for the wealthy, but in reality wills can help anyone protect assets and legacies. Even if you have nothing you think should be passed on to your heirs right now, if you have minor children estate planning is critical to stating your wishes about their care should something happen to you.

Considering all your assets, even your time share

One of the biggest challenges for those who are dealing with estate planning can be ensuring that they consider all of their assets when making a will or other plans. While most people who get this far with estate planning have the major assets such as homes, real estate and active cash accounts covered, it's easy to forget about inactive assets or smaller items. One thing you might never think about, for example, is a time share.

Time shares aren't always seen as valuable assets because of the way they are depicted on television sitcoms. Often, time shares are seen as something you are coerced or tricked into purchasing and something that you'd really like to be rid of. In reality, though, many people quite enjoy their time shares and get a lot of benefits from vacationing out of state or out of country.