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Don't assume anything about your heirs

Assumptions can be very dangerous when it comes to estate planning. You definitely want to have open lines of communication with your heirs. Talk about your plans, their desires, and what legal steps you're going to take to officially put everything in place. Talking it out in advance can help to avoid issues in the future.

One assumption that people often make is that leaving property to an heir is a gift, something they'll be happy to take on. However, assets may come with responsibilities. They may not actually want those responsibilities.

For example, perhaps you own a vacation cottage to go along with your main home in New Jersey. You think you're doing your kids a favor by leaving them the cottage. However, they may see it as nothing but a problem. Now they have to pay property taxes on the cottage, pay for upkeep, make repairs, take care of the lawn and other property, and work out a schedule for when people can visit. It can be a lot of work and, for some people, it may not be affordable. Just because you can make those yearly payments doesn't mean they can.

As you can imagine, talking about this could lead to a different solution. You may end up selling the cottage and splitting the money up between your kids, giving them the asset that they actually need, rather than one that brings new expenses and responsibilities.

For all aspects of estate planning in New Jersey, from writing a will to picking an executor, focus on communication. Be sure you know all of your options and talk them over with your children to make the process go smoothly.

Source: Fidelity, "Tips for Estate Planning Conversations," accessed Sep. 21, 2016

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