It may be startling for Camden County readers to learn that more than 50 percent of all adults have not prepared a will. As for adults under the age of 35, 92 percent of them have not drafted a will, either.
One reason for these statistics may be the general perception that, in the absence of a will, one's estate will automatically go to the family. But in reality, New Jersey estates lacking a will must be processed through a probate court, and that often translates into unexpected expense and delay. This failure to take appropriate estate planning measures ultimately means the state will decide how to carve up the assets a decedent leaves behind.
Estate planning professionals recommend that anyone, regardless of the size of an estate, should go ahead and draft a will. To do this, several estate documents are considered essential.
These documents can establish the manner in which assets are to be distributed. Typically, an executor is named to marshal the assets and ensure that they are handled in the manner designated by the decedent. In addition, when minors are involved in an estate, a will may be used to designate a guardian to care for them until they get older.
And what should happen if incapacity prevents someone from handling his or her financial affairs? A durable power of attorney is used to give another person the ability to act in place of the infirm individual.
Another useful document is a health care proxy, which addresses medical decisions and end-of-life issues. Specifically, a proxy designates someone to act on a person's behalf regarding health care when an individual is no longer able to make those decisions independently. Without such a document, families confronting these issues must seek authority from a court to act, which can be prohibitively expensive and often unnecessarily time-consuming.
In fact, adults of all ages will want to consider a wide range of estate planning options. By addressing end-of-life concerns head-on, New Jersey residents can successfully prevent certain unpleasant circumstances by making plans for more pleasant ones.
Source: Chicago Tribune, "What Type of Estate and Tax Planning Do I Need to Do?: Without a will, your assets could be held in probate court and distributed according to state law," Susan Johnston, Feb. 28, 2012