man working on estate planning on his own

Can I set up an estate plan on my own?

It is crucial to set up an estate plan to ensure your assets are correctly distributed, and your wishes are followed after you pass away.

While you can legally establish your own estate plan, it is advisable to work with an attorney who is well-versed in the applicable laws and requirements. Without their guidance, you may overlook key matters, such as accounting for all assets or preparing in advance for estate taxes. You may also encounter a situation where your estate plans are unclear or vaguely worded, opening up the opportunity for someone to contest a will or otherwise challenge your estate’s administrator.

No matter your situation, a New Jersey estate planning attorney from Van Dyck Law Group can explain the elements of an estate plan and help you determine which are suitable for your circumstances. Schedule an appointment to speak with an attorney from our firm today by calling (609) 293-2562 or using our form to contact us online.

Understanding the Elements of an Estate Plan

When you think about the elements of an estate plan, what comes to mind?

People often assume that you only need to establish a will to ensure your assets are handled properly after you die. However, there are many elements involved in a comprehensive estate plan.

With help from an attorney, you can ensure all of the necessary components are included in your customized plan. The most common documents include the following:

  • Last Will and Testament — A last will and testament assigns asset distribution to your chosen beneficiaries. It can also designate your chosen estate administrator and a guardian for dependents, as well as state your wishes for your funeral and burial.
  • Living Will — In a medical emergency or accident where you are unable to communicate, a living will informs your medical team of the types of treatments you agree to, including ventilation, CPR, feeding tubes, etc.
  • Powers of Attorney — A powers of attorney designation allows you to choose someone to make health or financial decisions in the event you are incapacitated.    
  • Trust — A trust allows you to set aside money and other types of assets into a separate legal entity. These can then be transferred to your beneficiaries upon your death or handled according to some other strategic end. One of the main benefits of a trust is its contents can avoid probate and associated fees when formed with these goals in mind. 

Complying With New Jersey Estate Laws

In addition to including all of the necessary elements in your estate plan, you also need to make sure it complies with state laws. Estate laws can confuse someone who is not well-versed in the law, and rules can change over time.

Consider the following legal requirements and how you might meet them through your estate plans:

  • Legitimizing a will — There are a number of requirements for a will to be valid in New Jersey. For example, the testator must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. At least two people must also witness the signing or acknowledgment of the will. If your will is not valid, your property will be divided according to state law, which could go against your wishes. 
  • Inheritance tax — Inheritance taxes are due in New Jersey at the time of asset transfer, along with federal estate taxes. However, there are individuals, primarily family members, and other living relatives, who may be exempt from the inheritance tax. There are also limits on taxable amounts your lawyer can inform you of. 
  • Inheritance laws — In many instances, spouses in New Jersey are eligible to inherit all assets and property of their late partner unless otherwise designated. However, there are other instances where children, parents, or siblings can inherit. If you wish to leave specific assets to specific individuals, it is essential to consider working with an attorney. 
  • Non-probate asset transfers — Probate court is stressful and often expensive for surviving family members. However, there are ways to avoid probate. In New Jersey, the following assets can go directly to beneficiaries: property in a living trust, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, joint tenancy property, and more. You may also be able to form a trust to avoid probate. It is also important to note that if your estate plan must pass through probate, a single mistake could deem your will invalid. With an attorney by your side, you can rest assured that your estate plan complies with New Jersey laws. 

To avoid making a legal mistake on your estate plan, consider working with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. The attorneys at Van Dyck Law Group are well-versed in New Jersey laws and are prepared to explain your rights and options.

The Benefits of Working With an Estate Planning Attorney

To ensure your estate plan is legally binding and your wishes can be carried out, it is crucial to consider working with an estate planning lawyer. They can explain your options and help you prepare and execute the applicable legal documents, so your family members can properly manage your affairs.

Consult With Your Lawyer on Asset Designations

Your will or trust will not automatically protect all of your assets. Certain types of assets have the potential to pass on independently of your estate plan unless you designate specific actions. To ensure your assets are distributed as you intend, your attorney will review your wishes and help you take the necessary steps, so your plan is accurate and includes all of your assets.

Have a Professionally Drafted Estate Plan

While online estate planning software typically includes instructions for filling out a comprehensive plan, officially notarizing these documents can be difficult or nearly impossible. It may also be the case that a fill-in-the-blank style form does not meet all of your needs, such as by overlooking key assets or alternative wordings available compared to what is presented. Fortunately, an attorney can ensure your documents are valid and include all of the necessary pieces.  

Keep Your Estate Plan Up-to-Date

No matter at what age you establish your estate plan, you could decide to revisit it and make changes. As your financial situation or relationships change, it is important to update your estate plan to ensure it still aligns with your wishes. No matter how many times you choose to revise your plan, working with an attorney will ensure your plan continues to abide by state laws. 

Learn More About Estate Planning in New Jersey 

While it may be tempting to use an online service provider or estate planning kit on your own, working with an estate planning attorney is often worth it to ensure your affairs are properly managed, your wishes are clearly worded, and your plans are enforceable with regards to the law.

Learn more about what estate planning involves and how to form an estate plan capable of allowing you to leave behind the world you would want to see when you call (609) 293-2562 or contact us online to schedule a no-obligation consultation today.

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Van Dyck Law Group Client Reviews

“ Fiona and her team made a complicated and potentially difficult process of planning for the inevitable an easy, pleasant and uncomplicated experience. Amazing!”

– Anonymous survey 2

“ The staff was very professional, courteous, and responsive. The process of updating and restating our trusts was less arduous than anticipated. Every question was clearly explained and clarified and aimed at our level of understanding. This was an A+ service.”

– David & Diane of New Providence, NJ

“ Fiona is professional and highly knowledgeable, but what sets her apart is her ability to explain complex legal details in an easy to understand manner. She is friendly and patiently answered our many questions thoroughly. Her staff is equally friendly and responsive. And they accomplished all of this under virtual conditions! Very pleased with our experience.”

– James and Sheri H.- Hopewell, NJ

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