The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that for 2016 the estate and gift tax exemption limit increases to $5.45 million per person, 34660340_s an increase from $5.43 million per person.  A qualifying married couple can now gift during life or at death up to $10.9 million without incurring federal estate or gift taxes.   These changes do not impact the New Jersey estate tax exemption which continues at $675,000 per person.

For a full review of the IRS changes, See Ashlea Ebeling, IRS Announces 2016 Estate And Gift Tax Limits: The $10.9 Million Tax Break, Forbes, October 22, 2015.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you with all your estate planning needs.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.


A general durable power of attorney is an important estate planning and elder law planning tool.   A power of attorney allows the attorney-in-fact, also6291331_s power of attorney referred to as the agent, to manage the legal and financial affairs of the principal (the person making the power of attorney designation).  The agent’s authority comes from state law and from the power of attorney document that describes the agent’s duties and powers.  Typically the agent would be able to pay the principal’s bills, take care of banking, manage investments, pay insurance premiums, make claims for benefits under health insurance or other programs, collect money owed to the principal and apply for government or other benefits.  The principal can customize the power of attorney document to meet his or her specific needs.

One power that can prove particularly helpful for estate planning and elder law planning is the agent’s ability to create a trust for the benefit of the principal.   However, this power is not automatically included in a general durable power of attorney.  If the principal wants the agent to have the power to create a trust, the power must be expressly stated in the power of attorney document.

A recent appellate court case from Kentucky illustrates this point.  In Dishman v. Dougherty, a case involving a very complex set of facts, the wife as the agent under a power of attorney created a trust for her husband.  In that case, the court held that

“in order for an attorney-in-fact to create a trust pursuant to a POA (power of attorney), this authority must be expressly provided for in the instrument if it contains a specific provision related to trusts.”

The court found that the instrument in question only permitted the agent to “[c]onvey any real or personal property to the Trustee of any trust agreement between me and said Trustee and entered into either before or after the date of this instrument[.]”   That language, which is the usual language included in many power of attorney documents, only allows the agent  to convey property into a trust but does not permit the agent to create a new trust.  In Dishman v. Dougherty the court held that the trust created by the wife was void from inception.

If you are creating a power of attorney you should consider whether to give your agent the power to create trusts, and what other specific powers, if any, should be included in the document.

Getting Legal Help

The power of attorney is an important planning tool.  If you need help preparing a power of attorney or if you are the agent under the power of attorney and need guidance in your role as the agent contact experienced Estate Planning and Probate Attorney, Elga A Goodman. Contact us today at 973-841-5111.


last-willBeing designated by a friend or a loved one as the Executor of his or her estate is an honor, but with that designation comes many responsibilities and legal risks.

The Executor’s work begins after the death of the testator (the person who made the Will).  The Executor is responsible for “settling” the estate which means that the Executor must:

  •  identify, gather and value all of the decedent’s assets;
  •  pay the decedent’s debts and expenses, including all federal and state taxes; and
  •  distribute to the correct beneficiaries whatever assets remain after all debts and expenses have been paid, in accordance with the terms of the Will.

While this short list makes the Executor’s job seem simple, the reality is that there are many difficult tasks involved in the process and the Executor, as a fiduciary, can be held personally liable for breaching his or her duties in administering the estate.

Before accepting the appointment as Executor you should educate yourself as to the responsibilities and carefully access whether you are able to perform the tasks required.   The Executor may hire professionals such as accountants, attorneys, appraisers and others to assist in the administration of the estate.

The article The other side of a will: Serving as executor to an estate by Shelly Schwartz, CNBC, October 3, 2015 provides a helpful discussion.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced Estate Planning and Probate Attorney, Elga A Goodman, can assist you in your role as an Executor. Contact us today at 973-841-5111.


16709615_sconfused senior womanFor many seniors, taking care of their affairs, particularly paying bills, banking, and other financial matters, becomes more and more difficult as the years go by.  When this happens, many people opt to have a close relative or other highly trusted person assist them with these matters.  The following discussion explores two very common options.

1. Adding a co-owner to your bank account.
John Smith decided to add a co-owner to his bank account.  He picked his son Robert.  As co-owner, Robert was able to make deposits, withdraw funds, and pay all his father’s bills, writing the checks directly from his father’s account.  Seems simple enough – however, there are some serious problems with this approach.

a.  Misusing funds:  Designating a co-owner to your account enables that person to write checks for anything, including his/her personal expenses.  While you trust that the co-owner will only utilize your funds for your benefit, this may not always be the case.

b.  Creditors: If your co-owner gets into financial trouble, his or her creditors may try to seize funds from your account.

c.  Family conflicts:  Issues may arise after your gone regarding who owns the residual assets in the account.  Almost all joint accounts include a “right of survivorship” clause designating the surviving co-owner as the lawful owner of remaining funds.  In John Smith’s case, he intended the remaining money to be equally divided among his three children.  However, as co-owner, the funds belonged to Robert, who was under no legal obligation to share the money with his siblings. Robert chose to keep the money and his siblings took him to court – not something John Smith ever intended.

2. The Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney may be a much better approach if you need help managing your financial affairs.  John Smith would have been wise to go this route.  Under the terms of a Durable Power of Attorney, John would have designated his son, Robert, “attorney in fact.”  Robert would then use his father’s account for making deposits, withdrawals, and writing checks, but with two very important restrictions:

a.  The funds could only be used for his father’s benefit.

b.  Upon his father’s death, any money remaining in the account would become part of his father’s estate.  The funds would not belong to Robert (unlike the “co-owner” situation noted above).

Finally, it should be noted that the Durable Power of Attorney is a much more powerful instrument than the co-owner option.  You can designate your “attorney in fact” to act on your behalf regarding all manner of legal matters.  It’s up to you regarding how much or how little responsibility you assign to your agent.  For many, this flexibility makes it a very useful tool.

Getting Legal Help:

When you need help managing your financial affairs, it’s critical that you understand your options.  Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A Goodman, can work with you to explore the various alternatives, and can help you select the most suitable solution for your unique needs.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.




Testamentary Trusts – Controlling Your Assets After Your Gone!

May 5, 2015

Preparing your Last Will and Testament (the Will) is critical for helping insure that your wishes are respected after you’re gone.  Married couples with children may have special concerns regarding how money bequeathed to the surviving partner is handled after the survivor passes away.  The following example demonstrates how this type of issue may be […]

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Step-Parents and Stepchildren – Keeping the Peace After You’re Gone

April 23, 2015

A family feud between Robin Williams’s widow and his children from prior marriages has received a lot of press.  A major issue in this feud involves Mr. Williams’s tangible personal  property, personal items he collected over the years.  Mrs. Williams and her stepchildren differ on which items were bequeathed to them. This story is a […]

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My Husband Just Died And Debt Collectors Are Calling!

January 13, 2015

Susan went through a very hard time when her husband, Steven, died.  Not only was she grieving the loss of her husband, but she had to deal with so many other things – making funeral arrangements, contacting Steven’s employer, the life insurance company, their lawyer, the bank.  And on and on it went.  And then, in […]

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Congress Passes Tax-Favored Savings Accounts for Special Needs Individuals!

January 6, 2015

Alex, a 30-year old man with Down syndrome, has cause to celebrate today.  As a Special Needs individual, Alex receives Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  However, these federally funded benefits have been attached to some very restrictive rules.  Specifically, up until now, Alex has been prohibited from having more than $2,000 in savings.  If […]

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Inheriting an IRA – Rules for Averting Huge Taxes!

December 9, 2014

When his 75-year-old father died, forty-year-old John inherited his father’s $1 million traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA).  John wasn’t sure what to do with all that money.  So, he contacted the financial institution managing his father’s IRA and asked them to send him a check for the full amount.  He figured that once he got the […]

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Your Father Died Without A Will. What Happens Next?

November 4, 2014

In our last post, we discussed problems that may arise if a person dies intestate (without leaving a Will).  In this post, we discuss the process for administering and distributing the assets of someone who dies intestate: What you should know: 1. The Surrogate’s Court (in the county where the deceased resided) has judicial oversight […]

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