family siluettePreparing 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 addressed.

Robert Smith is married with two children.  In his Will, Robert bequeathed all his assets to his wife, Susan.  However, in his Will, Robert also requested that, upon her death, Susan divide any of Robert’s remaining assets equally between their children.  The problem is that after Robert’s gone, Susan is free to do whatever she wants with those assets.  She’s not obligated to respect Robert’s wishes regarding passing along remaining assets to the kids.

Robert’s attorney came up with a solution to address this issue.  It’s called a testamentary trust.  This trust, created through Robert’s Will, includes specific language tailored to Robert’s wishes, and goes into effect upon his death.   The trust can be drafted to ensure that once Susan’s gone, those assets will pass to Robert’s children.

Testamentary trusts may be useful for many different marital scenarios including second marriages.  However, as with any trust, the language must be very carefully crafted to reflect your wishes.  Under the circumstances, consulting with an attorney is highly advisable.  Properly worded, a testamentary trust can help you exercise control over the situation long after you’re gone!

Getting Legal Help:

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you explore trust options and determine what best meets your needs.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.






4000462_s-3A 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 vivid reminder that a person’s personal possessions, whether or not they have significant monetary value, may assume extraordinary importance to the heirs once that person passes away.  And the dynamics between a step-parent and the deceased’s children can assume a ferocity never imagined.

But, when planning your estate, there are some things that can help allay the feuding between your children and their step-parent.

1.  It goes without saying that you should specify as clearly as possible in your Will (or in a written statement attached to your Will) who gets what.  It’s not enough to state that your daughter gets the family heirlooms and your wife gets the furniture you brought to the marriage.  What about that antique chair in the living room that you inherited from your grandmother?   A far better approach is to make a list of all the specific items you wish to bequeath; next to each item, name the designated beneficiary.  The clearer your intentions, the less likely that arguments will ensue.  Of course, you can modify your list, changing who gets what, whenever you wish.  The point is to be as clear as possible about your intentions.

2.  Also, telling your heirs in person how you are dividing up your tangible personal property eliminates the future element of surprise.  It allows your heirs to voice their feelings, enables you to explain your rationale, and gives people time to get used to the idea.  While you may prefer one-on-one talks, you should also consider a group discussion to help insure that everyone hears the same thing.  However, if you change your mind at some later time regarding who gets what, be sure to inform all the affected beneficiaries about those changes.  Neglecting to do so may lead to major feuds once your gone – exactly what you were hoping to avoid.

3.  Finally, it’s worth considering distributing some of your personal things in advance.  Special occasions like holidays, birthdays, and graduations are great opportunities to gift personal items to loved ones.  And these are excellent opportunities, when the whole family is together, for all to see what has been gifted.

Bequeathing your personal possessions to loved ones is intended to bring them joy.  But it can be particularly tricky in the case of stepchildren and step-parents.  Taking some proactive steps may save your loved ones considerable problems after you’re gone.

Getting Legal Help

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




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 the middle of all this, Susan started getting calls from a debt collection agency.  Her husband had a credit card under his own name.  But the collection agency was pressuring Susan, insisting that she must pay off Steven’s credit card debt.  The agency was relentless, calling repeatedly, demanding payment.  Susan just didn’t know what to do.

Fortunately for her, Susan had an attorney shepherding her through the whole estate probate process.

The attorney informed Susan that she was not personally responsible for paying off her husband’s debt.

1. When a deceased person dies, his personal assets become his “estate.”  Generally speaking, debts are paid out of the estate.  If there isn’t enough money in the estate, creditors (and their debt collectors) are out of luck.

2. Susan’s husband designated her as the beneficiary of his $100,000 life insurance policy.  Since life insurance left to a designated beneficiary is not included in the probate estate, the insurance money Susan inherited was not subject to creditors’ claims.

3. Susan’s husband also designated Susan as the beneficiary to his 401K.  Retirement accounts left to a designated beneficiary, such as 401Ks and IRAs, are usually protected from the decedent’s creditors.  This was the case for Susan, and it meant that the 401K money she inherited was also not subject to creditors’ claims.

4. Susan and Steven resided in New Jersey, which is not a “Community Property State.”  Consequently, Susan’s home, which she owned jointly with her husband, was also outside the reach of Steven’s creditors.

5. Finally, Susan had not jointly applied with her husband for the credit card; she had not co-signed the application.  Since the card was only in Steven’s name, Susan was under no legal obligation to pay his credit card bill.

Given the circumstances, Susan did not pay the collection agency.  However, this is a cautionary tale.  When faced with a deceased loved one’s debt, there are so many different circumstances and corresponding legal considerations.  It’s best to consult with an expert.  Don’t be intimidated by debt collection agencies.  Gathering information and speaking with reputable experts is the way to go before you do anything else!

Getting Legal Help:

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can advise you regarding your deceased loved one’s debts and your obligations.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.

The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice.  The persons and situation discussed are fictional.  Any resemblance to real persons or to real life examples is purely coincidental.


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 he exceeds that amount he loses government funding.

Given this minuscule savings limit, Alex has never been able to improve his life beyond what the government was willing to fund.  So, Alex could never dream of living in his own apartment, or going to college, or having discretionary funds available for enhanced medical treatments.  But that may soon change!  Congress voted to enact the “Achieving A Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act on December 16, 2014.  The President is expected to sign the bill.

Under the ABLE Act, a disabled person may have up to $100,000 in personal savings in a 529A savings account without losing major federal means-tested benefits.  Specifics are as follows:

– Special needs children and adults diagnosed before age 26 are eligible for 529A accounts.

– Only one 529A account per disabled individual is permitted.

– These accounts may be funded by the individual, his family, or anyone else who wishes to do so.  Total annual deposits may equal the annual gift tax exemption (currently $14,000 per year).

– Qualified disability expenses that may be paid with 529A funds include among other things: education, housing, transportation, employment training, personal support services, and health.

– 529A plans function in a manner similar to the very popular 529B college savings plans with associated tax benefits.

– 529A’s will be administered by the individual states.

Soon a new day will dawn for Alex.  One that makes him more financially independent; one that gives him more control over his own life.

Getting Legal Help:

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A Goodman, can help you understand the new law.  She can work with you on all your Special Needs and Estate Planning issues.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.






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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When There’s No Will, Problems May Arise

October 21, 2014

A critical part of estate planning involves preparing your Will.  Doing so helps ensure that your estate will be distributed to your heirs according to your wishes. Unfortunately, many people neglect to prepare a Will.  The reasons are many.  But the bottom line is that once you’re gone, and there’s no Will, things get more […]

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Estate Planning – Questions About Tangible Personal Property

October 21, 2014

Preparing a Will enables you to direct how and to whom your estate will be distributed once you’re gone.  Your estate is comprised of your  intangible personal property (including cash, IRA’s, 401Ks, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.), real estate, and  “tangible personal property.”  Many times people wish to be very specific regarding how their tangible personal […]

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Estate Planning: Telling your Children What You’re Planning and Why

October 7, 2014

A critical part of estate planning involves identifying your beneficiaries, and specifying what they will inherit.  Parents (particularly those who are widowed or divorced) often designate their children as beneficiaries.  However, problems may arise among the kids depending on how those assets are divided.  Examples abound, but here are just a few: You have three […]

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The Perils of Inconsistencies Between Divorce Decrees and Beneficiary Designations.

August 28, 2014

The standard language in divorce decrees regarding each party’s obligation to maintain life insurance for the children of the marriage is, in many instances, not sufficient to protect the intended beneficiaries.  To avoid such pitfalls, it is recommended that the two parties negotiate the beneficiary designation language to help insure that the divorce decree accurately […]

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