Many of us accumulate assets over the course of our lives – assets such as a home, a business, stocks and bonds, jewelry, cars, and assorted other personal items of greater or lesser value.  Taken together, these assets form an estate.  And, for many of us, estate planning becomes part of our “to do” list.  This may involve, among other things, preparing a Will, a Health Care Directive (also known as a Living Will) and a Power of Attorney, and setting up a Trust.  Understanding what the various estate planning tools do and do not do is important for successful estate planning.  Today we’ll be discussing truths and myths about a common type of trust, the “Living Trust,” also known as a “Revocable Trust. “

25871771 s 1smiling middle aged couple1 235x300 Living Trusts   Truths and MythsTruths:

A Living Trust is a tool established during your lifetime for your benefit (and for the benefit of designated loved ones).  You transfer some portion or all of your assets into the Living Trust to be managed by a Trustee that you have selected.  Please note, you may designate yourself as Trustee.  You may modify or terminate this trust at any time during your lifetime.

Elderly individuals may find Living Trusts useful tools in anticipation of disability or dependence on others.  Under the terms of a Living Trust, if a person becomes incapacitated, the assets will be readily available to him or to designated individuals.  A Living Trust also offers a person peace of mind that, upon her death, the trust beneficiaries will have relatively rapid access to the trust’s assets since Living Trusts generally avoid probate (a court process overseeing the administration of a Will).  While probate is a cumbersome process in some states, it is relatively straightforward and inexpensive in New Jersey.  That said, Living Trusts may be particularly advantageous for people holding assets such as real estate outside of their home states since probate will, in all likelihood, be avoided in the states where such real estate is held.


You may have heard that a Living Trust:  1. provides protection from creditors; 2. serves to avoid income taxes; 3. avoids estate or inheritance taxes; 4. cannot be contested upon your death.

None of these myths is true!  Placing some or all of your assets in a Living Trust does not remove those assets from the general pool available to your creditors.  Nor does a Living Trust provide any income tax protection.  And a Living Trust, in and of itself, does not provide any inheritance or estate tax planning protection.  Finally, a Living Trust can be contested on such grounds as mental incapacity, undue influence, or fraud.

Getting Legal Help:

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can work with you on all your estate planning needs including establishing a Living Trust.   She can help you understand your options and prepare an estate plan that reflects your unique circumstances and wishes.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.









14993211 estate planning cloud 300x225 Estate Planning: Three Things To Consider When Choosing An Attorney.You’re ready to do some estate planning – a Will perhaps, or a Trust-related matter.  You need to find a lawyer.  There are certainly many attorneys from whom to choose.  But how do you pick the right one?

The following guidelines may help you in your search.

1. It’s always a good idea to work with an attorney who specializes in the area of law pertaining to your needs.  You probably wouldn’t go to a real estate attorney to handle your divorce.  So, if  estate planning matters are on your mind, seeking out an estate planning attorney is advisable.  And, while this may be obvious, it’s worth mentioning that you want an attorney who is licensed to practice in the state where you live, someone with a thorough understanding of the applicable state laws.

2.  Getting information about an attorney before you schedule an appointment can save you time, energy, and possibly money in the long run.  Recommendations from  trusted friends and associates can be useful in refining your search.  And, many attorneys have online websites where you can read about their credentials, areas of specialization, and how their clients rate them – all potentially useful information.

3. And last, but certainly not least, meeting with the attorney for an initial consultation is critical.  It’s really important that you feel comfortable with the person you select.  Estate planning is a very personal and potentially complicated matter.  You want to make sure that you and the attorney you ultimately choose communicate well with each other so that you can successfully accomplish your goals.

Some points to consider during the initial meeting:  Is the attorney

- a good listener, taking the time to understand what your specific needs are?   If you’re having a hard time getting a word in edgewise, and the discussion keeps going off course, perhaps this isn’t the right attorney for you.

- patient in answering your questions and willing to explain things thoroughly, calmly, and using language that’s clear and straightforward?  Abrupt responses or impatient reactions to your questions may make you feel foolish or intimidated.  That’s not exactly the type of environment conducive to a successful working relationship.

Bottom line,  you should feel at ease with the attorney you pick.  Mutual respect is important.  Sometimes, this means you may need to speak with more than one attorney before you find the right one.  It’s definitely worth the effort.  After all, this is about your estate, your needs, and those of your loved ones.

Getting Legal Help

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


prenuptial agreement1 300x199 How Late Is Too Late To Sign A Prenuptial Agreement?A prenuptial agreement (prenup) is a written contract that two people enter into before they marry.  There are many reasons for these contracts. Frequently addressed are issues regarding financial assets accrued by each party before the marriage along with assets accrued jointly during the marriage.  Prenups commonly include provisions for division of property and spousal support in the event of divorce or death.

Timing is important when entering into a prenup.  Coming to a mutual agreement about the terms and conditions can sometimes take several weeks or months.  Should the prenup be signed no later than one month before the wedding, one week before, or is the night before acceptable?  While there are no set rules, signing at the last minute is not advisable.

A recent Florida case highlights the potential problems associated with signing a prenup at the last minute:

- A few weeks before their wedding, a future husband presented his fiance with a first draft of their prenup.

- Eleven days before the wedding, the fiance reviewed the draft with her attorney.  Her attorney identified some problems, advised against signing the agreement, and said she would contact the future husband’s attorney to address the issues.

-  The fiance did not communicate with her attorney again prior to the wedding.  Rather, she went on a brief vacation a few days before the wedding and reconnected with her future husband on the night before the wedding.  At that time, he gave his fiance a revised prenup and told her to get it signed in front of a notary.  Which is exactly what she did at 2 a.m. on the day of her wedding – without reading the agreement!

- Sadly, 7 years later, the wife sued for divorce and asked that the court deem the prenup invalid.  This case ultimately went to the appellate court which stated that the circumstances under which the agreement was signed suggested duress and coercion that could qualify as grounds for nullifying the prenup.

The lesson here is clear.  A prenup is supposed to clarify certain issues for a couple before they marry.  Signing off late may just muddy the waters and defeat that purpose.

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.


three happy senior people 300x200 Alternative Living Arrangements: Two Options When Its Time To Leave Your HomeThere comes a time for many older people when, for various reasons, they must leave their homes.  For some, moving in with children or other close family members is the solution.  For others, a different solution is needed.  This post describes two alternative living arrangements that have gained prominence: 1. Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) and 2. Assisted Living.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)

CCRCs are usually restricted to individuals aged 55 or older.  Different levels of care are available to an individual as his/her needs change over time.  It’s a sort of one-stop shopping arrangement.  No need to worry about leaving the community to find a suitable new living arrangement when the time comes.  It’s all available within the CCRC.

- A person may start off living independently in a house, apartment, or condo.  Various social activities and recreational facilities are often available.  Depending on the community, on-site swimming pools, tennis courts, beauty salons, dances, card games, and off-site trips may all be part of the CCRC experience.

- As the person ages and requires assistance with daily living, such services are provided, including nursing home care if needed.

- CCRCs typically charge a high one-time admission fee in addition to a monthly occupancy fee that rises only modestly (if at all) over time.

Assisted Living

Assisted Living  is a housing arrangement for older people who need some assistance, but not to the extent provided by a nursing home.  Assisted living aims to help people live as independently as possible, providing some modest individualized support services along with limited health care services.

- An individual typically has his own room, furnished with his own things.   There are communal areas, including a dining hall where meals are served, and a variety of social and recreational activities are available.

- Occupancy fees are paid on a monthly basis.

It’s All In The Details

Whether opting for  a CCRC or Assisted Living, it is critical to carefully read the contract.  Marketing brochures and other sources of information won’t necessarily tell you everything you need to know.  For example, if a one-time admission fee is required, check the contract to see if you will receive a refund of some of that money if you decide to leave.  Also make sure you understand exactly what your basic monthly fee will get you.  There may be additional fees for a variety of things such as administering medication or emergency ambulance services, and, if you assume these are included in your monthly fee, you may be unpleasantly surprised.  Such separate fees can significantly increase your monthly costs.   So, to the buyer beware!  It’s all about the details; and they’re in the contract.

Getting Legal Help

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


16709615 sconfused senior woman 300x225 Payable on Death   Clearing Up Some Confusion.The other day I overheard a couple talking about strategies for minimizing inheritance taxes.  ”Oh,” the man said, “if you designate your bank account as Payable On Death (POD) to a beneficiary, that beneficiary will avoid the whole tax thing!”  The woman seemed very excited to hear this.  Unfortunately, this man didn’t have it quite right.  So here’s a little POD lesson that you may find useful.

POD is an arrangement between you and your bank or credit union.  Specifically, when you designate account(s) as POD,  the accounts pass outside of your Will.  Upon your death, the designated beneficiaries will have access to the accounts without going through probate.  (Just a reminder – all assets that pass through your Will must go through a probate process whereby a court determines whether or not your Last Will and Testament is valid.)  So, designating accounts as POD avoids the waiting period associated with probate – and that’s a good estate planning option to consider.  But it’s certainly not a tax-free strategy!

Every person’s situation is unique; and that situation keeps changing over time.  A good estate planning strategy when you’re 30 may not be the right one when you’re 50.  And what you put in place when you’re 50, may need to be revised when you’re 70. Bottom line, periodically reviewing your plans with a specialist is a good way to help insure that your estate planning needs are properly met over the course of your adult life, and that your heirs reap the benefits of proper planning.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you identify strategies and create an estate plan that addresses your concerns consistent with your stage in life.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.









12593159 m 1guys arguing 199x300 Two Important Things for Beneficiaries To Keep In Mind.  So, your mother passed away, and your older brother was named Executor in her Will.  Being the Executor is not an easy job.  Among other things, it involves: 1. identifying and valuing all your mother’s assets; 2. using those assets to pay off all her outstanding debts and expenses; and 3. last, but certainly not least, distributing to the beneficiaries whatever assets remain after all debts and expenses are paid.  Unfortunately, disputes between the Executor and beneficiaries are not uncommon.

For example, you may feel that your brother is keeping information from you; or paying himself too much from the estate for serving as Executor; or is making bad decisions – like waiting too long to sell your mother’s house.  So, what can you do?

First of all, stay calm.  You will not be left in the dark.  Information is coming your way.  When someone passes away, the Will is “admitted” to probate court, at which time the court officially appoints the Executor.  Within 60 days of having been appointed, the Executor must, among other things, provide a copy of the Will, or information on how to obtain a copy of the Will, to all next of kin and beneficiaries named in the Will.  This is obviously critical information.  Also, at the end of the estate administration process, you can request an accounting of all the assets collected and all the debts and expenses that were paid out.  However, please note, the administration process can take a year or more to complete.  Closing down an estate is, in many cases, a long process.  So you need to be patient.

Second, try to maintain a cordial relationship with your brother.  Shouting and accusations will get you nowhere.  If you keep things civil, you may get more information in a more timely manner.  And, if discussions with your brother leave you dissatisfied, you can certainly seek professional advice.  But, no matter what you choose to do, try to keep things cordial.  It’s easier on everyone.

Always keep the end in mind.  You want the estate properly settled; you want to receive your legitimate due.  Making this a battle of wills, or trying to work out sibling rivalry issues, is not the point here.  This is about satisfactorily settling your mother’s estate, and moving on to live the best life you can.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced Estate Planning Atorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you with all aspects of estate planning and issues pertaining to Wills.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.



21654766 s 1cornerstone 198x300 Three Cornerstone Concepts of Estate PlanningProbate assets, non-probate assets, gross estate – these are all important terms that you need to understand when doing estate planning.  However, for most of us, it’s all very confusing.  This brief summary will hopefully help clear up some of that confusion!

1. Probate and Non-Probate Assets

When doing estate planning, among other things, you identify all your assets.  This includes things like cash accounts, stocks and bonds, life insurance policies, real estate, cars, jewelry, etc.  Additionally, you identify your beneficiaries and specify which assets will go to each of them.  A key distinction between probate assets and non-probate assets is the method  by which these assets are transferred upon your death.

A.  Assets that pass under your Will are called probate assets.  That’s because your Will must go through a probate process whereby a court determines whether your Last Will and Testament is valid.  Once deemed valid, the court designates an Executor (usually someone you’ve specified as Executor in your Will).  The Executor is responsible for overseeing and carrying out the terms of the Will including distributions to beneficiaries.  Examples of probate assets are bank accounts, stocks and bonds, shares in a business, and other personal property.

B.  Non-probate assets are assets that do not go through the probate process.  They are not included in your Will.  Rather, non-probate assets are left to specific individuals or institutions via

- beneficiary designation forms.  For example, if you have an IRA or a life insurance policy, you can complete a beneficiary designation form specifying who will inherit the funds.  (These forms can be updated over time as needed.)  As long as you specify individuals or institutions, and NOT your estate, these assets will be distributed outside of the probate process.

- a survivorship feature.  For example, a father and son own a house in joint tenancy with right of survivorship.  They acquired the house in the same way (e.g., they bought it from the prior owner), at the same time, and each of them owns 50% of the property. Under these circumstances, when one of them dies, the surviving owner will automatically inherit the house.

In some cases, distribution of assets outside of the probate process may result in certain tax advantages for the beneficiaries.  It is, therefore, important to identify non-probate assets and take the necessary steps/complete the necessary documentation to insure that they are properly handled.

2. Gross Estate

Your gross estate is a tax term.  It is the total value of your assets at the time of your death.  It is used to determine the Federal and State estate taxes to be paid.  In calculating your Federal and State estate taxes, the gross estate is the starting point from which allowable deductions (such as funeral expenses, estate administration expenses, and outstanding debts) are subtracted to derive the taxable estate amount.

Getting Legal Help

Estate planning can be complicated and confusing.  It can seem like a foreign language.  Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you understand the issues, the language, and your options.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.






3487079 sblended family 200x300 Stepchildren, Stepparents, and Trusts.Many people today get divorced or lose a spouse and then remarry.  And, in many cases, people who remarry have children from prior marriages.  This results in blended families – stepparents with stepchildren.

Hopefully, all goes well and your new marriage works out.  It is quite likely, however, that one partner will outlive the other.  In the case of a blended family, it’s important, when doing estate planning, to take into consideration the unique nature of your family.  You want to do what’s best to maintain a good, ongoing relationship between the surviving spouse and the stepchildren.

Specifically, let’s talk about Trusts and Trustees.  Often, a spouse with children from a prior marriage may have a Will that includes a Trust for the surviving partner.  A Trust is a legal arrangement that sets specific assets aside for the care of a beneficiary (in this case the surviving spouse).  The Trust contains instructions regarding how the assets should be managed.  And, it identifies the Trustee(s) – the person(s) or firm that will manage the Trust.

In a blended family, the issue of who serves as Trustee, overseeing the Trust for the surviving spouse, can be tricky.  If you wish to designate one or more of your children as the Trustee(s), be sure to carefully evaluate the situation.  The terms of a Trust can vary widely.  For example, in some Trusts, the beneficiary may only be entitled to income from assets (e.g., stock dividends).  In other cases, the beneficiary may have access to both the principal and any income generated.  Also Trustees are entitled to reimbursement for time spent managing the Trust.  Being a Trustee can be very time-consuming and complicated.  It also can give one individual a large say in the life of another.

So, it’s important that you assess the existing relationship between your spouse and the adult child who you’re considering to serve as Trustee.  How do your child and your spouse get along?  Do they trust and respect each other?  Do they communicate often and well?  Have you discussed your intentions with both of them and explained how the situation will work?  Has either of them raised concerns?

Selecting a stepchild to serve as Trustee for a stepparent may work out very well, or it may cause problems.  It is critical to carefully examine the issues.  Seeking professional advice may be a good way to go.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you explore your options for establishing Trusts and selecting a Trustee.  She can help you structure an estate plan that will meet your needs and those of your loved ones.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.



15265218 syoung minority family 300x200 Estate Planning for Young Families.You’re married, or single, with young children, and your primary focus is on the family, on the here and now  -  providing for the essentials and giving your kids the best life possible.  It’s certainly not about estate planning, not about planning for unforeseen or far off events.  As far as you’re concerned, estate planning is for later, when the kids are grown, you’ve accumulated assets, and you want to put things in order before it’s too late.  But wait… estate planning is really for adults whatever their stages in life.  While it may be unpleasant to think about how your family will fare if you’re not around, preparing a Will, A Health Care Directive, a Power of Attorney, and other related documents is important for your family’s ongoing well-being.  And, doing so will NOT make bad things happen.  On the contrary, it may give you peace of mind – one more thing off the “To Do” list – and that’s a good thing!

So, for example,

- you’re single with two children.  You travel a fair amount for business.  Don’t you want to make sure that you have a Will that specifies the Guardian who will raise your children if you’re not around?

- you’re married and your child has special needs.  You might want to establish a Trust to help ensure that, if you’re gone, financial assets are in place and managed by a Trustee you’ve specified to care for your child.

- this is a second marriage for you and your wife.  You both have children with other partners.  Each spouse may need to do some estate planning to help ensure that assets are properly divided between the surviving spouse and the kids.

People’s estate planning needs may differ at different stages in life.   Estate planning is an important thing to do at each of those stages.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you understand the various estate planning issues that pertain to you and your family.  She can help you structure an estate plan that will meet your needs and those of your loved ones.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.



8756699 sbroken heart 231x300 Marital Limbo and Estate PlanningMany couples remain legally married while, for all intents and purposes, they’re separated.  The may not have gotten a divorce, and they may still own property jointly.  They may even share a residence.  But, they no longer consider themselves a couple and they lead separate lives.  In such cases, estate planning can be very tricky.

In New Jersey, when a married person dies, the surviving spouse is legally entitled to one-third of the deceased spouse’s estate.  However, if you consider yourself separated, you may want to leave all or the vast majority of your estate to people or entities other than your spouse.  Given your circumstances, it is highly recommended that you speak with both an estate planning attorney and a matrimonial attorney to understand  your options.   We all want control over how our assets are distributed after we’re gone. Your situation is very complicated, and getting expert advice is critical.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you explore your options and develop an estate plan that addresses your unique circumstances.  Contact us today at 974-841-5111.