43497621_sMillions of people in the United States are in committed relationships outside of marriage. While estate planning is important for everyone, it is particularly critical for unmarried partners. The story below helps illustrate why.

John and Susan, who never married, lived together for 25 years. They shared all expenses, including house payments. Unfortunately, they never got around to estate planning. So, when John was diagnosed with a terminal disease, Susan had no say in his treatment and care or in managing his assets. Under the law, she was not a family member. And, because John had no Will, upon his death the state determined who John’s “closest family members” were. And they were officially designated as John’s beneficiaries. It didn’t matter that Susan and John had often spoken about wanting each other to be his/her sole beneficiary. There were no documents in place to make their wishes enforceable. Susan got nothing.

Unmarried partners should each have a formal estate plan, that includes:

1. A Will and/or Trust specifying how the deceased’s estate should be distributed among designated beneficiaries.

While a Will and a Trust may serve the same purpose, they are implemented differently. Wills are administered through a probate court, and are searchable public records, available to the scrutiny of family members and all other interested parties. Trusts are not public records and do not go through probate. Wills and Trusts each have pros and cons. For unmarried partners, working with an estate planning attorney to determine which are the best legal tools for their particular circumstances is highly recommended.

2. Beneficiary designation forms that are updated as needed. Assets such as 401Ks, IRAs, and life insurance policies may be passed directly to intended beneficiaries in this straightforward manner. No probate is involved.

3. Medical surrogate documents that enable the healthy partner to manage all assets and health care decisions on behalf of the partner who is ill and incapacitated.

4. An Appointment of Funeral Planning Agent, a document specifying that your partner is in charge of your funeral arrangements. Under the law, living spouses are in charge of making funeral arrangements for their deceased spouses. However, in cases where partners are not married, they are not accorded that right. So, for unmarried partners, documentation designating your partner as the one in charge is essential.

Getting Legal Help:  

Estate planning is critical for helping insure that your wishes are implemented in case of disability or death.

However, state laws differ for married vs. unmarried couples. Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, will work with you to personalize your plan consistent with your lifestyle. Contact us today at 973-841-5111.


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49921540_sMarch is Developmental Disability Awareness month.  If you’re the parent of a minor with special needs, this is a good time to take stock of estate planning provisions you’ve made for him or her.

One critical planning tool is the Special Needs Trust.  Setting up this trust will help supplement the government assistance your child may be eligible to receive for medical, housing, and educational expenses. Here’s how it works:

  • Government benefits, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, provide developmentally disabled individuals with, among other things, financial assistance for medical treatments and supplies, tuition, and in-home care.  However, in order to receive this assistance, a disabled person may not have more than a total of $2000 in assets.
  • A Special Needs Trust permits you to set aside funds for your special needs child to supplement these government benefits.  The trust is overseen by a trustee (who may not be the special needs person), and funds may be placed in the trust gradually over time or left to the trust in your Will.  The key point is that the funds may not be left directly to the special needs individual.  To do so would make that person ineligible for government assistance if the inheritance increased his/her total assets beyond the $2,000 limit.

The old saying, “No man is an island,” certainly applies here.  Consulting with financial and legal professionals to make sure that you’ve properly executed the trust is highly recommended.  And it’s critical to inform loved ones who may be planning on leaving your child an inheritance that gifts should be made directly to the trust.

Getting Legal Help

Reviewing your Special Needs estate plans annually is a good way to make sure that you’re optimizing the assistance your child may be eligible to receive from both the government and you.  Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you with all your Special Needs  issues.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.


3603490_sMany families have rules (spoken or unspoken) about what is and isn’t suitable for discussion. Such rules often concern issues pertaining to elder care and inheritance.  The cautionary tale below is all too familiar.

John and Mary were married for 40 years and raised two children, Susan and Roger.  It was a close, loving family.  As the years went by, the children married, and had children of their own.  These were great years for all involved.

John and Mary were still healthy and vibrant in their 60’s.  No need to discuss the “what ifs” of  illnesses impacting them in later years.  Why upset the kids, and, to be honest, why upset themselves about something they had plenty of time to address in the future?  As for Susan and Roger, they didn’t want to insult their parents by suggesting that they were getting on in years. That was just rude, and being rude was strongly frowned upon in their family.  And, inheritance issues were also not up for discussion.  John and Mary felt their children shouldn’t be thinking about what they’d inherit.  That was just ghoulish and ugly.  Susan and Roger had certainly gotten that message over the years.

By the time John died several years later, Mary was quite ill and unable to voice her wishes.  So, Susan and Roger had to decide how best to care for their mother.  They didn’t see things exactly the same way and this strained their relationship.  However, the breaking point came when Mary died and Susan and Roger learned the terms of Mary’s Will.  Since Mary had passed, there was no way to find out what had led to her decisions.  And so, Susan and Roger’s close relationship was essentially over.

Discussions regarding elder care and inheritance issues are not ugly or rude.  They are necessary, and are actually a kindness to all involved.  They should occur sooner rather than later, before a family begins to unravel.  Yes, these discussions are uncomfortable. Yes, they make us think about things we would prefer avoiding.  But, if you really care about yourself and your loved ones, if you want your wishes respected, and if you hope to leave loved ones a legacy of ongoing loving relationships, then such discussions are a must.  Otherwise, there’s a good chance that one unintended legacy may arise – a breakup of a family you dearly loved.  Don’t the benefits outweigh the discomfort associated with these discussions?

Getting Legal Help:

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can assist you with all your estate planning needs, and can advise you regarding estate planning discussions with loved ones.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.


3 Estate Planning Tips When Preparing For Vacation

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Just as you begin thinking about planning your next vacation, consider whether you are prepared if an emergency should arise. Give yourself plenty of time. Giving yourself plenty of time to review and update your estate plan helps ensure that the necessary documents are in order and in accordance with your wishes.  Too many people […]

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Oh, How Time Passes! Holiday Visits with Elderly Loved Ones.

January 14, 2016

Holiday visits often highlight how much time has passed since we last saw loved ones.  And, sometimes, during these visits, we notice physical or cognitive changes in elderly friends or family members that are worrisome. When reflecting back on a visit, the following “clues” may suggest that an elderly loved one has a cognitive or […]

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5 Resolutions You Can Keep that will Protect You and Your Family

January 5, 2016

Statistics show that New Year’s resolutions are maintained continuously by most Americans for only one or two weeks. Here are 5 resolutions that you can keep and that will help protect you and your family: Make sure that my family knows what I want if I become ill or incapacitated and provide them the tools […]

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2016 Estate and Gift Tax Exemption Amounts Announced

October 27, 2015

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that for 2016 the estate and gift tax exemption limit increases to $5.45 million per person,  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 […]

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Can I Create A Trust for my Husband as His Attorney-in-Fact?

October 13, 2015

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, also 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 […]

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Consider the Obligations and Burdens With Care before Accepting Appointment as Executor

October 4, 2015

Being 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 […]

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