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Divorce is hard enough under the best of circumstances.  But, when special needs children are involved, the situation becomes even more complicated.  While you and your spouse may be focused on how to divide financial assets and resolve custody issues, other critical matters may get overlooked.

In the midst of a divorce, do not to forget the following:

A.  Make sure to inform your attorney or mediator that you have a special needs child.  It’s important to mention what his/her disabilities are.  Is there an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in place for him or her?  Is your child classified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder?  This information may impact the terms of your divorce decree regarding a variety of issues including shared custody and child support payments.

B.  If you have not already done so, make sure to discuss a Special Needs Trust with your attorney.  The assets, including child support payments, that are placed in this Trust (or bequeathed to this Trust) can be used to supplement government assistance for which your child is eligible.  This is critical!  Monies given or bequeathed directly to your child may exceed the financial limit that your child can have under certain government programs and may make your child ineligible for government aid.

C. Be sure to review all of your beneficiary designation forms (e.g., 401K’s, life insurance, etc.).  Beneficiary Designations are often overlooked and not updated following a divorce.  Make sure that any monies you wish to leave your child are bequeathed to the Trust.  And remember, as time goes by and you update these forms or have new ones, always make sure that the Trust, and not your child, is the stated beneficiary.

Getting Legal Help:

There are different types of Special Needs Trusts that can be established.  So, it’s imperative that you work with an attorney who specializes in this area.

Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can work with you to select the proper Special Needs Trust, and to structure that Trust so that it addresses your child’s unique needs.  As a good general resource for understanding Special Needs Trusts, Ms. Goodman recommends the Handbook for Trustees, published by the Special Needs Alliance.  The book is available as a free download at http://www.specialneedsalliance.org/free-trustee-handbook/

Contact us today at 973-841-5111.

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13398671_s minority older coupleIt’s frequently the case that when people get married one partner takes the lead on financial matters.  Issues such as financial investments, life insurance, filing taxes, and planning for retirement are handled by one spouse.  Often, the other spouse is more than happy not to deal with these things.  However, contrary to the old saying, ignorance is NOT bliss.  With the permission of my client, below is a copy of a letter I received that addresses how important it is for both partners to stay informed.

Dear Elga,

I’m writing this letter to you in the hope that you will share it with others.  And, hopefully, it will help people to be better prepared when a partner passes away.

As you know, my husband died unexpectedly.  He was in his mid-50’s and our son was 15 at the time.  Within a week of his death, I was caught up in a whirl of activities.  His employer had to be informed, as did the life insurance company.  I needed to contact my bank to make the necessary arrangements so that I could access our joint checking account. And the list went on and on.

It’s been over a year now, and I’ve had time to reflect.  Here are some things I would advise your readers to seriously consider:

A. It’s critical that both partners know what their assets are and who to contact in order to access those assets.  Fortunately for me, my husband and I updated such a list annually.  Had we not done so, the strain of having to hunt down this information at a time when I was so emotionally distraught would have been overwhelming.

Our list consisted of things such as

  • All bank checking and savings accounts – bank names, account numbers, phone numbers, computer passwords, etc.
  • All financial investments and Life Insurance plans – IRA’s, 401Ks, mututal funds, etc. – the names of companies managing these assets, account numbers, etc.
  • Information pertaining to our mortgage – how much was outstanding, the name and number of the bank that held the mortgage, etc.

B. One thing we did not do was discuss our overall annual expenses.  This was a big mistake.  Once my husband was gone, I spent a great deal of time worrying about whether or not I would have enough money to remain in our home and provide adequately for our son and me.  It took a long time, carefully monitoring what I was spending monthly, before I understood my expenses. Had I been aware from the beginning, I would have been able to budget accordingly and reduce my stress enormously.

C. Also, my husband and I neglected to discuss where we placed important paperwork.  So, after my husband was gone, I was constantly hunting through drawers and filing cabinets in the house, frantically searching for things.  I needed the Title to my husband’s car so that I could have it insured correctly. I needed the stock certificates that had been gifted to us for special occasions. I needed certain receipts that our accountant required for tax filing purposes. Where were these things? Over and over again I would race around the house.  While this may seem like a relatively minor problem, everything is much harder and much more stressful when you are emotionally drained.

Given my experiences, I’ve come to realize how important it is for both spouses to stay informed about their financial affairs.  In life, it’s always good for partners to jointly participate in making financial decisions that impact both their lives.  And, when a spouse dies, making life as easy as possible for the survivor is a true gift and sign of caring.

Sincerely,

Name Withheld

Getting Legal Help:

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can work with you and your spouse to address your estate planning and related financial planning issues.  She can work with you to help ensure that the decisions you make as a couple are in line with your needs and wishes.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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PG ChambersHelp us celebrate the contributions of all people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other disabilities by liking our page New Jersey Estate Planning Attorney.  Please help us reach our goal of donating a $1,000 to the PG Chambers School. We will donate $1.00 for every page like we get in the month of March. The P.G. Chambers School is  a local school that helps children lead full, and productive lives.

At P.G. Chambers School, “discovering children’s unique potential” is at the heart of their mission. The school provides the best, most comprehensive education and therapy programs for children with disabilities, from birth through 22 years of age. The mission extends to the school’s state-of-the-art early education programs for young children with and without disabilities, six weeks to five years of age, in the school’s inclusive child care program.

It does not cost you anything…just like our page New Jersey Estate Planning Attorney and we will make a donation.

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A Special Needs Trust for Special Needs Children

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