Probate and Living Trusts in NJ & Transferring Non-Financial Assets

Folks in the Princeton area are probably familiar with the US 1 newspaper that is handed out free to area businesses. It’s a good paper that offers a lot of insightful articles on business-related issues and items of interest in the Princeton area.

Usually, the newspaper includes an editorial, and a few months ago, one of the editors submitted a column about how difficult and frustrating it was to wind up the affairs of his mother’s estate. The thrust of his story was that he never got a chance to begin to grieve the loss of his mother, as she quickly became a set of papers and projects to be completed.

I completely sympathize with his position. As an attorney that helps families go through transitions, it’s all too familiar a situation that the person gets lost behind the process. That happens, too, by the way, when we help older folks transition from life on their own to an assisted living facility and then a nursing home.

One of the things that we focus on, especially when we get a chance to do proactive estate planning, is the transfer of wealth of the non-financial assets. The goal that we share with our clients is to make the transition as seamless as possible while at the same time allowing the client to maintain control and flexibility over their assets during their lifetime.

Ours is an atypical approach to estate planning, to be sure, but we find that this philosophy and approach resonate with almost every client and planning partner we encounter.

Also in this article was a suggestion by the writer that the use of living trusts was overrated in New Jersey because of the ease of the probate process. While I disagree with the notion that living trusts are overrated, I agree that the acceptance of a will into probate process in New Jersey is relatively painless. The Surrogate’s office makes the process of submitting a will and having Letters of Administration issued a fairly smooth one. (Especially when you have a qualified attorney to help you along the way.)

However, I was more than a little amused by the rest of the editor’s column, in which he begins to lament the obstacles and struggles that occur in the actual administration of the estate. I say amused only because most of his difficulties would have been greatly reduced by the existence of, you guessed it, a living trust.

Here is the link to the article where the editor gratefully published my response.

Posted by Victor Medina