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Blog: Stories and Insight

The Importance of Estate Planning

Life’s a Journey: You Need an Estate Planning Map

By Timothy J. Rice, Esq.

Life, like a road trip, is filled with unexpected twists and turns. Estate planning helps you prepare for unforeseen events, as well as the inevitable, by ensuring your assets are handled according to your wishes and that your loved ones are cared for. Just as you wouldn’t set out across unknown highways and byways without a map, navigating through life without an estate plan can lead to unexpected complications and detours.

Avoiding Roadblocks: The Importance of Estate Planning

Anyone’s life can take a dramatic turn, no matter their age or financial status. Unexpected illness or injury — or death — can, unfortunately, come at any time. Just as a holiday in the car requires advanced reservations, route strategy and a car check-up, estate planning ensures that you are prepared for any eventuality and don’t leave anyone stranded.

Estate planning is about making your wishes known and ensuring they are honored. It encompasses decisions about your finances, health, end-of-life care and asset distribution. A well-crafted estate plan clearly outlines your intentions, providing guidance for your loved ones in your absence or if you’re unable to make your own decisions.

A comprehensive estate plan can streamline the process of asset distribution, saving your family time and money. It avoids the lengthy probate process and reduces the financial burden on your loved ones, allowing them to focus on healing and remembrance. Without an estate plan, your loved ones may face the daunting task of making difficult decisions during an already emotional time. By planning ahead, you relieve them of this burden, providing clarity and direction when it’s most needed.


Staying in Your Lane: Why Estate Planning Matters

A carefully drafted estate plan that follows state and federal laws will set you and your loved ones on a smooth road. Estate planning benefits include:

  • Asset Distribution According to Your Wishes – A core component of estate planning is directing how your assets will be distributed. Your Will specifies who receives what, ensuring your valuables, from financial accounts to family heirlooms, go to your intended beneficiaries.
  • Choosing Your Executor – An executor is the person you designate to manage your estate after your passing. This selection is crucial, as this individual will be responsible for ensuring your wishes are carried out as you outlined.
  • Bypassing State Law Decisions – Without an estate plan, state laws in New Jersey may end up dictating how your assets are distributed. A solid estate plan prevents this, ensuring your personal wishes are prioritized.
  • Avoiding Surety Bond Insurance Premiums – Estate planning can circumvent the need for surety bond insurance premiums, often required when an executor is appointed without a Will.
  • Minimizing Taxes – Estate plans can minimize or eliminate estate and inheritance taxes, ensuring more of your assets go to your loved ones.
  • Preventing Disputes – A clear and comprehensive estate plan can significantly reduce the risk of disputes among your heirs, which allows for harmony to be maintained and your wishes to be respected. Because Will disputes and Will contests often end up in court, estate planning saves your loved ones the financial and emotional burden of a protracted legal fight.
  • Charitable Contributions – Estate planning allows for charitable giving, enabling you to leave a lasting legacy and reap potential tax benefits.


Choosing the Right Vehicle: The Critical Documents of Estate Planning

When it comes to both car shopping and estate planning, you have many choices. Just as there is a vehicle to meet just about anyone’s tastes and needs, there is no one-size-fits-all estate plan. However, there are four main components of any estate plan just as every automobile will have the same essential parts. These documents are the engine, tires, steering wheel and seats of the estate plan:

  1. Will – A Last Will and Testament is the foundational document in estate planning. It outlines how your assets will be distributed and can include guardianship decisions if you have minor children or are caring for another.
  2. Trust – A trust offers greater control over how your assets are managed and distributed, providing a more nuanced approach to asset management and protection. There are different kinds of trusts, including living or testamentary, revocable or irrevocable, marital or special needs, or pets and veteran trusts.
  3. Power of Attorney – This legal document authorizes someone to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
  4. Advanced Medical Directive – Also known as a living will, this document specifies your preferences for medical treatment if you are unable to communicate your wishes. It can also include the appointment of a representative to speak on your behalf and be responsible for your care decisions.

Shifting Gears: Updating Your Estate Plan

Closed roads, mechanical failures, accidents and even the occasional roadside attraction can all unexpectedly change your road trip plans. Life is similarly filled with unknowns and distractions that can change your course, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, significant financial changes or the loss of a loved one. Each of these is a reason to review and update your estate plan. Regular updates ensure that your plan aligns with your current situation and wishes, providing peace of mind and clarity for the journey ahead.

Navigating to Your Destination

Preparing, keeping and regularly reviewing and updating your estate plan ensures a smoother ride for you and your loved ones, regardless of life’s turns. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can make the planning process easier — just as a travel agent helps map out a trip — and ensures your estate planning documents comply with and meet all regulations.

Remember: An estate plan is not just a document; it’s a roadmap for your life’s journey, ensuring that you reach your desired destination with certainty and peace.

Timothy J. Rice is the founder and managing partner of Timothy Rice Estate and Elder Law Firm, and a member of Samaritan’s Planned Giving Committee, a volunteer group of the region’s leading professional financial advisors, lending their time and expertise to provide education, and raise awareness of the potential advantages of charitable estate planning.

The Importance of Estate Planning

by Robert S. Lewis, Esq. and Yasmeen S. Khaleel, Esq.

This article was prepared by Robert S. Lewis, Esq. and Yasmeen S. Khaleel, Esq.(pictured), a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard‘s Business and Trust & Estate Group, and a member of Samaritan’s Planned Giving Committee, a volunteer group of the region’s leading financial professionals, lending their time and expertise to guide the charitable estate planning efforts.

The essence of estate planning is to pre-plan your affairs so that upon disability your affairs can be effectively handled without interruption or court supervision; and that upon your death the fruits of your lifetime of effort can pass to your intended beneficiaries with minimum inconvenience, taxes and cost. At least three documents are recommended to accomplish these objectives –

  • a Will,
  • a Durable General Power of Attorney
  • and a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney (also called a Medical Directive or a Living Will).

In an attempt to impress upon you the reader the importance of planning your estate now, before death or disability force you and your family to react without having a plan in place and under emotional stress, we offer the following to illustrate the “plan” which New Jersey law would impose. We call it . . .


Learn About How You Can Help Hospice Patients in South NJ.



I, JOHN DOE, am healthy and believe myself invincible; it is incomprehensible to me that I will be seriously injured or be stricken with a serious or life-threatening illness or medical emergency, let alone that I will ever die. By virtue of this philosophy I make no plans for such eventualities, being certain that neither a Will, nor a Durable General Power of Attorney nor a Living Will (medical directive) will ever be needed. I therefore do not have to concern myself with the possible consequences of such inactivity, that is to say:

  1. If I become disabled no one will have access to my individually-owned assets to pay my bills or to handle my financial or business affairs, nor will anyone be able to sell or mortgage my jointly-held real estate, or make decisions regarding my retirement benefits, without first obtaining a Court guardianship and periodically accounting to the Court as to the manner in which my affairs were handled during my incapacity. The Probate Court costs, guardianship fees and legal fees incurred in such proceedings are an excellent way for me to “fuel” the economy, and my loved ones won’t really need that money anyway.
  2. If I should suffer an injury or disease certified by my physicians (a) to be terminal, or (b) to render me permanently unconscious, or (c)to be such that the application of life-sustaining procedures would merely prolong my dying, I do not want to leave instructions to my loved ones as to my wishes on such issues as removal of life support systems and the appointment of an agent to make medical decisions on my behalf. Better to have a judge decide such “quality of life issues,” based on my family’s ability to convince the Court as to what I would have wanted had I been able to make my wishes known.
  3. If I die I adopt the following as my “No Will” Will:

Upon my death, my all my probate assets, whether composed of personal property or real estate, shall be distributed in the following manner:

    1. I give my wife my full estate if neither of my parents are living and I have no descendants (children and grandchildren)
    2. I give my wife my whole estate even if I have descendants provided all of my descendants are also my wife’s descendants.
    3. If I am married when I die and either of my parents are living and I have no children, then I give my wife the first twenty-five percent of my estate (not less than $50,000 and no more than $200,000) and then seventy-five percent of the balance of my estate. My parents will get the balance of my estate. It’s high time my wife took care of my parents.
    4. If either I or my wife have children from outside my marriage, then my wife can have the first twenty-five percent of my probate estate (not less than $50,000 and no more than $200,000) and then my other children get half of the balance of my probate estate and she can have the rest. If my wife can’t live on her share, that’s her problem. Maybe she can get my other children to support her.
    5. If my wife is not living at the time of my death, then all of my probate assets should pass outright to my children regardless of their age, creditor or marital troubles.

I appoint my wife as guardian of the property passing under Article I above to my minor children if she survives me, but, as a safeguard, I require that:

    1. My wife periodically account to the Probate Court, explaining exactly how and why she spent the money necessary for the proper care of our children.
    2. My wife file a performance bond, with sureties, to be approved by the Probate Court, to guarantee that she will properly handle our children’s money.
    3. When our children become adults, my wife must file a complete, itemized, written account of everything she has done with their money.
    4. When our children become age 18, they can do whatsoever they please with their share of my money and property, and no one, including my wife, shall have the right to question the way our children spend their share of my estate.

If my wife does not survive me, or if she dies while any of our children are minors, I do not care to nominate the guardian of our children, but hope that our relatives and friends may mutually agree on someone appropriate. If they cannot agree, the Probate Court may appoint any guardian it likes, including a stranger.


I do not care to appoint the executor of my estate, and hope the Probate Court appoints someone I would approve of to administer my estate. If I am divorced and leave minor children, then my former spouse can take care of things — even if she is remarried and will likely spend the money for herself. As a safeguard I require that the administrator appointed by the Court file a performance bond. See Article II (b) above.


If my wife remarries, her next husband shall be given the following rights:

    1. He shall receive the same proportion of my wife’s probate assets as my wife received from me. See Article I above.
    2. He need not spend any of his share of my wife’s estate on our children, even if they need support.
    3. He can give his share to anyone he chooses, without giving a penny to our children.

I do not care to learn whether there are ways to lower death taxes or to reduce administration expenses. As much of my money and property as possible should go to pay probate fees, legal fees, administration expenses and death taxes (both federal and state), rather than to my family.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have completely failed to make a different Will of my own choice, with the advice of my attorney, because I really do not care to go to all that bother. I adopt this, by default, as my “Will”.

[No signature required]

The “No-Will” Will might have included two other paragraphs for people in different family circumstances:

“Since I am not married, and have no children, I want all my property to go to my parents. I have no interest in leaving anything to my brothers and sisters, or to my friends.”

Several facts are inescapable:

  1. You do own property (for example, real estate, personal effects, securities, life insurance, pension and retirement benefits, IRA’s, bank accounts, etc.).
  2. Statistics show that increased life expectancy and advances in medical science result in an increased risk of an individual becoming disabled at least one time during his or her life.
  3. Statistics also show that 100% of the population will die.
  4. Someone is going to have to manage your affairs if you do become disabled; someone will receive your assets upon your death.
  5. In most cases the costs of planning are substantially less than the ultimate costs of relying on the “No Plan Estate Plan”.

From a tax perspective, recent changes to the federal tax law changes create more opportunities to minimize or eliminate federal estate taxes. However, you need to also be mindful of your state’s estate and/or inheritance taxes. New Jersey residents, for example, must be aware of both the estate and inheritance taxes that can apply to them. With proper planning you can reduce or eliminate that tax obligation.

Even if you can’t eliminate the tax obligation, you can make certain that your family will have enough estate liquidity, avoiding the need for a forced sale of assets to pay estate taxes. Moreover, a well-considered estate plan will ensure that your assets wind up where you would like them to be; either helping to minimize future family strains or assisting a charity with its philanthropic goals. Preservation of your estate – after taxes – is certainly worth all of the attention, effort and business acumen which you used to create an estate in the first place.

Hopefully this article will have given you food for thought, and you will consult with your attorney to initiate an estate plan to accomplish your personal objectives. If you do, and depending upon your circumstances, proper planning may consider a myriad of issues such as: the size of your estate and the manner in which assets are titled; advantages and disadvantages of joint ownership; inheritance and estate tax issues; advantages and disadvantages of living trusts; use of testamentary trusts for estate tax savings as well as asset management; tax advantages of lifetime gifting programs; elder law considerations such as planning for nursing home admission and Medicaid eligibility; asset management trusts for minor beneficiaries or disabled beneficiaries; and selection of executors, trustees and guardians, to name but a few.

Isn’t it better that you decide how your affairs are to be handled during disability through either a Power of Attorney or a more formal Trust relationship, rather than through a court-appointed and court-supervised guardian or conservator?

Isn’t it better that you decide who is to handle the administrative details of your estate upon your death, and who is to receive the assets of your estate, rather than to have those issues decided by a court-appointed administrator in accordance with the New Jersey Intestate Statute?


To learn more about how to include Samaritan in your will or estate plan, special donor recognition accorded through membership in The Legacy Society, and the potential advantages of charitable estate planning, please contact Samaritan’s Chief Development Officer, Chris Rollins, CFRE, at (856) 552-3287 or [email protected].

This article is designed to provide general information on the importance of estate planning, and is provided with the understanding that the author is not rendering any legal or professional services or advice. This article is not a substitute for such legal or advice. If such services are required, you should retain competent legal counsel. The essence of estate planning is to pre-plan your affairs so that upon disability your affairs can be effectively handled without interruption or court supervision; and that upon your death the fruits of your lifetime of effort can pass to your intended beneficiaries with minimum inconvenience, taxes and cost. 

Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice, Inc. is a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization (EIN: 22-2344036); headquartered at 3906 Church Road, Mount Laurel, NJ 08054.