Estate Settling

I am sad to report I am becoming an expert at settling estates in New Jersey. Our state is one of the ‘lucky’ few which not only has an Estate Tax, but an Inheritance Tax as well. So far I have not had to deal with these taxes head to head… but I am sure many of you will. I urge ALL of you to take a deep breath and start asking yourself and your family members the tough questions no one seems to want to talk about.

I was fortunate enough to have had many open conversations with my husband and mother before they passed about their wishes. Which was so helpful to me in planning their services and carrying out their wills. For example… From the moment I realized my mom had passed, I had only an hour to decide which funeral home to contact to pick up her remains. Had I not had that conversation with her just a month before I would have been totally clueless. As it turned out, mom was torn between two different funeral homes, but made her final decision known to me just weeks prior. Which made my life a lot simpler when a dear friend of my mom’s suggested I used the wrong one. According to her, mom wanted a different funeral home to be used. I panicked for a slight second until I returned to my senses and asked when that conversation took place. Ah… Over a year ago. I clearly made the correct decision. Phew!

So many other things like that pop up… but I still have my mom guiding me. While cleaning out her desk so I could pay her bills I came across a small spiral notebook. The first page read… Dear Deb. She began, but did not finish, a letter explaining the items in the house and how she would like them to be distributed.

Mom has been known to start things like this, then not finish (apple didn’t fall far from the tree here), but I am certain as I go through the rest of her things I will continue to find more notes like this with more direction. In as much as my brothers and I get along… and we know there will be no squabbling between us… I am happy mom left me some directions.

If mom hadn’t mentioned to me she wanted donations made to a particular organization as opposed to flowers at her funeral… How else would I have known?

She loved her car, Suzy. Nothing was ever written on what was to happen to it upon her death. Many times mom verbally mentioned she wanted my son Scott to have it. A few times she mentioned it should maybe go to my nephew, Tim… however he wasn’t living in the United States at the time. Again I heard her mention Scott should get the car. When she passed I was a little confused as to who it should go to… Tim had moved back to the US. During mom’s service however, many of her friends introduced themselves to my family and upon meeting Scott said, “Oh, you are the grandson she left the car too. You know she loved that car.” Phew… another bullet dodged, I made the right choice. Because of NJ Inheritance Tax laws, Scott will have to pay a tax, however nothing is in writing on who gets the car, and as a daughter I don’t have to pay Inheritance Tax… so most likely the car will be put in my name. No matter what… It will be included in the Estate Tax.

So… What are you planning to do this week? Nothing much? Might I suggest making things easier for those you will leave behind in this world and start making a list of your wishes? It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, nor does it have to be done with a lawyer. A simple note put in your fire proof box (along with a copy of your will, living will, insurance policies, plot deeds, house deed, car title/s, and other important papers) … And tell everyone it is there!

Trust me… What you do now will make things so much easier for your loved ones when you are gone. They will love you even more knowing they are doing what you wanted.