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Failure to Estate Plan: Case Study

Estate Planning

Ruth* was in the hospital when I first met her. Her family asked that I come to meet with her, as she was gravely ill and didn’t have a Will, a power of attorney, or any critical estate planning in place. She was in pain and on a lot of medications. She was also clearly a little confused and frustrated with me and my efforts to help, which didn’t surprise me, as her family said Ruth showed resistance to estate planning for years.

Ruth died days later without any estate planning in place. She was unwilling and, really, unable, to review or sign any legal documents. Without a spouse or children, her closest next of kin were her three siblings.

Unfortunately, Ruth’s brother had dementia, and Ruth had cared for him until her death. Ruth’s sister, who lived locally, was the best choice to serve as administrator of the estate, but she died about a month after Ruth. Now, in addition to sorting out Ruth’s estate, we needed to ensure the brother had the care he needed.

The third sibling was a brother who lived out of state. While I was able to assist in having him appointed as administrator of Ruth’s estate, the delay was costly. Under New Jersey law, when a New Jersey resident dies and the beneficiaries of the estate live out of state, an inheritance tax return must be filed within eight months from the date of death. Because that deadline was not met here, there were additional interest and penalties due.

Meanwhile, during the process of trying to sort out care for Ruth’s brother, Adult Protective Services became involved and filed for guardianship before any other family members could. Ultimately, the State was appointed as guardian, which has its challenges since public resources are limited and individuals often do not receive the same level of attention and care that they would from a family member, friend, or other third parties.

Ruth’s failure to plan ended up costing her family a lot in time and money and, in the case of her brother, it cost him quality care. There are many reasons why people don’t estate plan. Some are afraid of the costs while others procrastinate. Many don’t want to face their own mortality and some people are not informed about the process and its benefits.

However, as Ruth’s case shows, the expense and time it takes to create an estate plan now is far less than what family members will face when a loved one dies without a proper estate plan in place.

If a loved one or someone you know has passed without a Will, it’s important that an executor be appointed so that the estate may be settled and distributions made. TREEL has helped families and individuals navigate this process and stand ready to help. To book a virtual or in-person consultation with one of our attorneys, contact our office at 833.888.0462 or [email protected].

*Names have been changed to protect the client’s privacy.

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