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Robert F. Morris is a member of the Trusts & Estates Group of Stark & Stark. Mr. Morris’ practice focuses on the areas of estate planning, wills, trusts, and probate. Mr. Morris has substantial experience in drafting sophisticated estate planning documents including complex wills, insurance trusts, personal residence trusts, and grantor trusts.

Throughout 2021, Congress and the Executive Branch proposed tax code changes that – had they ultimately passed – would have significantly changed various estate planning techniques. Some proposals would have sidelined a number of established estate planning strategies while other proposals could have increased the frequency of use and usefulness of others.

Some proposals would have reduced the estate and gift tax exemption amount from its current level of $12.06 million per taxpayer to $3.5 – $6.85 million per taxpayer, depending on the source. Although there is certainly no guarantee that such a proposal will not be made in the future, we can nevertheless focus for now on what we do know about the law as written today and what steps we can take to address the coming changes.


Continue Reading Gift and Estate Tax Changes

Your child’s transition to adulthood is an important time in life. If your child has reached age 18, particularly an adult child traveling to attend school or work, critical legal changes have occurred. At age 18, your child is an adult under New Jersey law, even if they are still living at home. Your adult child now controls their own medical and financial decisions, and a parent’s access to information is restricted. Several documents are available to address these changes and appoint agents to assist your child during this stage of life.

Continue Reading Important Documents to Consider Before Your Child Goes to College

Gift provisions in a power of attorney can limit both agents and guardians, and restrict their ability to make gifts if a need arises. For this reason, powers of attorney should be carefully drafted to include appropriate gifting authority. A recent New Jersey Appellate Division case underscores the importance of including gift authority in a power of attorney and the impact any restrictions can have on gift planning.

Continue Reading Do Not Forget the Importance of Gift Provisions in a Power of Attorney

Living in the time of COVID-19 has heightened everyone’s anxiety. With all of the uncertainties in life, implementing estate planning documents that provide for you and your family can afford some level of relief. Estate planning documents allow you to designate agents to assist with your affairs, while providing structure to assist loved ones as they navigate through turbulent situations. Working with an attorney can help to address questions you will have about your estate plan and will offer personal guidance through this process.

Continue Reading Now is a Good Time to Make Your Estate Plan

The federal tax treatment of IRAs, ROTH IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s has been the subject of countless books, articles, seminars, and commentary. But, there is precious little regarding the New Jersey state income taxation of these accounts, which is often vastly different. Understanding New Jersey taxation rules is important, not only for distributions made to the account owner during lifetime, but also as part of the owner’s overall estate plan.

Continue Reading Don’t Forget New Jersey Taxation of IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) contains significant changes to the 2020 required minimum distribution rules applicable to IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and other similar Qualified Retirement Plans (collectively “QRPs”).

The CARES Act waives required minimum distributions from IRAs and QRPs for calendar year 2020. This change can result in income tax savings for owners of traditional IRAs and QRPs that are affected by this change.


Continue Reading 2020 Required Minimum Distributions from Retirement Accounts Have Been Waived

A common problem in many estates is the executor’s failure to promptly settle an estate or make distributions to the beneficiaries. Delays in settling an estate can have many causes, including inattention by an executor, failure to take action where required, and mismanagement. In some cases, the delays are a sign of more serious problems, such as self-dealing or an intent to deprive the beneficiaries of their inheritance.

If you are a beneficiary of an estate, you have a right to compel the executor to settle an estate and make distributions to you.


Continue Reading The Executor Won’t Distribute an Estate – What Can I Do?

Although there is near universal acceptance of the importance of gifting, the manner in which gifts are made can have a major impact for your beneficiaries. This is particularly true if the recipient is under 21 years of age, and it can be an acute issue if the recipient is a minor under the age of 18.

Outright gifts to children and grandchildren have their own drawbacks, including limited control over the gifts made, exposure to creditors, divorce, and other issues involving the beneficiary. For these reasons, trust options should be considered to afford greater protection and structure for your beneficiaries.


Continue Reading Trust Protection for Gifts to Children and Grandchildren

The recent decline in asset values may make gifting a more attractive estate planning technique for many individuals, particularly if you are considering gifts of stock or other non-cash assets. Gifting of assets to a trust for your children and grandchildren can be an important part of an estate plan, and one that should not be overlooked. The reduced value of many non-cash assets allows more of these assets to be placed into a trust without exceeding the annual gift tax exclusion amount or the Federal Gift Tax Exemption. If these assets later appreciate in value, the subsequent increases will further enhance the value of the gift to the beneficiaries.

Continue Reading Is Now a Good Time to Make a Gift?

A do-it-yourself estate plan can lead to a number of unintended consequences as demonstrated by a Florida Supreme Court case, Aldrich v. Basile. In this case, Ms. Ann Aldrich wrote her own Will on a pre-printed legal form. Ms. Aldrich specifically listed each item of her property in her Will, including the account numbers for her financial accounts. The Will left each item of property to Ms. Aldrich’s sister, Mary Jane Eaton; and, if Ms. Eaton did not survive, then Mr. James Aldrich (her brother) was designated as the alternate beneficiary.

Continue Reading Unintended Consequences of a Do-It-Yourself Estate Plan