Estate Planning - Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney

Death and disability planning is generally the last on our long list of “to dos”.  However, establishing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Proper estate planning not only puts you in charge of your finances, it can also spare your loved ones of the expense, delay and frustration associated with managing your affairs when you pass away or become disabled.

A well-crafted estate plan should provide for your loved ones in an effective and efficient manner by avoiding guardianship during your lifetime, estate taxes and unnecessary delays in distribution of your estate at death. Once your estate plan is in place, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have provided for yourself and your family.

Oftentimes, clients view Estate Planning as only wills, trusts and other ancillary documents.  Although an estate plan may use some or all of these important credentials, estate planning is the process by which we determine which tools are best for our clients' specific values, goals and concerns.  Suzanne partners with business owners, professionals and families to identify what is most important to each client, and design a plan to meet those specific values, goals and needs. Suzanne's services include:


Wills can only effectively serve as a powerful estate planning tool if they are properly drafted to suit the needs of each individual. I will review all of your options with you and establish a will in a manner that ensures your wishes will be honored.

Most people know about wills and their basic purpose – to dispose of one’s assets at death. However, here are some specific reasons that a will is an integral part of one’s plan:

List Who Gets What

The most common purpose for a will is to name which individual, or group of individuals, will receive particular property belonging to a person when he or she passes away.

  1. Name Guardians for Children
    A will is the document that states who should raise a person’s children if something happens to him or her. The will also usually contains at least one alternate in the event the first choice cannot serve.
  2. Establish Trusts
    A trust holds property on someone else’s behalf for a variety of reasons. See below for further detail.
  3. List Funeral Wishes
    A will commonly states whether an individual wants to be buried or cremated and where the body should be buried or the ashes should be spread. Wills may also contain more specific information, pertaining to funeral location and even what readings might be recited.
  4. Tax Planning
    Wills are great tools for tax planning in order to avoid federal or state estate or inheritance taxes. This can also be accomplished through trusts.
  5. Naming Executors and Trustees
    A will usually states who will be the executor of an estate, which is the person who will carry out a deceased individual’s wishes listed in the will. Wills can also name the trustees of any trusts established in the will, which is the person will be in charge of carrying out the instructions of the trusts.


Trusts can be invaluable tools in estate planning regardless of the size of your estate. I will help you choose the most proficient trust that meets all of your concerns and wishes.

Trusts are simply an arrangement where one party, the trustee, holds title to property on behalf of another party. In an estate planning context, trusts are created by the person doing the estate planning (the settlor), who authorize the trustee to manage the assets for the benefit of a third party, the beneficiaries. There are many reasons for establishing trusts including minimization of taxes, providing for the needs of underage or incapacitated beneficiaries, and protecting assets in a second marriage.

A variety of trusts that may be useful in estate planning are as follows:

  1. Trust for Minors
    Many people leave money to their children and/or grandchildren in a trust as part of a comprehensive estate plan. This is typically done to ensure the money is there for the children’s benefit while they are younger- for support, education, medical expenses, etc. Once the children reach a certain age or achievement level (such as obtaining a bachelor’s degree), they may receive money from the trust to do with as they please.
  2. Special Needs Trusts
    Special needs trusts are tools that enable a person to leave property to an individual with special needs. Many individuals with special needs receive government benefits. If they were to suddenly inherit money, they would be disqualified in most cases from those benefits until the inheritance was spent. Special needs trusts protect those individuals’ government benefits while allowing them to still receive their inheritance to provide supplemental benefits.   
  3. Marital Trusts
    Married couples may include trusts in their estate plan, for the benefit of their spouse. A marital trust is created typically for two reasons: 1) taxes and 2) property retention. Martial trusts can also protect property from a spouse to ensure that it is ultimately inherited by the correct beneficiary. For example, a husband with grown children from a previous marriage may decide to let his wife use his property after he passes, but puts it into a trust so that after she passes away it goes to his children.
  4. Revocable Living Trusts
    Revocable living trusts are documents working hand in hand with wills to carry out the decedent’s wishes. They are primarily used to avoid probate in states where probate is particularly cumbersome or an instance when a person owns real estate in multiple states. In New Jersey, probate is not particularly difficult or expensive. However, revocable living trust’s can be useful in certain situations for management of assets.
  5. Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts
    Irrevocable life insurance trusts are used in order to move a person’s life insurance proceeds outside his or her estate for estate tax purposes.
  6. Spendthrift Trusts
    Spendthrift trusts are generally established to protect the beneficiaries’ assets from both themselves and creditors. These trusts usually have an independent trustee which has complete discretion over the distribution of assets of the trust.

Powers of Attorney

If you become incapacitated, you won’t be able to manage your own financial affairs. Many are under the mistaken impression that their spouse or adult children can automatically take over for them in case they are no longer able. The truth is that in order for others to be able to manage your finances, they must petition a court to declare you legally incapacitated. This process can be lengthy, costly and stressful. Even if the court appoints the person you would have chosen, the individual may have to come back to the court every year and show how he or she is spending and investing each and every penny.

If you want your family to be able to immediately take over for you, it’s essential that you work with an attorney to create the proper legal documents to designate a person, or persons, that you trust so they will have the authority to withdraw money from your accounts, pay bills, take distributions from your IRAs, sell stocks, and refinance your home. An appropriately structured Power of Attorney will allow you to designate the individual or individuals you want to manage your affairs should you become unable to do so due to physical or mental incapacity.

Healthcare Power of Attorney – Living Will

In addition to planning for the financial aspect of your affairs during incapacity, it’s critical that you establish a plan for your medical care. The law allows you to appoint someone you trust – for example, a family member or close friend to make decisions on your behalf about medical treatment options if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. They are referred to as your Healthcare Power of Attorney.

Additionally, you should also have a Living Will which informs others of your preferred medical treatments such as the use of extraordinary measures should you become permanently unconscious or terminally ill. 

Hiring an attorney is an important decision which should not be based solely on advertising. The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

© 2020 Suzanne M. Kourlesis, Attorney at Law | Disclaimer
212 West Route 38, Suite 360, Moorestown, NJ 08057
| Phone: 856-235-9881

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