Lyons & Associates, P.C. Senior Associate Joanna Adu debunks 5 common misconceptions concerning wills and probate.
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Written by Joanna R. Adu, Esq.
In Part II of our Life During COVID-19 series I will address how you can memorialize your future health decisions and wishes through a living will (also known as an Advance Health Directive or Advance Health Care Instruction Directive). The continuation of the current health care crisis stemming from COVID-19 (otherwise known as Coronavirus) has resulted in many individuals thinking about what may happen should they find themselves hospitalized with Coronavirus or another illness.
The New Jersey Legislature has expressly acknowledged and codified the right of adults to control the decisions related to his or her own health care in collaboration with health care professionals and so long as the adult has mental capacity. In that regard, New Jersey law affords adults the right and ability to plan ahead for these health care decisions through a living will or advance directive. A living will provides you with the opportunity to memorialize and express what you want to happen should a circumstance arise where you unable to make the decision directly. This may include being diagnosed with a terminal illness, being in a coma or otherwise incapacitated, and/or becoming reliant on life support, among a variety other unfortunate situations. Through your living will you can address whether in these types of situations you would want to continue to receive medical treatment, medications, CPR, mechanical breathing assistance, etc., or you would want to have these treatments withheld even if doing so would hasten your death.
Although thinking about these types of situations can be very unpleasant (to say the least), a living will can be the most important estate planning document for many families. In addition to ensuring that your loved ones and health care providers are aware of your desires in deciding on health care treatments, memorializing your health care decisions in advance relieves the burden from your health care representative, who is often a close family member, from being solely responsible for making a difficult, emotional and potentially life-ending health care decision should the need arise.
The skilled and knowledgeable attorneys at Lyons & Associates, P.C. have extensive estate planning experience in addressing this particular issue. We invite you to contact us online or give us a call at our office at 908-575-9777 to schedule an appointment today. For your convenience we offer telephone consultations which allows you to speak with an experienced attorney about your estate planning needs from the comfort and security of your home.
Medical debt is an issue that makes national headlines as surprise bills from emergency rooms overwhelm even those who thought they had good insurance coverage. It is natural to worry about a long-term illness and the effect it could have on your family’s financial well-being. Every family’s financial situation is unique and will need to consider factors such as how much and what kind of medical debt has accumulated, your income and assets, any other debts owed, and your will and estate plans.
Most states follow a common law system of property ownership where assets in one person’s name belong to that person separately. There are nine states who use a community property system where assets and debts acquired during marriage are considered to belong to both partners. While New Jersey is a common law state, it also considers medical debt as a joint spousal liability.
Whether getting a divorce will relieve a spouse of medical debt may depend on who signed the paperwork with the facility that treated the patient. If the medical condition leads to the patient’s death, then their will and estate come into consideration. The estate will be responsible for paying the debt of the deceased. When estate assets are insufficient to cover all claims in full, New Jersey law stipulates the order in which debts are to be repaid as follows:
- Reasonable funeral expenses
- Costs and expenses of administration
- Debts for the reasonable value of services rendered by the Office of the Public Guardian for Elderly Adults
- Debts and taxes with preference under federal or state laws
- Reasonable medical and hospital expenses of the last illness of the decedent, including compensation of persons attending them
- Judgements entered against the decedent, according to the priorities of their entries respectively
- All other claims
Out of this list of debts, medical expenses are number five, leaving the possibility that in cases where estate assets are insufficient, they may not be repaid at all. If you have a life insurance policy for which your spouse is the beneficiary, that would not be considered part of the estate. A death benefit is solely the property of the beneficiary.
Divorcing solely for the purpose of avoiding medical debt could potentially raise the issue of fraud as more people initiate Medicaid divorces to qualify for affordable health care. If you and your spouse continue to live happily together after divorcing on paper, the state could investigate to see if your divorce is real. For this type of advance planning, couples should consult with a qualified family law attorney.
Bridgewater Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Provide Compassionate Counsel for Those Going Through a Divorce
If you are considering a divorce, consult with a skilled Bridgewater divorce lawyer at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Our experienced team can assist you with any family law matter. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. From our offices in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.