By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Estate Planning Attorney

The traditional family structure in which most of us grew up in is gone…forever. And, with it, too, is traditional estate planning.

With soaring divorce and re-marriage rates, unmarried partners, and children from more than one marriage, many people are both step-parent and co-parent. If you’re one of them, your estate-planning decisions must account not only your biological children, but also any step-children and new spouses. Unfortunately, even the best-intentioned parents can unwittingly make mistakes that put themselves and their families in jeopardy.

In Parts One and Two of this article, we’ll address three of the biggest ways this can happen…

1) Joint Accounts – Sometimes, when aging parents name an adult child as a signatory on an account, the child is often named joint owner rather than co-signatory. And this can cause major problems.

If the child is named in a lawsuit, for example, the assets could vanish. And adding only one child to an account could cause tremendous family conflict with other children.

An adult child who’s a joint account-owner (with a parent) usually receives all assets upon the parent’s death. But if the parent’s intention has been to provide for more than one child…the others lose out. (However, attorneys usually don’t…because the family will probably end up in court!)

If you want more than one child to receive assets, you may need a trust naming the specific children as beneficiaries.

2) Beneficiary Designations – Parents should think carefully before naming a child as the beneficiary of a retirement account, insurance policy, or other asst. If the child is a minor, for example, the court may appoint a guardian. You might also forget to update beneficiary forms to account for new children, whether through birth, adoption, or re-marriage.

Divorced parents are yet a whole different issue. They should review designation changes with an estate planning attorney, to ensure that assets intended for children or a new spouse don’t end up with a former spouse. Remember – a will disinheriting a former spouse while legal, creates problems if the beneficiary designations haven’t changed!

To discuss your NJ Estate Planning matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.