Here are a few answers to questions you may have, but please ask us directly if you don’t see your question here. We’re more than happy to help out!

Auto Insurance

Q: What choices do I have when I purchase or renew my automobile insurance policy?
You have two choices. You are required to elect either the standard policy or the basic policy.
Q: What is the Basic Policy?
The basic policy (also known as the mini-policy) provides only $5,000 of property damage liability coverage if someone makes a claim against you and $15,000 of medical expense benefits (up to $250,000 for catastrophic brain and spinal cord injuries) if you or a resident family member are injured. The basic policy does not provide coverage if you injure someone else. So if you injure someone and are sued your insurance company will not provide you with a free legal defense and they will not pay for the injuries that you caused. However, you have the option of electing coverage in the amount of $10,000 for injury to one or more persons in the same accident if someone makes a claim against you. The basic policy does not provide any uninsured motorist coverage to protect you and your family if the careless driver who causes the accident is uninsured or is insured under a basic policy with no bodily injury liability coverage.
Q: If I elect the Basic Policy, will my insurance company hire an attorney to defend me if I am sued for damages after an automobile accident?
No, even if the accident is not your fault. You will have to pay for an attorney out of your pocket.
Q: Should I purchase the Basic Policy?
No. The basic policy does not provide adequate protection for your assets if you are sued nor adequate coverage for you or your family if you are injured by a careless driver. We recommend that you do NOT elect the basic policy.
Q: What is the Standard policy?
The standard policy provides liability coverage if someone makes a claim against you with minimum limits for bodily injury of $15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident and property damage of $5,000. In addition, the standard policy provides uninsured motorist coverage with minimum limits of $15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident if you or a resident member of your family is injured by a person who is uninsured or has no bodily injury liability coverage. We recommend that you elect the standard policy. We also recommend that you elect the highest amount of insurance coverage offered by your insurance company.
Q: Does the Standard Policy provide medical expense coverage?
Yes. The standard policy provides personal injury protection (PIP) coverage which includes medical expenses up to $250,000 per person per accident. You may elect to purchase less coverage in the amounts of $15/50/75/150,000; however, if you do, you may not have enough insurance to obtain all of the medical treatment you need or to pay for all of your medical bills. We recommend that you purchase $250,000 of PIP medical expense coverage.
Q: How can I protect myself and my family if we are sued?
A standard policy provides liability insurance with minimum limits of $15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident. However you may purchase additional coverage to protect your assets. If you are sued, contact R.C. Shea & Associates and our attorneys will provide you with an estimate of the costs of defending your case.
Q: How much insurance coverage do you recommend?
Most people believe that the minimum limits of $15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident are inadequate. Many people purchase additional coverage up to $100,000/300,000 or $250,000/500,000. We recommend that you purchase liability coverage with single limits of $500,000 or the highest limits that you can afford. In addition, you should purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage with the same limits as your liability coverage.
Q: How do I choose the right insurance coverage for myself and my family?
We recommend the following selections.

Standard Policy Basic Policy
No Limitation on Lawsuit Option Limitation on Lawsuit Option
250,000 PIP Medical Expense Benefit $15,000/50,000/75,000/150,000 PIP
Medical Expense Benefit
Uninsured/Underinsured Coverage

If you do not sign the coverage selection form, you will be assigned a standard policy with $250,000 of PIP medical expenses and the lawsuit limitation option.

Q: What happens if I do not purchase automobile insurance?
Automobile insurance is mandatory in New Jersey. If you do not purchase insurance, you will be subject to civil and criminal penalties. In addition, if you are injured while operating an uninsured automobile, you will not be permitted to make a claim or file a lawsuit against the careless driver for economic or non-economic loss, even if you were not at fault for the accident.

Workers’ Compensation

Q: Can I receive workers’ compensation and continue to work?
If you are under the care of an authorized physician, who renders an opinion that you are temporarily medically unable to work, you may be entitled to temporary disability benefits. However, should you be receiving temporary disability benefits, you may not work at the same time. Should your workers’ compensation injury be such that you continue to suffer permanent residuals even after the completion of medical treatment, you may be entitled to a payment for these permanent residuals. These benefits may be received while you are working, as long as you have not been rendered totally disabled for which you receive permanent total disability benefits.
Q: What constitutes the work day?
Although there are exceptions to every rule, generally speaking, you are covered under your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance once you are actually working. For example, generally, an employee is not covered on his or her way to or from work. However, should you be on a “special mission” for your employer when an injury occurs, you may be covered under one of the exceptions. You may also be covered for an injury which occurs because of a hazard caused by the employer. An example of this is the requirement that an employee park at a specific off-premise lot and be required to walk a certain route to enter the employer’s premises. Should an injury occur as a result, the employee may be covered. These cases are very fact sensitive and an attorney should be consulted for assistance if a question such as this arises.
Q: Is an injury while involved in a work-related recreational event covered by workers’ compensation?
This is also a very fact sensitive situation. However, if the recreational activity is considered a regular incident of your employment and produces a benefit to the employer beyond improvement of employee health and morale, an injury during such activity may be covered by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.
Q: Is there a specific time period in order to report an injury arising out of employment?
Should the injury arise out of a traumatic event, at the very latest, this injury must be reported to the employer within ninety (90) days from the happening of the event causing the injury. However, should the injury be one that is occupational in nature, not arising out of a specific event, the employer is permitted to report same within ninety (90) days of when the employee knew or should have known that the injury was related to employment, or within five (5) months after the end of the exposure, whichever is later. Lastly, and very important to note, should one suffer a hernia as a result of employment, it must be reported within forty-eight (48) hours of occurrence.
Q: Can an employer retaliate against an employee should an injury occur or a workers’ compensation claim be filed?
It is unlawful for an employer to discharge or discriminate against an employee in any way for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Should this occur, an employee may have right to a common-law action, an administrative action, or even perhaps a criminal action against the employer.
Q: What happens if an employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance?
This makes the case more complex, but the employer may apply to the Uninsured Employers Fund for benefits. Once the Fund is involved, an injured employee may apply for medical and temporary benefits from the fund. However, as the Fund does not pay for permanent residuals from an injury, the employee may seek same directly from the employer, inclusive of personally from the named officers of the company. Thereafter, the employer may face civil and criminal penalties for lack of insurance.
Q: What if the permanent residuals of the injury render an employee unable to return to his or her employment?
Should an employee be rendered totally disabled, the employee may apply for total disability for as long as that disability continues. However, should the employee be disabled from returning to the same employment, but able to work, it is best to seek the services of vocational rehabilitation to attempt to be retrained in another field so as to enter gainful employment.
Q: Can I receive workers’ compensation and continue to work?
If you are under the care of an authorized physician, who renders an opinion that you are temporarily medically unable to work, you may be entitled to temporary disability benefits. However, should you be receiving temporary disability benefits, you may not work at the same time. Should your workers’ compensation injury be such that you continue to suffer permanent residuals even after the completion of medical treatment, you may be entitled to a payment for these permanent residuals. These benefits may be received while you are working, as long as you have not been rendered totally disabled for which you receive permanent total disability benefits.
Q: If I am injured on the job, what is my company liable for?
In New Jersey, if you sustain injuries as a result of or in the course of your employment, the workers’ compensation carrier for your employer is responsible for reasonable and necessary medical treatment until you reach maximum medical improvement; temporary disability benefits, should you be medically unable to work; as well as a permanency benefit, should your injury create an ongoing disability.
Q: What is maximum medical improvement?
This is a legal term for the plateau in your medical treatment when the treatment is no longer in an attempt to cure your injury, or when you have reached a level in your treatment when the treatment is no longer getting you better.
Q: How is my temporary disability rate determined?
Workers’ compensation temporary disability benefits are non-taxable payments, payable weekly, equivalent to seventy percent (70%) of your average weekly wage. However, there is a maximum weekly benefit, which is contained within the New Jersey Statute, which is based on seventy percent (70%)of the New Jersey Standard Average Weekly Wage. This amount changes on a yearly basis.
Q: Can I treat with whomever I choose?
As indicated in a prior question, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier for your employer has the obligation to pay for reasonable and necessary medical treatment. However, the carrier does have the right to direct and maintain the treatment, thereby having the right to choose which physicians provide you with medical treatment pursuant to your work injury.
Q: What if I had previously sustained injuries to the same part of my body that I injured at work?
Should you sustain a new injury to a previously injured body part, your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier is responsible for reasonable and necessary medical care secondary to the new injury, temporary disability benefits during the period that you are medically unable to work until reaching maximum medical improvement, as well as permanency benefits secondary to the new injury. The carrier may be entitled to a credit from your permanency benefits for the functional loss you had prior to your new injury.
Q: Do I need an attorney to assist me, should I suffer an injury at work? If so, when should I consult with an attorney?
It is recommended that you inquire as to your particular rights and obligations with an attorney specializing in workers’ compensation upon sustaining an injury. An attorney can assist in determining whether you are being provided with what you are entitled under the law, as well as assist in your receipt of these rights, should same not be forthcoming. Further, an attorney will assist in your maximizing your permanency benefits for any residuals of your injury. An attorney should be consulted as soon as the injury occurs so that the situation can be monitored and assistance can be provided throughout the medical treatment and permanency portion of the claim.
Q: How much does it cost to hire an attorney for a workers’ compensation claim?
Workers’ compensation claims are handled on a contingency basis. In other words, no attorney fee is paid unless you receive a benefit for your permanent disability resulting from the injury. The fee is set by the court and is generally split between the insurance company and the injured worker. In addition, the fee that is from the injured worker is paid from the permanency award directly to the attorney, as directed by the court. There is the opportunity for the insurance company to also assist in the payment of the expenses necessary to prosecute a claim, should the court direct same.

Real Estate

Q: What is the first step to buying a home?
Finding out what you can afford is one of the first steps, which can be done by pre-qualifying for a home loan. This step will help you narrow your search for both a neighborhood and particular houses. A pre-qualification is a simple calculation that considers several factors, but primarily your income. There are no guarantees with a prequalification, but it will be expected of you when you make an offer on a home.
Q: What’s a home inspection?
A home inspection is when a paid professional inspector — often a contractor or an engineer – inspects the home, searching for defects or other problems that might plague the owner later on. They usually represent the buyer and or paid by the buyer. The inspection usually takes place after a purchase contract between buyer and seller has been signed.
Q: Do I need a home inspection?
Yes. Buying a home “as is” is a risky proposition. Major repairs on homes can amount to thousands of dollars. Plumbing, electrical and roof problems represent significant and complex systems that are expensive to fix.
Q: What repairs should the seller make?
If you want to get top dollar for your property, you probably need to make all minor repairs and selected major repairs before going on the market. Nearly all purchase contracts include an inspection clause, a buyer contingency that allows a buyer to back out if numerous defects are found or negotiate their repair. The trick is not to overspend on pre-sale repairs, especially if there are few houses on the market but many buyers willing to buy at almost any price. On the other hand, making such repairs may be the only way to sell your house in a down market.
Q: What are closing costs?
Closing costs are the fees for services, taxes or special interest charges that surround the purchase of a home. They include upfront loan points, title insurance, escrow or closing day charges, document fees, prepaid interest and property taxes. Unless, these charges are rolled into the loan, they must be paid when the home is closed.
Q: Who pays the closing costs?
Closing costs are either paid by the home seller or home buyer. It often depends on local custom and what the buyer or seller negotiates.

Estate Planning

Q: I have recently moved into New Jersey from another State. Should I have a new will made?
I highly recommend that you make a new will in this state. Although the basic will concepts come down from medieval England and are somewhat consistent among the various states, the way in which wills are signed and witnessed varies from each state. For example, a will that is self proving in New York (meaning that the witnesses do not have to appear at the Surrogate’s Office to prove the will) is not self-proving in New Jersey. Thus, it may be necessary for the witnesses to appear at the Surrogate’s Office in their home county to sign paperwork prepared by the Surrogate in New Jersey. There will obviously be a cost to do this. The cost to make a new will in New Jersey (typically $125 to $200) is less than the cost to have the out of state witnesses prove the will. Secondly, wills from other states may contain references to the laws of those states which could cause confusion in New Jersey. For these reasons, I strongly recommend that a person moving in from another state have a new will made in New Jersey.
Q: I was reading my will and noticed that my daughter’s name has changed due to her becoming married (or divorced). Do I need to change my will?
Generally, I do not recommend changing your will just because a beneficiary’s last name has changed. Your daughter is still your daughter regardless of the last name she uses. For example, if your will names “my daughter, MARY SMITH” and your daughter is now known as “MARY JONES” it would be difficult for anyone to argue that Mary is not your daughter, or in the alternative that another Mary Smith is your daughter. So long as the rest of the will still says what you want it to say, I do not see the need to change the will.
Q: Most attorneys charge from $125 to $200 to prepare a Living Will. I have seen free forms available on-line or at the hospital. Why should I use an attorney to prepare my living will?
New Jersey has a specific statute governing what the general public calls living wills. In New Jersey a living will is more properly referred to an “Advanced Directive for Health Care.” New Jersey’s living will law is very explicit as to what language should be found in a New Jersey living will (although the law does not provide a specific form of the living will). Furthermore, New Jersey law states very clearly how a living will must be signed. I have never seen an on-line form (or a form from a national magazine) that is consistent with the New Jersey laws. If the living will is not consistent with the New Jersey laws, a court, or medical care provider may not be obligated to follow the direction in the document. In addition, although some of the forms provided by hospitals may be consistent with New Jersey’s laws, in some cases the documents are not properly signed, witnessed and notarized as required. Just because a document says “Living Will” does not mean that it contains the wording suggested by our laws nor that it is executed in the correct manner. In such case it may be no more of a living will than writing the words “Driver License” on a piece of paper makes it a valid driver license. The minimal cost charged by most law firms to prepare a living will is a small price to pay to make sure that your living will is valid and lets your family and medical providers know your intentions in the event that you are unable to make your own decisions regarding life sustaining treatment.
Q: What is a power of attorney and do I need one?
A power of attorney is a written document by which a person gives to another the right and power to make decisions. Powers of attorney have become very popular today to allow a person to appoint another to carry out their affairs if the maker should become incompetent to act on their own behalf. If a person becomes incompetent and there is no power of attorney, then in most cases, a family member or friend may have to go to court and seek to have the court appoint them as a guardian over the incompetent person. This procedure is both time consuming and expensive. A typical guardianship procedure may take 60 days or more and cost approximately $2,500.00. Furthermore, the court may appoint a guardian who is not your choice. By making a power of attorney you can decide who you want to handle your affairs if you become incompetent. In addition the cost is far less for a power of attorney than for a guardianship. We recommend that all of our estate planning clients consider making a power of attorney when they prepare their wills.
Q: I have been told that I need to have a “Durable power of attorney.” What is a durable power of attorney?
A durable power of attorney refers to a power of attorney that continues in effect even if the person who makes the power of attorney (called the “principal”) becomes incompetent after the power of attorney is made. Originally, a power of attorney ceased to be effective if the principal became incompetent. This has been changed by New Jersey law. However to be “durable” the power of attorney must contain wording to the effect that “This Power of Attorney shall not be affected by my disability.”
Q: Where should I keep my original will?
I recommend that you keep your original will in a safe place where it cannot be tampered with by other persons. Typically, I suggest either a safe deposit box at a bank or a will safe at an attorney’s office. If the will was to become lost, it may be presumed that you destroyed your will leaving you without a will and subject to the laws of intestacy. Thus, the estate distribution in your will may be defeated.
Q: All of my assets are in a joint name with my spouse. Do I still need a will?
Yes. Many persons falsely believe that they do not need a will if they put their assets into a joint account with a spouse of other family member. They are mistaken. While joint assets will automatically pass to the surviving person on a joint account, what happens if the other person passes away before you? That would leave all the assets in your name. Without a will all of the assets would pass by virtue of the laws of intestacy, which may not be the way you would want them distributed. Also, in some cases, although the person may believe that all of their assets are in joint names sometimes there are assets in their name alone. All persons should have a will so that their intentions as to the distribution of their assets will be followed.
Q: What happens if I do not have a will? Will the State take all my money?
In New Jersey, like most states, if you do not have a will, the state has a set of laws called the laws of intestacy which dictate how your assets will be distributed in the event that you do not have a will. The distribution of assets under the laws of intestacy vary depending on the person who survive you, such as a spouse, children, parents, siblings, etc. The bottom line is the state laws, not you, determine how your assets will be distributed after your death. In some very rare cases, if the State of New Jersey, after making diligent inquiry to satisfy a judge, cannot locate any living heirs, the assets may go to the State.

The Probate Process

Q: What Does The Term “Probate” Mean?
Probate is the term used for the process of filing a Will with the County Surrogate’s Office to have the Surrogate appoint the person named in the Will as the Executor.
Q: Who Probates The Will?
The Will must be probated by the person named in the Will as the Executor (or Executrix in the case of a female). In some cases, the Executor may be referred to as the “Personal Representative.” If the original Executor is not alive or is incapable of acting as executor for any reason (Example: Incompetency) then the Will should be reviewed to see who is named as the Alternate Executor. In the case where the original Executor cannot serve, then the Alternate Executor must serve in his or her place. There is a procedure for the instances where the Will does not name an alternate Executor or in those cases where the Alternate Executors are unable to serve, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
Q: Where Does The Executor Go To Probate A Will?
The person named as the Executor must go to the Surrogate’s office for the county the decedent resided in at the time of the decedent’s death. Most of the time, the residency of the decedent is easy to determine. In some cases, however, the decedent’s residency is not always so clear. Example: A man rents an apartment in Essex County but is moved to a nursing home in Ocean County on a temporary basis to be near his son, and while there passes away. Is he still a resident of Essex County or did he intend on being relocated on a permanent basis to Ocean County.
Q: What Documents Does The Person Named As Executor Need To Probate A Will?
The person must bring the original Will, an original death certificate and the proposed Executor’s Social Security Number.
Q: What Takes Place At The Surrogate’s Office?
Once there, the Executor will sign in and wait to be called by one of the Probate Clerks. Once the person is called into the Probate Clerk’s office, the person will give the Probate Clerk the documents listed above. The Probate Clerk will prepare several documents for the proposed Executor to sign. Once those are signed, the Surrogate will take the papers and within a couple of days issue forms to the Executor which allow the Executor to act as the decedent would have acted for the purposes of administering the estate.
Q: What Are The Documents To Be Signed?
In short, the proposed Executor will sign forms requesting (1) that the Surrogate admit the Will to Probate; (2) agreeing to act as the Executor; (3) allowing the Surrogate to accept any papers filed against the estate in place of the Executor; and (4) acknowledging that the Executor will not distribute any assets to any beneficiary named in the Will until the Executor has performed a judgment search to determine whether that beneficiary has any child support orders outstanding. In the event that there are any child support orders outstanding, they must be paid in full before the beneficiary can receive any of the proceeds of the estate.
Q: What Are The Documents That The Surrogate Will Send To The Executor?
There will be two forms of documents sent to the Executor. The first is known as the Letter Testamentary and the second are called Short Certificates. The Letters Testamentary is the document from the Surrogate’s Office which appoints the person as the Executor of the estate. It usually included a copy of the Will. The Short Certificates state that the Surrogate’s Office issued the Letters Testamentary to the Executor and the date they were issued. In most cases, it is the Short Forms which the Executor will use to administer the estate and only rarely will someone want to see the Letters Testamentary.
Q: Is That All There Is To Probate?
Yes, for the most part. Once the Will is admitted to Probate a notice must be sent to the persons listed in the Will as well as any other heirs at law of the decedent advising that the Will was admitted to Probate and that a copy of the Will is available at the Surrogate’s Office.
Q: What Takes Place After Probate Is Finished?
At this point the Executor then has to administer the estate which includes determining what are the assets of the estate; in most cases liquidating the assets (Example: Selling the decedent’s house); determining what death taxes, if any, are due and paying those taxes; paying off all creditors of the estate; and finally, distributing the assets pursuant to the directions given in the Will. The estate administration process can take anywhere from 9 to 12 months in a simple estate and longer if the estate is complicated.

As outlined above, even simple estates involve lay persons moving through uncharted legal waters. If the Executor does not fully understand the Probate and estate administration process, mistakes may be made and the process can be delayed. In these cases, it is best to retain an elder law attorney to assist the Executor.

Tax Appeals

Q: What is a tax appeal?
A tax appeal is an appeal to the County Board of Taxation seeking to contest the assessment of the property. In most cases, the appeal is filed by the taxpayer claiming that the assessed value of the property is higher than the market value of the property. If the property assessment is in excess of $1 million, the appeal may be filed directly with the Tax Court, a division of the New Jersey Superior Court
Q: What can I appeal to the county tax board?
The only appeal in New Jersey is for the assessment of the property. Thus, you can appeal because you believe that the assessment is higher than the property’s market value. You cannot appeal your taxes because the actual amount of taxes you pay is too high. You cannot appeal because you cannot afford to pay your taxes. You cannot appeal because your property tax assessment is higher compared to your neighbor’s even if you live in similar houses.
Q: How do I know what my property’s assessment is?
Each year each municipality must send out a notice stating the assessment for your property as of October 1 of the prior tax year. Typically, this note is in the form of a postcard. The notice is sent usually in January. If you do not agree with the assessed value you may want to file a tax appeal.
Q: How do you file an appeal?
An appeal contesting the assessed value of the property is filed with the County Board of Taxation. The forms for filing a tax appeal are available at the County Tax Board and are also available on-line.
Q: Is there a fee to file a tax appeal?
There is a filing fee based upon the assessed value of the property. The filing fee ranges from $5 for property valued at less than $150,000 to $100 for properties that are valued up to $1 million.
Q: When must the appeal be filed?
The appeal must be filed no later than April 1 of the current tax year. In towns in which a reassessment or revaluation have been performed, the filing date is delayed until May 1. If you are not sure, it is best to call the local County Tax Board and ask for the filing date for your town. If you do not file by the correct date, your appeal will be denied.
Q: Do I need an appraisal to succeed in my tax appeal?
Yes. All assessments by municipal tax assessors are deemed to be correct by law. It is up to the taxpayer to overcome the presumption of correctness in order to have the tax assessment lowered. The only way to do this is to have your property appraised by a state licensed or certified real estate appraiser. Prior to the hearing, you are required to supply to the Board a copy of the appraisal as proof as to why you believe your assessment is excessive. It is necessary to have a certified real estate appraiser prepare the appraisal report based on comparable sales and be prepared to testify in support of your appeal at the hearing.
Q: Do I need legal assistance in pursuing the tax appeal?
The laws governing the filing of tax appeals are complicated. While the actual completion of the tax appeal form may be uncomplicated, the appeal procedure is a legal one and the failure to understand and follow the procedure can lead to the tax appeal being dismissed or being denied. It is best to have professionals on your side, such as an attorney and an appraiser. Remember, the town will be at the tax appeal hearing represented by their attorney and assessor-shouldn’t you be too?

Don’t see your questions answered here? Please contact us and we can assist you.