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  • Writer's pictureJudge Michael Donio

Ask The Judge


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CONTINUING EDUCATION


Do attorneys in New Jersey have to earn continuing legal education credit like doctors and other professionals? If not, how do they stay on top of the changing laws?


All New Jersey attorneys, including Judges and even retired Judges that maintain their license, must earn 24 hours of continuing education credits every two years. In those 24 hours, five hours must be in ethics, two of hours must be in diversity inclusion and elimination of bias. There are numerous courses offered throughout the year with different organizations some of which are in-person and some of which now are conducted via Zoom.


When I was on the bench, every year the Judges would have a two-and-a-half day retreat in North Jersey, Thanksgiving week, where all of the courses were offered to sitting Judges. As a retired Judge, I am still able to attend those courses every year. Since COVID, those courses have been offered via Zoom and only started up again in-person this last November.


Attorneys on the other hand have a variety of course selections throughout the year and also during the New Jersey State Bar Association Convention. Random audits are conducted on attorneys and Judges to assure that the qualifications have been met, otherwise your license can be put in jeopardy. You are correct that the laws are ever changing and that is how lawyers in New Jersey keep up on the law. While you have to take so many hours in ethics and diversity, you can focus the rest of your hours in the area of law that you practice or even in my case courses that deal with mediation and arbitration. Therefore to answer your questions, yes continuing education exists and everyone must comply up until the time you are finished practicing law.


WILLS


I do not want my daughter to get a dime when I die. She is my only child and my biggest regret. What can I do to make sure my Will cannot be challenged? I have read and heard a lot of conflicting advice.


First, you must remember that your Last Will & Testament is exactly that. It is yours. You can leave your estate to whomever you want, and it should be done with a lawyer in writing so that there is no misunderstanding. If you want to take someone out of your Will that normally would be in your Will, the best advice is to address the issue head on. In other words, I have handled cases where there are challenges to Wills indicating that there was not a clear intention to omit someone and even that the person was under the influence of someone else or not of sufficient mental capacity to do a Will. That is why I say your Will should be done by a lawyer in a lawyer’s office with two witnesses and a lawyer there in the event your Will is challenged in any way. Now, as to the question of taking your daughter out of your Will, you must be very specific and not just have a short sentence but maybe even an explanation. For instance, you may want to indicate that you are not leaving anything to your daughter not out of a lack of love or affection, but either because for instance, she has sufficient means to support herself and your other children may not or because of something that she may have done that was not to your liking. Furthermore, you may also want to put a clause in your Will that if anyone challenges your Will that is named or unnamed in your Will, they would be excluded from anything in your Will. Such challenges I believe can be held up in court while other people think that it may not. However, the best advice that I could give you is to have your Will drawn up by an attorney with two witnesses and be very specific and direct as to what your intentions are.


Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to askthejudge@hammontongazette.com.


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