What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

HNWElder Law, Estate Administration and Probate, Estate Planning

We all know we are supposed to do estate planning, but not all of us get around to it.  So what happens if you don’t have a will when you die as a resident of New Jersey? The answer is your estate will be distributed according to New Jersey probate laws, which may or may not be the way you want it to be distributed.

Dying without a will is called dying “intestate”.  New Jersey has laws that determine what happens to estate property if you don’t have a will. If you are married, New Jersey law will award a portion of your estate to your spouse, with the rest divided among your children.  If you don’t have children, then your estate will be divided among other living blood relatives such as your parents or siblings. If you are single, New Jersey provides that your estate will go to your children or to other living relatives if you don’t have children. If you have absolutely no living relatives, then your estate will go to the State.  This is called escheating to the state of New Jersey.

Note that any jointly held assets, such as bank accounts or real estate, will go directly to the co-owner. In addition any life insurance policies or retirement accounts will go directly to the beneficiary designated on the account. And if you have a trust, any assets in the trust will go to the beneficiary designated in the trust.

One purpose of a will is to name a guardian for your young children; if you do not have a will, the court will determine who will act as guardian of your children. The court will also appoint the person who will administer your estate. In addition, if you are unmarried but have an unregistered partner, your partner will not inherit anything from your estate without a will naming him or her as a beneficiary.

The best way to ensure your estate is distributed the way you want it is to plan your estate with a will and/or a trust attorney.

For further information and advice on NJ estate planning laws, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing or telephone consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County, NJ Estate Administration and Probate and Estate Planning Attorney


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