Many people are under the mistaken notion that when they die, their property and other assets will go to the family members that they want them to go to automatically. While that may be the case, if you die without a will, there is no guarantee that the “right” family members will benefit from your estate. That is decided by the laws of the state.
The term intestate simply means dying without a will. In New Jersey, if you die without a valid will in place, your estate is subject to what is called intestate succession, or the way the state has decided your estate will be distributed.
New Jersey intestate laws have set who will inherit your property when there is no will in place. While this succession is based on what the law has determined is the most common and amenable way to distribute assets and property to heirs, for you as an individual, it may not be what you personally would have wanted. Experienced estate planning attorney, Christine Matus is here to discuss what is intestate.
What Will Happen to Your Estate if You Die Without a Will in New Jersey?
Intestate succession varies depending on what state you reside in. In New Jersey, intestate succession looks like the following:
- If you die with no surviving spouse, your children will inherit everything.
- If you have a surviving spouse, but no children or parents, your spouse inherits everything.
- If there is a surviving spouse and children from that spouse, the spouse inherits everything.
- If there is a surviving spouse and children from your relationship together, but the spouse also has children from another relationship, the spouse inherits 25% of the intestate property (not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000) plus half of the balance. Your children will divide the rest.
- If there is a surviving spouse and you have children together and you also have children from another relationship, the spouse inherits 25% of the estate (not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000), and your children will divide the rest.
- If there is both a surviving spouse and surviving parents, the spouse inherits the first 25% (not less than $50,000 or more than $200.000) and three-quarters of the remaining estate. Surviving parents inherit the balance.
- If there are surviving parents but no surviving spouse or children, the parents inherit everything.
- If there is no surviving spouse, children, or parents, siblings will inherit everything.
Intestate succession goes further to provide for grandparents, grandchildren, and stepchildren. Although it happens infrequently, if there are no surviving family members at all, the state gets the entire estate.
When Intestate Succession Can Go Wrong
While this succession may be perfectly practical for you, in most cases, it’s not. There are many ways that allowing the state to distribute your estate can go wrong. For instance, if you have brought up stepchildren like your own, intestacy succession may not be adequate for providing for those stepchildren. Your parents may have no need for assets from your estate, but you would rather it had gone to a close family friend who truly was in need. Or you may have wished to donate a significant portion of your estate to a charity or university that you had a particular connection with.
Even if your wishes basically reflect that of the state’s intestate succession, having it clearly and concisely defined in a will can avoid the expense and delay caused by having to locate heirs or having your estate subject to possible litigation.
Experienced Estate Planning Attorney in New Jersey
Preparing a will in place is one of the most foundational ways to ensure that your wishes will be carried out after you die. Depending on your circumstances, there may be many other estate planning tools available to help you protect your assets and your family.
At the Matus Law Group, we can help you navigate the world of estate planning and asset protection. Contact us to schedule a consultation to discuss your unique needs.