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What is Intestate in New Jersey?

Last updated on: February 14, 2024

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. However, if you die without a will, there is no guarantee that the “right” family members will benefit from your estate. The matter of the distribution of your assets and the order by which your family members stand to inherit is decided by the laws of the state.

When someone passes away without a will in the state of New Jersey, the process is governed by what’s known as intestate succession. This set of laws dictates how your assets will be divided and who your beneficiaries will be. Although these laws aim to reflect general wishes, they may not align with your unique preferences and could lead to unintended consequences for your loved ones.

Don’t leave the future of your estate to chance. Reach out to the New Jersey estate planning lawyers of The Matus Law Group today to secure a future that aligns with your wishes. Ensure your peace of mind by taking the first step towards a comprehensive estate plan tailored to your specific needs. Call us at (732) 281 – 0060 to schedule a consultation and protect what matters most to you.

What is Intestate Succession?

Intestate succession is a legal process that dictates how your assets are distributed if you pass away without a will, especially as it pertains to the state of New Jersey. It is a system designed to ensure that your property is transferred to your closest living relatives, following specific state statutes.

In New Jersey, if you die intestate, your possessions are allocated to your nearest kin in a hierarchical order. This means that your spouse, children, and extended family members may all be considered potential heirs. The state’s intestacy laws cast a wide net to include a diverse group of relatives from siblings to distant cousins, thereby significantly reducing the chances of your estate escheating, or reverting, to the state.

Key Points of New Jersey’s Intestate Succession Laws:

  • Survivorship Period: New Jersey law requires a person to survive you by at least 120 hours to be eligible to inherit your assets. This means if a relative passes away shortly after you, they cannot inherit.
  • Equivalence of Half-Relatives: In New Jersey, half-relatives are treated the same as “whole” relatives. A half-sibling has the same inheritance rights as a full sibling.
  • Posthumous Relatives: Any relative who is conceived before but born after your death will inherit as if they were born during your lifetime, provided they live at least 120 hours after birth.
  • Immigration Status: The inheritance rights of your relatives are not influenced by their citizenship or legal status in the United States.
  • Advancements: If you have given a relative property prior to your death, it is only deducted from their share of the inheritance if it was clearly documented as an advancement at the time of the gift.

Understanding these rules is crucial because they lay the groundwork for who will receive your assets in the absence of a will. While intestate succession provides a safety net, it underscores the importance of having a will to ensure your wishes are followed after your death.

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.

Intestate Succession Scenario Distribution of Estate
No surviving spouse, only children Children inherit everything.
Surviving spouse, no children or parents Spouse inherits everything.
Surviving spouse and children from that spouse Spouse inherits everything.
Surviving spouse, children from both relationships Spouse inherits 25% of intestate property (not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000) plus half of the balance. Children divide the rest.
Surviving spouse, children from the relationship, children from another relationship Spouse inherits 25% of the estate (not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000). Children divide the rest.
Surviving spouse, surviving parents 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.
Surviving parents, no surviving spouse, children Parents inherit everything.
No surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings Siblings inherit everything.

Importance of Estate Planning to Override Intestate Succession in NJ

Estate planning is a crucial process that too often goes overlooked, yet its significance cannot be overstated—especially in New Jersey. Without a clear and legally binding estate plan, which includes drafting a will, the default intestate succession laws take over upon an individual’s death. These laws dictate the distribution of assets, which may not align with the deceased’s personal wishes or the unique dynamics of their family.

Intestate succession in New Jersey follows a rigid formula, generally favoring the closest relatives—spouses, and children first, then parents, siblings, and so forth. This one-size-fits-all approach can lead to unintended and sometimes distressing outcomes. It fails to take into account more complex family structures, such as stepchildren, non-marital partnerships, or estranged relatives. Moreover, it does not provide for non-relatives that one might want to inherit, such as close friends or caregivers, nor does it allow for charitable bequests.

Proper estate planning empowers individuals to direct their assets precisely where they wish. It ensures that those they want to support are provided for and that their legacy is preserved according to their values and intentions. For instance, in blended families, a will can specify inheritances that reflect the nature of these relationships, rather than leaving them to the mercy of impersonal statutes.

Furthermore, estate planning can also address other important issues, such as naming a guardian for minor children, establishing trusts for the management of assets, and minimizing potential estate taxes. By taking control of the estate planning process, New Jersey residents can ensure their personal preferences are respected and their loved ones are protected as they see fit.

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.

Christine Matus

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Christine Matus
Christine Matus

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