If a person dies without leaving a will behind, they are considered to have “died intestate.” The probate court will then follow State of New Jersey intestacy laws for the administration of the deceased’s estate, and the distribution of his or her assets.
What Are NJ’s Intestacy Laws?
Intestacy laws vary by state, and although many use the uniform probate code as a starting point, there can still be major discrepancies and deviations, even from the code.
Under New Jersey law, the assets of residents who die without a will are distributed according to a specific set of requirements which prioritizes the beneficiaries entitled to a share in the Estate.
Is Probate Necessary Without A Will?
Regardless of whether or not the deceased had a will, their estate is still subject to probate if they possessed assets that are subject to the process and require distribution.
Additionally, an estate may be eligible for New Jersey’s simplified probate process, depending on whether the estate in question fulfills the necessary requirements.
If I Die Without A Will, Who Inherits My Assets?
In NJ, the assets of someone who died without a will are distributed according to state intestacy laws. The specifics of who receives what, and which assets the laws actually apply to, depend on a variety of factors.
Assets Not Affected by Intestate Succession Laws
It’s important to know that not all assets are affected by intestate succession, some of which include:
- Life insurance
- Retirement accounts
- Property you’ve transferred to a living trust
- Property jointly owned with someone else
Again, these assets are usually not subject to NJ’s intestacy laws, and automatically pass on to surviving co-owners or named beneficiaries. Any asset that has a designated beneficiary (e.g. 401k, IRA, life insurance, annuity) will pass in accordance with who has been designated, in writing, as the beneficiary. It is very important to check your assets to see who has been designated as a beneficiary to make sure that those designations match your desired distribution at the time of your death. Also, if a beneficiary is a minor or disable, you may want to have assets distributed into a trust rather than directly to the beneficiary. Assets distributed directly to someone who is the beneficiary of a special needs trust or supplemental benefits trust could cause the beneficiary to be disqualified for Medicaid or Social Security benefits.
Assets That Are Affected by Intestate Succession Laws and Probate
Assets that are considered “probate assets” usually consist of the personal belongings of the deceased, some of which include:
- Arts and Entertainment
- Personal Collections
- Real Estate
Beware that, in rare situations, some of the above assets may avoid probate if they are included in a trust.
Determining Who Gets What Without A Will
In most cases, the decedent’s immediate family (such as spouses and children) or closest relatives are the ones who inherit their assets, but the actual specifics of who receives what depends on certain factors, including the make-up of the deceased’s surviving family members.
- Children, but no spouse – if the decedent has children but no spouse, their children will inherit everything.
- Spouse, but no children or parents – if the deceased has a spouse but no children or parents, their spouse inherits everything.
- Parents but no spouse or children – if the decedent had surviving parents, but no spouse or children, the parents inherit everything.
- Siblings, but no spouse, children or parents – when the deceased has siblings, but no children, parents or spouse, then their siblings inherit everything.
Things can get a little more complicated when there are multiple surviving family members, stepchildren, or other variables and combinations to take account of, some of which include:
- Living spouse and parents – the spouse gets 25% of the intestate property, and three-quarters of the balance. The deceased’s parents inherit the rest.
- Living spouse and kids, along with any of the spouse’s descendants from another relationship – the spouse gets the first 25% of the property (no less than $50,000, but not greater than $200,000), plus half of the balance. The children of the deceased inherit the rest.
- No spouse, descendants, or parents, but a grandparent or descendant of a grandparent – half of the estate goes to the maternal grandparent(s) or their descendant, and half goes to the maternal grandparent(s) or their descendant. If there isn’t a surviving grandparent or descendent of grandparent from one side of the family, then the other side receives everything.
What If There Is No Will and No Family?
If someone dies without a will, and they have no surviving family, it is possible that the state may “escheat,” or forfeit, their property.
However, this outcome is unlikely, as New Jersey’s intestacy laws were designed to distribute the deceased’s property (and other assets) to anyone remotely close or related to them, rather than have their assets be absorbed by the state.
Find An NJ Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer Near You
The probate process in New Jersey can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have been designated as the personal representative, administrator or executor of an estate, and are in need of assistance throughout the probate process, contact a probate lawyer from Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle.
When it comes to matters of estate planning, wills, trusts and probate, we have a proven track record of providing outstanding service for our clients, and ensuring that their wishes (or the wishes of a loved one), are honored.