Wills are not only for the wealthy. No matter how much, or how little, you have in your estate, you want to make sure that your hard-earned assets are distributed to your beneficiaries according to your wishes. New Jersey’s intestacy laws, the laws that dictate who your property goes to when you die without a will, are very complex. For example, the general assumption with married individuals is that everything a person owns will go to their spouse upon death. Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. If you die with only your spouse, and no other direct descendants, New Jersey intestacy laws state that if you have a surviving parent as well, the parent is entitled to take a portion of the estate. The situation becomes even more complicated if you die with a spouse and children from a prior marriage.
A will also appoints an executor, the person in charge of paying debts of the estate, filing tax returns if necessary, and making distributions to the beneficiaries. Without having a will, an administrator will be appointed by the Surrogate’s Court. All other heirs must renounce their right to be appointed administrator, which could prove difficult if there is disagreement within the family.
Furthermore, if you die with minor children, their share of your estate must be allocated to a minor’s trust. If you die without a will including a minor’s trust, their share must be put in a custodial account with the county surrogate’s office. This creates an additional step in the process, which could easily be avoided with a properly drafted will.
Finally, New Jersey’s current estate tax exclusion amount is $2 million, meaning every estate over $2 million is taxed. Tax planning can reduce the size of your estate, and consequently, reduce the amount your estate is taxed. Without a properly constructed will, it will be impossible to plan for these issues.
Whether married, single, divorced, childless, or a parent: a will is always a necessary tool to provide for your loved ones in the best way possible. The above merely scratches the surface of New Jersey’s intestacy laws. It is important to schedule a consultation with an experienced Bratton Scott estate planning attorney to start planning with an eye toward your specific needs.