What Happens If I Die Without a Will or Trust? Why You Need to Consult a South Jersey Estate Planning Attorney

Last Will and Testament Document Ready to Sign. Last Will Document and Fountain Pen Closeup Photo.

Few people like to think about their own mortality, or what will happen after they are gone, but doing so is an important part of the responsibility of being an adult. If you own assets and do not have a plan in place for how you would like them dispersed after your death, then nobody will know your intentions and you will have left the decision in the hands of the state. Whether you are wealthy or of modest means, the only way to ensure that the things you have worked so hard for are managed in a way that is reflective of your values and goals is to provide direction in the form of a will or a trust.  The experienced attorneys at Bratton Scott can help you craft documents that will give you the security of knowing that the people you want to give property or assets will receive it, and that those who you would rather did not end up with your assets won’t.

A person who dies without a will in the state of New Jersey is considered “intestate”, and the state has highly specific intestate succession laws that spell out who receives which assets. Certain assets are bypassed by intestate succession by virtue of the fact that a beneficiary or co-owner is identified within their documentation. These may include:

  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • Property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety
  • Property you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • Funds in an IRA, 401K, or other retirement account
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts

Each of these types of assets automatically pass to the person who has been named, regardless of whether or not a will exists. However, assets that do not have this type of specificity of co-ownership or beneficiary are considered intestate property. Though the laws can get quite complex, the basics are as follows:

  • Dying with children but no spouse means that the children will inherit everything
  • Dying with spouse but no descendants or parents means the spouse inherits everything
  • Dying with spouse and descendants from you and that spouse and neither you nor the spouse has no other children from another relationship, the spouse inherits everything
  • Dying with spouse and descendants from that relationship, and the spouse has children from another relationship, the spouse inherits the first 25% of the intestate property, not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000, plus one half of the balance, and the descendants inherit the rest of the balance.
  • Dying with spouse and parents, the spouse inherits the first 25% of the intestate property, not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000 and 75% of the balance, with the parents inheriting the rest of the balance.
  • Dying with parents but no spouse, the parents inherit everything
  • Dying with siblings but no spouse, parents or descendants, the siblings inherit everything.

These laws were written to ensure that intestate property goes to family members, and though it may represent what many people would prefer, your specific needs and wishes may be very different. The only way to ensure that your wishes are carried out and your property is distributed in a way that is representative of your goals is to meet with an experienced South Jersey estate planning attorney and have the appropriate paperwork completed. Call the attorneys at Bratton Scott today to learn more about how we can secure your future.

Learn how we can help you create a Will HERE.