A last will and testament, if properly drafted, indicates how you would like your assets distributed to your heirs, appoints an executor to carry out your wishes, and should indicate who has authority over the disposition of your remains.  In New Jersey, it can be probated in less than a half hour, and, usually, for under one hundred and fifty dollars. Does this sound reasonable?  Try handling an estate without a will.

No Will?  Here’s What Happens

Last Will & Testament is the best option

If you die without a will, the New Jersey Intestate Statute directs how your assets will be distributed, and who will act as administrator. https://law.justia.com/codes/new-jersey/2009/title-3b/section-3b-5/  A bond will have to be posted by the administrator, which is an insurance policy protecting the heirs against theft and misappropriation.  This will have to be paid by the estate, annually, until the process is completed.

No Will? Who Becomes the Administrator?

Because you have no will stating who your executor will be, the law says it will be your spouse, or domestic partner.  If you have no spouse or domestic partner, or if they do not wish to be administrator, then one or all of your children can be appointed.  If there are no children, then anyone else who is an heir under the statute, such as a parent, brother or sister, or cousins can apply.  If no one applies within forty days to be administrator, the law allows any “fit person applying therefore”.  Sound easy?  It’s not.  If more than one person is able to be the administrator, you must first get the others to sign papers indicating that they are renouncing their right to be administrator.  Then you must go to the surrogate’s office and apply.  If you are accepted, you will have to post a bond before being “qualified” or officially named as administrator. There are many things that can go wrong in this process.

No Will? Who Gets the Estate?

Because you have no will stating how your estate is to be divided, the intestacy statute controls.  If your spouse or domestic partner survives you, the spouse will receive the entire estate if there are no surviving children or parent of the deceased. If there is a surviving parent, the spouse gets “the first 25% of the intestate estate, but no less than $50,000.00, nor more than $200,000.00, plus three-fourths of any balance of the intestate estate.” But if all of the surviving children are children of the surviving spouse, and the surviving spouse has children who are not children of the deceased, the surviving spouse gets “the first 25% of the intestate estate, but no less than $50,000.00 nor more than $200,000.00, plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate.” The same amount will be inherited by the surviving spouse if the deceased had a child or children who are not children of the surviving spouse.  All of this, as well as who inherits if there is no surviving spouse, is set forth at N.J.S.A. 3B:5-3 and 5-4.  I can safely say, that in thirty-three years of practice, no one has asked me to write a will which says the same thing as this statute.  If your estate is distributed by statute, there will be disappointment and hard feelings among your family members.

No Will? “It’s Ok, Because I Really Don’t Own Anything.”

“I really don’t own anything” but… a car, a small bank account, a house.  I know of no one who really doesn’t own anything. It may be small, but it will have to be dealt with by someone.  Someone is going to have to pay for your funeral, last medical bills, sell the car, etc. If you do not have a will, someone will have to go through the long process, post a bond, become administrator or co-administrator. Someone will have to have the legal authority to act on your behalf and handle that “little” matter.  It would be better if you just had a last will appointing an executor, with no bond, who could handle the matter quickly and easily.

Do the Responsible Thing and Prepare a Will

Prepare a last will.  Appoint an executor.  State how you want your assets to be distributed.  It will take you less time and money to prepare a will, than for your family to seek appointment as an administrator, post a bond and deal with family strife.  It is easier than you think.  Shanahan & Voigt has years of experience.  We have a streamlined process that makes it not only easy for our clients, but gives them the personalized document they need.  Contact us now so we can get started.  I’ll have you out of my office in forty-five minutes, and you will say, “Wow, you made that easy.”