Like other states, New Jersey has laws in place that come into effect when a person dies without a will. These laws are known as “intestacy” laws as a person is said to die “intestate” when they die without a will. In the absence of a will, intestate succession laws will direct to whom the deceased person’s assets pass. Dying intestate is nuanced though, and requires a closer look at the specifics.
At the outset, it is important to note that New Jersey’s intestate succession laws only apply to those assets in a decedent’s probate estate. There are many assets that may pass outside of the probate estate. Non probate assets include:
- Property held in a living trust
- Life insurance proceeds (when there is a named beneficiary)
- IRA and other retirement accounts (when there is a named beneficiary)
- Securities in a transfer on death account
- Bank accounts designated as payable on death
- Property held as joint tenants or tenancy by the entirety
With these assets, they will automatically transfer to the designated beneficiary, or a surviving co-owner upon the decedent’s death. Thus, they transfer outside of probate. The property which falls into the probate estate, however, will be subject to intestacy laws of New Jersey should a decedent die without a legally valid will in place.
Under New Jersey’s laws of intestate succession, who gets what from a decedent’s probate estate will depend on what relatives survive the decedent. Assets are transferred to the closest relatives of the decedent, but, in the absence of close surviving relatives, the assets will pass to more and more remote relatives. In the absence of any surviving relatives, the probate estate of the decedent will “escheat” or “pass” into the state’s coffers. This rarely happens, however, because the state’s intestate laws are designed for assets to pass to even the remotest of relatives before they escheat to the state.
New Jersey’s intestacy laws start by looking at whether or not the decedent had a surviving spouse, or any surviving children or other descendants, or parents. If the decedent died with surviving children, but no surviving spouse, the children inherit the probate estate. If the decedent died with a surviving spouse, but no surviving descendants or parents, the surviving spouse inherits the probate estate. If a decedent dies with a surviving spouse and descendants from both themselves and the surviving spouse, and the spouse has descendants from another relationship, the surviving spouse inherits the first 25% of the decedent’s intestate property, but not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000, plus half of the balance, and the descendants inherit the rest. Children and descendants of the decedent are those that have been legally recognized as such. This means that adopted children stand in the same place as biological children and will inherit in the same manner as biological children.
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Take control of your legacy and put a comprehensive estate plan in place. Talk to the team at E.A. Goodman Law about how you can avoid having your probate estate pass by intestacy laws and make sure your wishes are honored. Contact us today.
Posted in: Estate Planning