Can I leave a handwritten or spoken will in New Jersey?

We have all seen films where a dying character makes last wishes on his or her deathbed — allotting wishes for how to distribute his or her possessions. If this is what you are planning, reevaluate now. In New Jersey, your family may honor your last wishes out of love and respect, but spoken wills are not legally binding. 

As FindLaw explains, you can however create a handwritten will to leave behind, but only use this as a last resort. Understanding New Jersey laws about wills can help you care for the future of your estate or the estate of your loved one. 

Legally binding wills

Many states have different methods for making a will legally binding, and this typically involves a signing witness or witnesses, a notary, or some combination of these. In New Jersey, the standard process for making a will is to sign it is the presence of two witnesses, and, of course, have them sign it, as well. 

To increase the will’s legal authority and save some difficulty in probate court later, have a notary sign and stamp your will when you and your witnesses sign, and include an Acknowledgement and Affidavit Relating to Execution of the Will. You may also want to register the will, but you do not need to do this to make it legally binding. 

Holographic wills

A holographic will is not a standard or recommended type of will, but it may be appropriate in some cases. A holographic will is a handwritten will left by the decedent without witnesses, and in New Jersey, these can be legally binding if the document is verifiably written in the decedent’s handwriting. 

Holographic wills are easily contested, easily lost, and easily left undiscovered if they are not present at the time and place of death. Dying without a known will, or “dying intestate,” will mean that state law will divide and distribute the decedent’s property independently of his or her desires. 

Writing a will and knowing what to include is important. For example, you will need to designate an executor for your will and name specific beneficiaries and backups to avoid complications in probate. There are also many things that you cannot determine with a will, like life insurance or other policies that already have a named beneficiary. Other things are better distributed with a trust or other estate planning device to avoid taxes or exercise greater control over the distribution of your property. 

Educate yourself or consult an expert before undertaking this process.