People in New Jersey and elsewhere often wonder what happens to a person’s assets when that person dies without leaving a will to direct the distribution of the person’s property. The answer is provided by New Jersey’s laws of intestate succession. Whenever a person dies without a will, the person is called “intestate.” The New Jersey legislature has enacted laws that control how the assets of an intestate person are distributed. A brief review of those laws may convince persons who are presently intestate to prepare a valid will.
Different rules for different sizes of estates
If the decedent possessed less than $20,000 at the time of death and had no wife, domestic partner or civil union partner, the Surrogate Court for the county in which the person died will issue an Affidavit of Next of Kin if no other close relative objects. With the Affidavit of Next of Kin, this relative can distribute the decedent’s property to the surviving family members.
If the decedent possessed less than $50,000 in assets at the time of death but had a surviving spouse, registered domestic partner, the Surrogate’s Court will issue an Affidavit of Surviving Spouse allowing the spouse or partner to take possession of the assets and distribute them as may be deemed appropriate. If the estate is greater than $50,000, the surviving spouse has the right to be appointed as administrator to take possession of the assets and distribute the assets to surviving family members.
If a person dies leaving a surviving spouse or partner, the entire estate passes to the spouse. If a person dies leaving a spouse or partner and children from a prior marriage, the spouse or partner receives the first 25% of the estate up to $200,000 plus ½ the balance of the estate. If a person leaves a spouse or partner and only stepchildren, the spouse or partner receives 100% of the estate. Other situations involving a surviving spouse, natural and step children are subject to different mandatory distributions.
Consulting an attorney
Anyone who may have a right to inherit from a relative who dies without a will may wish to consult an experienced probate lawyer for advice. And anyone who has assets in excess of $20,000 may wish to consult an estate planning attorney for advice on preparing a valid will.