Will your assets pass to family if you die without a Will in New Jersey? Not necessarily. In some cases, a decedent’s property can actually escheat, or revert, to the State of New Jersey when the decedent has living relatives. The only way to ensure that your property is distributed according to your wishes is to execute a Will. While it may be tempting to let estate planning take a back burner to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, having a Will and other necessary estate planning documents helps your loved ones avoid additional hassles at the time of your passing.
Intestacy laws govern what happens to a person’s assets when he or she dies without a Will. Intestacy laws, however, do not interfere with assets that are jointly owned–those go to the survivor; or assets that are subject to a separate designation of beneficiary–those go to the designated beneficiary. In New Jersey, heirs must survive the decedent by at least 120 hours to inherit. New Jersey has adopted an intestacy system that only considers those relatives in the third branch and closer as “heirs” for the purposes of intestate succession. This is known as a parentelic system. The first branch includes the decedent, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The second branch includes decedent’s parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews down the line to great-grandnieces and great-grandnephews. The third and final branch of heirs for purposes of the New Jersey intestacy laws consists of the decedent’s grandparents and descendants of grandparents including aunts, uncles, and first cousins.
It is important to note that if a decedent dies without a Will and has a spouse or domestic partner, that spouse or partner may not inherit the full estate. This debunks the common misconception that if you pass without a Will, your spouse will automatically receive everything. The surviving spouse or partner’s share depends on many things including but not limited to whether the couple had children together, whether there are children from a prior marriage, and whether the decedent has parents who are still living.