Creating a last will and testament is an important step for every adult. These FAQs address the most common questions about New Jersey wills so you can confidently make a will as part of your estate plan.
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What If I Die Without a Will in New Jersey?
A will allows you to choose how to distribute your personal property and assets among family members and loved ones. If a decedent dies without a will, called dying intestate, they leave no directions. The probate court, called the surrogate court in New Jersey, has to sort it out. They follow intestacy law to distribute your property to your closest family members in a predetermined way. Your spouse and children inherit all. If you have no spouse or children, then relatives such as parents, siblings, and other next of kin inherit your assets.
What Does a Will Do?
A will is a legal document that gives you the ability to do all of the following:
- Identify your personal property and real estate
- Name beneficiaries you choose to inherit your assets
- Select a personal representative or executor who locates your assets, presents your will to the probate court (New Jersey Superior Court), manages the probate process, and follows your wishes to distribute assets to your beneficiaries. Your personal representative also inventories your safe deposit box, files tax returns, and contacts social security upon your death.
- Choose a guardian to care for your minor children
- Set aside funds for and name a caregiver for your pets
What Doesn’t a Will Do?
There are certain assets you do not dispose of using a will, such as transfer-on-death bank accounts, retirement accounts or IRAs, and life insurance policies. These accounts transfer with beneficiary designations. Examples of “non-probate” assets are the following:
- Life insurance payments (to beneficiaries other than to the estate itself)
- Property owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship
- Trust, including living trusts and assets owned by trusts
- Funds in payable on death or transfer on death bank accounts
If you have any of the above, check that you have named a beneficiary and backup beneficiary on all these accounts and policies. If an account or policy has no beneficiary, that asset will go into your estate.
Who Can Make a Will in New Jersey?
A person making a will, called a testator, must be of a certain age and have a sound mind. What this means in New Jersey is the following:
Age: You must be 18 years of age or older or an emancipated minor to make a will in Florida.
Sound Mind: In New Jersey, you must have a sound mind at the time you sign your will meaning you understand the following:
- What property you own
- Who are your heirs
- That you are making a will
- The effect of the decisions they make in the will.
The testator must create their will without coercion or fraud.
Does New Jersey Have a Statutory Will?
New Jersey does not have a statutory will, a form designated by the legislature. You can create your own will customized to meet your specific need. Many people use online resources such as FindLaw Legal Forms and Services to help you draft a will according to New Jersey laws. Or you can hire an estate planning attorney in your local area to help you and provide legal advice if you need it regarding inheritance tax.
What Types of Wills Does New Jersey Accept?
Most wills are typed or printed and signed by the testator and witnessed. New Jersey state law has the following rules regarding valid wills:
- Handwritten will: A holographic will is a handwritten will written in the testator’s own handwriting and signed by them but not witnessed. New Jersey permits holographic wills if the testator handwrites it themselves and there is clear intent that they intend the document as their will. This type of will is not automatically accepted and can be problematic. It is best to have a formally prepared will to ensure your wishes are honored.
- Oral will: New Jersey does not recognize a verbal or spoken will.
- Electronic will: Some states allow “electronic wills,” which are wills signed, witnessed, or notarized by remote audio-visual means. However, New Jersey does not allow electronic wills.
Therefore, it is best to sign a typewritten will in front of witnesses for it to be valid in New Jersey.
Can I Make My Own Will in New Jersey?
Yes. You can create your own will in New Jersey. You do not need an attorney to draft your will. If you know what property you own and who you want to give it to, you can make a will. You can feel confident that your wishes will be honored using FindLaw Legal Forms and Services. You can customize and update your will whenever you want. For example, if you want to change your beneficiaries or guardians, you can easily make a new will without having to amend the original will or make a codicil.
How Do I Make My Will Valid in New Jersey?
To create a valid will in the state of New Jersey, be sure that your will meets the following requirements:
- Signature: You sign you will or direct someone to sign it for you
- Witnesses: You have two competent witnesses to acknowledge you signed your will. New Jersey allows your witnesses to be “interested witnesses,” meaning your witnesses can be people who are beneficiaries. Still, it is always a good idea to use disinterested witnesses if at all possible to avoid a will challenge for such things as undue influence.
- Notary: There is no requirement that you have the will notarized.
- Self-Proving Affidavit: However, you can attach a self-proving affidavit to the original copy of the will. The testator and witnesses sign the affidavit before a notary public. The affidavit allows the court to accept the will automatically. Otherwise, the witnesses may be required to appear in court.
Can I Disinherit My Spouse in New Jersey?
Although you are not required to include your spouse in your will, if you leave them out, they still may have rights to your estate. Under New Jersey law, they can opt for an elective share. An elective share is a part of a decedent’s estate that a spouse may claim if left out of the will. Under this law, a surviving spouse may receive one-third of the estate.
Can I Disinherit My Children in New Jersey?
You can disinherit a child in New Jersey. To do so, it is best to specifically state in your will that you are disinheriting them and give a reason. Otherwise, your child could contest the will, and the court may rule that the omission was a mistake and award your child a share of your estate.
What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have in New Jersey?
In addition to your will, you should also create the following estate planning documents:
- Power of Attorney. With this document, you select a person you trust to make financial decisions if you are unable to due to incapacity. Or you can even name someone to handle your financial affairs out of convenience, for example, if you travel frequently.
- Health Care Directive. A health care directive or living will lets you specify your wishes for end-of-life care, life-sustaining treatment, and pain management. You can also name someone who will make health care decisions for you if you cannot do so for yourself.
Fortunately, making a valid will and creating other New Jersey estate planning documents is easy with online estate planning templates.