A will is, in many cases, the simplest, quickest and most affordable estate planning tool available. In spite of this, a huge number of people die intestate — without a will — each year. If you die without a will in New Jersey, the state’s intestate succession laws dictate what happens to your assets.
New Jersey’s intestate succession laws are a complex system of rules peppered with many interesting provisions.
1. Halves and Steps
A “half” sibling, meaning a sibling with whom you have only one parent in common, inherits as if he or she had both parents in common. Adopted children inherit to the same extent as biological children. Stepchildren or foster children who you did not legally adopt do not inherit at all in most cases.
2. Posthumous relatives
Relatives who are born after your death inherit as if they had been born during your lifetime, so long as:
- They were conceived before your death, and
- They live for at least 120 hours.
3. Survivorship requirement
Under New Jersey’s intestate laws, a person can only inherit from your estate if he or she outlives you by at least 120 hours. For example, if you and your spouse were in an accident and your spouse died a few hours after you, he or she would not inherit anything.
4. Escheat to state
Your assets will only go to the state if you truly have no living relatives. This includes parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, great uncles, great aunts, any cousins whatsoever and even descendants of a spouse who died before you.
Through intestate succession laws, the state attempts to divide your estate among your closest living relatives. A better solution is usually to execute a will during your lifetime.