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What Happens if a Person Dies Without a Will in NJ? Estate Administration, Not Probate

What happens if a person dies without a Last Will & Testament, is an issue many need to address.  When no Will and or Trust exists, estate administration can be more onerous and complex.  A person’s real and personal property to be marshaled upon passing is not distributed according to a person’s verbal and unwritten intentions (if known); rather, it is distributed according to the intestate laws of the State of New Jersey.  Hence the reason estate planning is important. If a person dies with assets but no Will or Trust, then a qualifying administrator of the estate must be issued Letters of Administration by the County Surrogate’s Office, or be appointed by the Court.

If a person owns assets or property jointly with another person or in Trust, then probate and estate administration is not necessary because ownership automatically goes to the surviving party. Certain tax and or other filings may be required, however.

If You Die Without a Will, Who Gets Your Estate Under New Jersey Laws?

When no will exists, the statutes of New Jersey provide for the distribution of property to heirs, which are know and referred to as the laws of “intestate succession.”  How property may be divided if there is no will is set forth in the chart below, where an estate is distributed in New Jersey if you do not have a Will. If you die without a will as a resident of New Jersey, state law provides the manner for distributing your property, and your net value of your estate after deduction of debts, taxes and family exemptions, etc., will be distributed to your heirs as follows:

  • Real estate and other property owned jointly by husband and wife are automatically owned by the survivor spouse.
  • Real estate and property with a beneficiary designation go to the person designated as the beneficiary.
  • A surviving wife or husband receives the entirety of the remaining estate if they have common descendants (children) born or legally adopted while the husband and wife are legally married. If the decedent has descendants and a surviving spouse but the descendants are from another relationship, separate from the surviving spouse then the surviving spouse is entitled to the first 25% of the decedent’s Estate but not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000. Thereafter 50% of the remaining assets of the decedent’s estate go to the surviving spouse and 50% is divided among the surviving descendants (children) equally. If the decedent leaves a surviving spouse, no children but a surviving parent(s) then the surviving spouse is entitled to 25% of the descendant’s estate but not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000. The remaining assets of the intestate estate go 75% to the surviving spouse and 25% to the decedent’s parents. If there are no surviving children or parents then the surviving spouse gets 100% of the decedent’s estate.
  • A child or children receive one-half of the estate balance divided equally, by representation.
  • If there are Grandchildren, they take their deceased parent’s share of the estate equally

All matters ae somewhat unique and not all estate cases are covered here.  Recall that the State of New Jersey takes your property if you have no Will and you do not have a spouse, child or descendants; parent(s); brother(s) or sister(s) and their descendants; grandparent(s); uncle(s), aunt(s) or their children; or their grandchildren.  Note that if any person fails to survive a decedent by 120 hours, he or she is deemed to have predeceased the decedent for purposes of intestate succession. New Jersey law determines who inherits the estate of a person dying without a Will, determined according to kinship/bloodline.  When there are no known relatives, the estate is in escheat and all property goes to the State of New Jersey.  Escheating to New Jersey is not a good thing, and to review how to avoid same, call 856.428.5577 or e-mail me [email protected] and set up an office consultation at your convenience.

Estate Administration (not probate) When No Will Exists

When no Will exists, an interested party may file Letters of Administration no sooner than ten (10) days after the date of a person’s death. The Surrogate’s Office will require certain information and several documents as to the application for Administrator of the Estate in order to process said application.  Often times there is a required estate bond which serves as an insurance policy that the Administrator will perform his or her duties. Estate bonding involves a financial evaluation of the prospective administrator and in some cases may be denied, and then not be able to serve as a personal representative to the estate. Should this happen, then immediately contact me at [email protected] or call us at 856-428-5577 and we can serve as substitute administrators in appropriate cases.  Once the bond is posted, the proposed Administrator will receive letters of administration and administrator certificates.

Estate Administration of a Small Estate When There is No Last Will

If there is a surviving spouse or domestic partner and the value of all property in the name of the decedent does not exceed $50,000.00 a simple Affidavit of Surviving Spouse, Civil Union or Domestic Partner can be issued by the County Surrogate allowing the husband, wife, partner to dispose of the property without formal estate administration.  When there is no spouse or domestic partner and the property does not exceed $50,000.00 in value, a close relative can file an affidavit to handle the disposition of the estate.

If total assets exceed $50,000.00, the County Surrogate must appoint an administrator. Before someone is appointed, all next of kin must renounce their rights to be administrator. The decision to renunciate should only be made after consultation with an experienced New Jersey Estate Administration, Probate attorney. Significant legal rights will be affected by an ill-advised refusal to serve as an administrator.  We’ve handled cases where the worst decision made by a family member was to renunciate their right to administer a loved one’s estate.  Contact us should you have any questions about the issue of renunciation to be estate administrator.

Who May Act as the Administrator of an Estate When There is No Will

Behind a spouse or domestic partner, the children of the deceased are next in line to act as administrator. Normally, only one child can act in this capacity; for example, if a decedent has four children, three children must renounce in favor of the other. If no children survive the deceased but he/she is survived by both parents, one parent must renounce in favor of the other. If no child or parent survives the deceased but he/she is survived by grandchildren, the grandchildren must renounce in favor of the third. If no children, parents, or grandchildren survive the deceased but he/she is survived by brothers/sisters, then the brothers/sisters must renounce in favor of the fifth.  As previously stated, renunciation is a serious decision that should be carefully evaluated in order to protect and ensure that all functions of executor/administrator are performed properly.

For clarification of these important estate issues, contact us at [email protected] or call us at 856-428-5577.

Office Address
Haddonfield Office
35 Kings Highway East
Ste. 212
Haddonfield, New Jersey 08033-0186
Phone: 856-428-5577
Text: 856-850-3900
Fax: 856-428-5969

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 284
Haddonfield, New Jersey 08033-0186
Phone: 856-428-5577