From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: Before he died, my dad lived with me in Camden County, New Jersey for several years. My wife and I took him to the doctor and cared for him when he became bedridden. He died without a will and all his assets are being divided between my brothers and I equally. They never helped with his care. This is not fair. Can I make the estate pay me for my time?
Under New Jersey rules, your father could have made a will and given you the entire estate. Alternately, he could have made a Will that said you would receive more of his estate to reflect the work you did. Because he did not make a Will at all, the New Jersey intestate rule divides his assets between all children, equally. Prior to the assets being divided, all his creditors must be paid. This includes his funeral expense and final taxes.
Had he made an agreement with you and your wife that you would be paid for the care you provided him, then you would also be a creditor. That would have put you first in line for a distribution from the estate before the “family” share the state would require you to divide with your brothers.
However, it sounds from your description that you had no such agreement. Because family members regularly provide their parents with care, this care is considered a gift unless you can prove otherwise. Your brothers could agree to give you more of the estate to reflect your work, but that would be up to them.
Our team gets questions like these all the time from families who have put off this kind of planning out of fear, anxiety, or overwhelm. We’d much rather answer your questions long before the loss of a family member puts further strain on your relationships. If you have questions about probate in Camden County, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.