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What is a Valid Will in New Jersey?

Posted on Mon Oct 30, 2023, on Estate Planning

From Our “Ask a Question” Mailbag: My father passed away recently. As far as we knew, he never drafted or signed a Last Will and Testament. My father’s girlfriend and I were going through his home office after his passing. We found a piece of paper that described where he wanted his property to go. Is this a valid Will in New Jersey?

Paige Zirrith, Valid Will in New Jersey

Paige Zirrith, Estate Planning Lawyer

What Constitutes a Valid Will in New Jersey?

The requirements for one’s Last Will and Testament differ in each state. Most jurisdictions require the person creating the Will, the Testator, to observe certain formalities in the execution of the document, demonstrating the understanding of the impact of creating such a document. In New Jersey, creating a valid Will requires a writing that the Testator and two witnesses sign.  

Can an Informal Will Still be a Valid Will in New Jersey?

In a perfect world, everyone would consult an Estate Planning lawyer to draft an unambiguous Last Will and Testament before passing. However, this is not always the case. Often, individuals may not seek legal counsel but still desire to document their last wishes for how their real and personal property should be distributed after passing. When these cases arise, depending on the family dynamics and nature of the gifts made on the informal Will, whether the note is considered a valid Will could drastically change how the Estate is administered.

What Does a Document Need to be Considered a Valid Will in New Jersey?

A disposition without the formalities of a witnessed signed writing may still be a valid Will in New Jersey. If the Testator handwrites the material portions, such as the dispositions, of the documents and signs it, if they intended the document to function as their Will.

Depending on the situation, it may be simple or more complicated to conclusively determine whether the writing was intended to be the Last Will of the Testator. Frequently, evidence will need to be gathered and examined to determine the Testator’s true intent.

What if the Heirs Disagree about the Testator’s Intent?

Every family is different. When someone dies, there may be several individuals working together to administer their Estate. Without an appointed Executor or a conclusively valid Will, there is much room for disagreement. Being disorganized can add expense and conflict. 

As you can see, determining whether an individual left a valid Will may be more complicated than it may first seem. When there is a document that may or may not explain your family member’s last wishes, it is essential to interpret it correctly and honor their intentions. Especially with multiple family members involved, it may become necessary to contest a Will that fails to meet New Jersey requirements for a valid Will. 

This article is a quick overview, but if you want to read more, please follow this link to Estate Planning: Everything You Need to Know.

In Conclusion, How Do I Determine if My Loved One Left a Valid Will in New Jersey?

We hope you found this short article about valid Will requirements in NJ helpful. We have also included some links for more detailed information. Contact us if you want to know more or need our help with guardianship. Let our guardianship lawyers help you walk you through what can be a confusing process. Feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. 

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Article by Paige Zirrith, Probate Lawyer.

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Paige Zirrith, Valid Will, Wills

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