Who gets your property if you die without a last will and testament in New Jersey? To answer this question, you must know which family members survived the decedent. For example, whether the decedent has a surviving spouse, children, parents or more distant living relatives. Each State has enacted an intestate succession law, which is a government mandated estate plan for when a person dies without a Will. Here is a link to the New Jersey statute for reference.
The answer to this inquiry depends on which family members or relatives survived the person who died (the decedent) without a Will. This page seeks to explain in clear terms with simple examples what happens to a person’s probate assets if he or she dies intestate in New Jersey.
Before the examples begin, remember, property that is held joint with the right of survivorship or that has a beneficiary designation will not follow the intestacy statute. Each example below has a pictograph example, simply click on the box to the right. As always, please contact us for a free consultation if you have any questions.
We start with some fairly straightforward examples, then move onto more complex family situations at number 8 below.
1 – Husband and Wife are married, Husband dies with surviving spouse but no surviving parents or children. This is as simple as it gets. The surviving wife inherits the entire probate estate.
2 – Husband is married to his partner, both die together in a car accident, survived by their two minor adopted children. The surviving adopted minor children each inherit equal one-half (1/2) shares of the probate estate of each decedent.
2.1 – Husband and Wife are married, they die together in a car accident leaving one surviving child and two surviving grandchildren from a predeceased child. All probate assets of each decedent are divided into per stirpital shares at the child level. The surviving child inherits one-half (1/2) of the probate estate. The grandchildren divide the remaining one-half (1/2); meaning each inherits a one-quarter (1/4) of the probate estate.
2.2 – Husband and Wife are married with and two sons, all die together in car accident; one son survived by one daughter, one son survived by three sons. The probate assets of each decedent are divided into per stirpital shares at the grandchild level. The surviving grandchildren each inherit a one-quarter (1/4) share of the probate estate.
3 – Man dies unmarried with no children, survived by both parents. The probate estate is divided equally among the surviving parents. Each parent inherits a one-half (1/2) share of the probate estate.
4 – Man dies survived by a brother and no surviving spouse, children or parents. The man’s brother inherits the entire probate estate.
4.1 – Woman dies with surviving brother, two surviving nephews of another predeceased brother, and no surviving spouse, children or parents.The estate is divided into per stirpital shares at the sibling level. William’s living brother inherits one half (1/2) the probate estate. His deceased sister’s children split the remaining one-half share (1/2) each so each receives a one quarter (1/4) share.
5 – Woman married to her partner, woman dies survived by her partner and both parents (no children). Contrary to popular belief, the surviving wife does not inherit the entire probate estate. The surviving spouse receives the first twenty-five (25%) of the probate estate (but not less than $50,000.00 or more than $200,000.00) plus an additional three-quarter (3/4) share of the remaining probate estate. The remainder of the probate assets is divided into equal shares for the woman’s surviving parents.
6 – Husband and Wife are married, Husband dies with surviving spouse, their two children, and his parents. The surviving spouse receives the entire probate estate
7 – Husband and Wife are married, husband dies with surviving spouse, a child of both he and his Wife, and a child of only his Wife’s (step-child). The surviving spouse receives the first twenty-five percent (25%) of the probate estate (but not less than $50,000.00 or more than $200,000.00) plus one-half (1/2) of the balance of the probate estate. The remaining probate estate passes to his surviving child. The step-child receives nothing. However, the surviving spouse could leave her entire share to the step-child by Will.
7.1 – Husband and Wife are married, husband dies with surviving spouse, a child of both he and his Wife, and a child of his from a previous marriage. The surviving spouse receives the first twenty-five percent (25%) of the probate estate (but not less than $50,000.00 or more than $200,000.00) plus one-half (1/2) of the balance of the probate estate. The remaining probate estate passes in equal shares to his surviving children.
This is where our analysis becomes tricky. So long as there are lineal descendants of the decedent’s grandparents the probate estate passes to a relative. Otherwise, property may also pass to step-children of the decedent or if no other heirs can be found the probate estate passes to the State of New Jersey.
The first step of the analysis is to divide the probate estate into two equal shares; one for the maternal grandparents (and their descendants) and one for the paternal grandparents (and their descendants). Note: If there are no surviving grandparents or descendants of grandparents on either side then no division takes place, and the estate passes entirely to the paternal side of the family and vice versa. In some examples, the discussion takes place solely on the paternal side however the same analysis is necessary on the maternal side.
8 – Man dies with both surviving maternal and paternal grandparents, but no spouse, children, parents or siblings. The probate estate is divided into equal one-half (1/2) shares, one for each of the maternal and paternal side of the family. Each grandparent inherits an equal one-fourth (1/4) share of the probate estate.
8.1 – Man dies with both surviving paternal grandparents (2) one surviving maternal grandparent (1), but no spouse, children, parents or siblings. The maternal grandparent inherits one-half (1/2) of the probate estate. The remaining one-half (1/2) is divided into equal shares for the paternal grandparents, each receives a one-fourth (1/4) share of the probate estate.
9 – Man dies with one surviving uncle, but no spouse, children, parents or siblings or grandparents. The maternal and paternal shares of the probate estate are divided into per stirpital shares at the Uncle level; the sole surviving uncle inherits the entire probate estate regardless of whether he is a maternal or paternal uncle.
9.1 – Same scenario as above except one uncle predeceases the man, leaving a surviving child (the man’s cousin). The cousin inherits the entire probate estate.
10 – Man dies with three surviving grandchildren of his paternal grandparents (1st cousins), but no spouse, children, parents or siblings or grandparents, aunts, or uncles. If there are living paternal grandchildren (1st cousins), probate estate is divided into three equal one-third (1/3) shares among them.
10.1 – Man dies with three surviving grandchildren of his paternal grandparents (1st cousins) and one surviving great-grandchild of his paternal grandparents, but no spouse, children, parents or siblings or grandparents, aunts, or uncles. The man’s first cousins and surviving great-grandchild each inherit equal one-quarter (1/4) shares.
11 – Man dies with no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings or grandparents, or descendants of grandparents. Man is survived by his step-daughter. The step-child inherits the entire probate estate.
12 – Husband dies with no surviving spouse, children, parents, grandparents, or descendants of grandparents, and no surviving step-children. The entire probate estate escheats to the State of New Jersey.
I hope this review of a complicated subject has been helpful to you. If you have further questions about intestate succession in New Jersey, feel free to contact us for a free consultation with one of our New Jersey Probate Lawyers.
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