What happens if I die without a will?

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What Happens If I Die Without A Will

Drafting a will is often something that people talk about, but never get around to doing. Although having a will is recommended, the reality is that it not a priority for many people. There are many reasons for this. Young people may think estate planning is not something they need to do yet and thinking about your own death is not something most people want to do, no matter their age.

If you die without a will in New Jersey, your estate will go through the probate process and be distributed according to the state’s intestate succession laws. The first step is appointing a surrogate who will determine if your estate needs an administrator.

The size of your estate determines if an administrator is necessary. If you are married or in a domestic partnership or civil union, your spouse or partner has the right to serve as your administrator if your estate is over $50,000. If your estate is less than $50,000, they may still be your administrator, but may need to seek permission from the surrogate.

If you are single, the surrogate may appoint a close relative as administrator if your estate is over $20,000. Estates under $20,000 may not need an administrator, rather, a close relative can be tasked with distributing your estate.

Once the surrogate and potential administrators are determined, your estate is distributed according to the intestate succession laws. These laws can be complex and confusing, which is another reason having a will is important.

Spouses or domestic partners receive 100% of an estate under intestate succession laws. If there is no spouse or partner, the estate goes to the parents, and if there are no parents, to any surviving siblings, then to nieces or nephews.

Children make the process a little more complicated, with your estate being divided between your spouse or partner and children. Stepchildren typically do not receive a portion of your estate unless there are no other surviving relatives.

This is just a brief summary of the intestate succession process. If you are wondering about your potential share in the process after the death of a spouse or relative, or want to begin the will drafting process, help is available.


Michael Ritigstein is a Founding Partner of the firm concentrating his efforts in supporting the firm's litigation, corporate and estate matters. Mr. Ritigstein graduated from the University of Delaware in 1996 and Seton Hall University School of Law in 2000. In 2007 he received a Masters of Law in Taxation with a concentration in Estate Planning, from Temple University's Beasley School of Law.

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