What happens when someone dies without a Will in New Jersey? Unless the individual signs a Will, he or she will have an intestate estate. That is, the individual’s future estate will not be governed by a Will. For the reasons discussed below, an intestacy (or an estate estate) often means confusion and problems.
A Will can actually save you money.
“When I pass away, I want my heirs to fight with each other and the tax authorities about my estate.” Said no one caring, ever. An intestate estate can be fraught with hidden risks. Here’s why that is, and what you can do to avoid leaving your heirs with a mess.
Compared to New York and the nearby City Philadelphia, New Jersey has “probate friendly” rules of court and readily accessible resources. Throughout New Jersey and especially in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties, the Surrogate’s Courts are well-run government offices. The Surrogates’ Courts are typically staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable employees. They can explain probate procedures. Their websites may contain helpful information and forms. A great example of this is my home county of Burlington’s website: https://co.burlington.nj.us/541/Forms-Documents. “
Intestate Estates are not “probate friendly.”
One would expect an intestate estate administration here in Marlton, New Jersey to be easy. However, the administration of a intestate estate is just as likely to be “probate friendly” as a “friendly divorce” is pleasant. You (or your parent or spouse) should not take intestate succession for $1.
A carefully designed estate plan brings peace of mind and can pay for itself.
Without a Will, there can be uncertainty and discord among relatives. If your adult children, Johnny and Jimmy, can’t get along at holiday dinners, how will they ever agree on how your estate is divided or who gets the family heirlooms? Even if there is family harmony, without a Will, your estate can be at risk, especially if there are minor children or creditors with large debt. For instance, if you pass away leaving a home subject to a mortgage, and your adult heirs do not apply to administer your estate, your mortgage company can. The mortgagor will have an interest in selling the home as quickly as possible to pay off the mortgage, while the heirs living in the home will want to remain in the home. Such a situation can occur if you have an extended illness, and miss several mortgage payments. Why would you want your heirs to face such a situation? To ensure stability for your heirs, it is better to appoint in your Will someone you can rely on to administer your estate.
Having a Will Frees Your Heirs from A Bond Requirement.
Another reason not to take intestate succession for $1 is that your personal representative will be stuck with the probate bonding requirement. Whoever is appointed in an intestate estate, (except for a spouse in a small estate), will probably have to post a bond. While there are some exceptions, such as for a spouse in a small estate, the exceptions are limited. A bond is like insurance. Like insurance, a probate bond has a premium. Without access to the decedent’s finances, the individual applying for appointment will have to pay the bond premium from his or her own personal funds and seek reimbursement from the estate later on. If the individual seeking appointment had a criminal conviction (even in the distant past), or poor credit, getting bonded can be a problem.
It may be possible to obtain a court order waiving the bond requirement, however, as with any court proceeding, there will be additional costs. Such costs can include probate and court filing fees, attorney’s fees, and mailing costs. If a court order is sought to waive the bond requirement in an intestate estate, delays will also result due to the period of notice that must be given to all other interested parties, which can include creditors, the other Will beneficiaries, and in the case of a charitable request, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office. With a valid Will in place, you can save time, money and agita, for your heirs. It is far more cost-efficient and quicker to avoid these hassles by having your Will prepared properly with a responsible personal designated as the Executor of your estate and a provision in your Will waiving the bond requirement.
Without a will, or with an inartfully drafted Will prepared by a layperson, there can be uncertainty and even litigation, over who will plan the funeral and how the decedent’s debts, expenses, and taxes (such as Inheritance taxes) will be paid and how money will be invested for a minor child. Without a Will establishing a minor’s trust, property left to a minor is required to be deposited with the Surrogate’s Court, in the Surrogate’s Intermingled Trust Fund (SIFT). In case you are not familiary with the SITF, here is some background information. Guardianship of Minors | Gloucester County, NJ (gloucestercountynj.gov).
A Will Can Protect Minor and Disabled Beneficiaries.
Funds left to minors through intestate estates or through beneficiary designations are invested at bank rate in the Surrogate’s Intermingled Trust Fund (SITF). Neither the minor nor the minor’s parents have any ability to select more productive investments. The funds will generally not be released without a court order until the minor claims the funds upon attaining the age of legal majority. Allowing an inheritance by a minor to be held in the SITF does protect the funds for the child until child attains the age of majority. However, a testamentary trust or facility of distribution provision in your WIll can enable the funds to be invested at higher rates of return than bank rates and can facilitate distributions for the benefit of the minor for purposes such as health, education, maintenance and support, without the cost, delay and uncertainty inherent in applying for a court order.
A Will Can Help Manage Digital Assets.
A properly crafted Will and estate plan can also protect digital assets. These can include assets such as software, business and professional websites, blogs, spreadsheets, presentations, photographs, social media accounts, blockchain technology, online ledger accounts, Cryptocurrency (such as bitcoin, Ethereum, ETR, and Litecoin) and online stores. Many of these assets can be monetized and/or have quantifiable value. Without a Will with digital asset provisions, access to the decedent’s digital accounts and private keys can be denied or delayed absent appropriate documentation on behalf of the estate. This can leave the administrator in the difficult position of having to pay death taxes on assets that there is no or delayed access to, forcing the administrator to come up with another source of cash, or worse, having to deal with a death tax audit.
A Will Can Help Prevent Probate Litigation.
When an individual or a family member drafts a Will without an attorney’s review, this can be an invitation for probate litigation. For an interesting article on what can happen when an estranged relative challenges a will, see Can estranged relatives contest your will after you die? | Legalzoom. The good news is that you can minimize the risk of probate litigation with a properly prepared estate plan prepared by a competent attorney.An experienced. knowledgeable and caring estate planning attorney can help you legally avoid, minimize or plan for death taxes, including the New Jersey Inheritance tax.
A tax savvy estate planning attorney can also help ensure that digital assets are properly planned for and that tax-efficient beneficiary designations are in place for your qualified retirement accounts. This is important to maximize income tax savings for the heirs.
These are just a few of the many reasons why estate planning is important to avoid the hidden perils of intestacy. For more information and solutions, For more information, visit the firm’s website at Fearn-Zimmer Elder Law (fearnzimmerelderlaw.com) or call to schedule an appointment at telephone number (856) 938-8578, or email Jane at email@example.com.