Dying Without a Will in NJ: Who is an Heir?

dying without a will in nj

Dying without a will in NJ doesn’t mean that the state has the rights to all of the decedent’s assets. This is an unfortunate misconception, possibly because of the term given to passing away without a will: “dying intestate.”

Normally, when someone dies, an estate executor has been named in their estate planning documentation (Last Will and Testament). The executor is the person responsible for making sure all of the decedent’s assets are properly distributed as directed in their will.

However, dying without a will means that no executor has been named. So, who is going to take care of everything? It can be easy to hit the panic button when you realize that someone close to you has died without a will in place. Luckily, there are established rules for when this happens.

When no executor or executrix has been named, the New Jersey Surrogate’s Court then has the burden of selecting someone to act as such. This person is chosen from a list of the decedent’s “heirs.” Sometimes, it can be confusing and even upsetting trying to figure out if you may be an heir to someone’s estate. Since it is a big responsibility, this act is left up to the court.

An heir to a New Jersey estate is usually, but not always, a person from this list:

Surviving spouse

Surviving civil union partner

Adult child of the decedent

Adult grandchild of the decedent

Parent of the deceased

Adult sibling

Adult niece or nephew

Typically, the NJ court will select a person from the above list of heirs to act as the estate administrator. An estate administrator is able to act in the same way as a named executor or executrix would have acted. They will be charged with the responsibility of acting fairly and legally while deciding how the deceased’s property should be handled.

The heir selected as estate administrator must be sure to repay any of the decedent’s creditors from estate assets before distributing property to anyone else. If you have been selected as a New Jersey estate administrator, it is a good idea to work closely with an estate attorney so that you can avoid making critical mistakes during this time.

As estate administrator, you must be familiar with the New Jersey estate laws that dictate how an intestate decedent’s estate can be handled. The last thing you want is to discover that you’ve made a costly error and that you will be responsible for repaying it personally.

New Jersey heirs and appointed administrators can seek counsel from an experienced estate planning attorney near you to ensure that you are abreast of all of the laws that relate to dying without a will in your state.


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