Here's a quick checklist for making a will in New Jersey:
A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:
In New Jersey, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. New Jersey's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, nieces or nephews, cousins of any degree, and the descendants of a spouse who died before you do. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.
No. You can make your own will in New Jersey, using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker program. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or you have especially complicated goals, you should talk with an attorney. See Do I Need an Attorney to Make My Estate Plan?
To make a will in New Jersey, you must be:
You must make your will on hard copy. That is, it must be on actual paper. It cannot be on an audio, video, or any other digital file. (Although, see "Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?," below.) Type and print your will using a computer, or you can use a typewriter. New Jersey does permit handwritten wills (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-2b) but they are usually not a good idea.
To finalize your will in New Jersey:
Although New Jersey allows interested witnesses who stand to inherit something from the will to act as witnesses (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-8), it's usually a good idea to have only disinterested witnesses sign the will to avoid any claim that the interested witness influenced the will maker.
Holographic wills do not need to be witnessed if the signature and all material portions are in your handwriting. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-2b.
No, in New Jersey, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.
However, New Jersey allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to go to a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.
To make your will self-proving, you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that states who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will. In New Jersey, you can do this at the time of signing your will (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-4) or after it (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-5).
Yes. In New Jersey, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's Quicken WillMaker produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.
If you have two wills and it's not clear whether the new will should revoke the old will, New Jersey has rules to make this determination. If you intended your will to replace the old will, it will replace it. New Jersey law presumes you meant to revoke the old will if the new one disposes of all of your estate. If the new will doesn't dispose of all of your estate, the new will only supplements or adds to the old will. Your executor should follow the instructions in both wills. If there are contradictory terms, your executor should follow the instructions in the new will regarding those specific terms. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-13.
If you and your spouse divorce (or if a court determines that your marriage is not legal), New Jersey law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse to be your executor. This rule also applies to relatives of your former spouse. This rule does not apply if you specifically state in your will (or divorce decree or contract relating to the division of your property) that divorce should not affect the provisions in your will or you happen to remarry your spouse. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-14. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.
If you need to make changes to your will, it's best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).
In a handful of states, you can make a legal will digitally—that is, you can make the will, sign it, and have it witnessed without ever printing it out. Although such electronic wills are currently available in only a minority of states, many other states are considering making electronic wills legal. New Jersey currently doesn't allow e-wills, but that may change in the future.
You can find New Jersey's laws about making wills here: New Jersey Revised Statutes Title 3B Administration of Estates - Decedents and Others Chapter 3 Individuals Competent to Make a Will and Appoint a Testamentary Guardian.