Making a Will in New Jersey

How to make a will in New Jersey and what can happen if you don't.

By , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

Steps to Create a Will in New Jersey

Here's a quick checklist for making a will in New Jersey:

  1. Decide what property to include in your will.
  2. Decide who will inherit your property.
  3. Choose an executor to handle your estate.
  4. Choose a guardian for your children.
  5. Choose someone to manage children's property.
  6. Make your will.
  7. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
  8. Store your will safely.
  9. Deposit your will with the state's will registry, if desired.

Why Should I Make a New Jersey Will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

What Happens If I Don't Have a Will?

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.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will in New Jersey?

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?

What Are the Requirements for Making a Will in New Jersey?

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.

How Do I Sign my New Jersey Wil?

To finalize your will in New Jersey:

  • you must sign or acknowledge your will in front of two witnesses, and
  • your witnesses must sign your will within a "reasonable time" after you signed or acknowledged it. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-2.

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.

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

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).

Should My Will Name an Executor?

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.

Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

In New Jersey, you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

  • burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying all or part of your will
  • ordering someone else to burn, tear, cancel, obliterate, or destroy all or part of your will in front of you, or
  • making a new will that says it revokes the old will or has contradictory terms to the old will. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-13.

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).

Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?

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.

Where Can I Find New Jersey's Laws About Making Wills?

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.

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