Most people know that they should have a will, but many don't know what a will is and how it works.
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 do-it-yourself will software or online will programs. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or if you want to disinherit your spouse, you should talk with an attorney. Nolo's will-making products tell you when it's wise to seek a lawyer's advice.
To finalize your will in New Jersey:
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.
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 will software and online will 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).
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.