Everything you need to know about NJ wills.
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A last will and testament is a legal document that contains instructions about who gets your belongings when you die and lets you choose a guardian for your minor child. A will is the first step to creating a solid estate plan, which often includes other documents like a durable power of attorney, living will, and trust. You need a will in New Jersey to make sure your loved ones get the assets you want them to have — otherwise, a court may determine who gets what according to state law.
Live somewhere else? See our guide to making a will in your state.
The most common ways to make a will are:
Hiring an estate planning attorney
Making an online will
Writing one on your own from scratch or by filling out a form
An estate lawyer will probably charge a few hundred to thousands of dollars to draft your will, but the added cost may be necessary if you have many high-value assets to give away, or if you have beneficiaries with special needs.
You can also make a will without a lawyer in New Jersey by using an online will service, which is often cheaper and can provide step-by-step guidance. Some services may even allow you to pay for legal advice a la carte or on a subscription basis.
The cheapest way to make a will is by writing it on your own or downloading a free template, but free wills typically only provide the basics and may not be customizable for your circumstances.
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A handwritten will that hasn’t been signed by witnesses, also known as a holographic will, is allowed in New Jersey, but it must be written and signed in the testator's handwriting. (§3B:3-2) 
A will must fulfill certain legal requirements in order to be valid. Firstly, the testator (person writing the will) must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind (§3B:3-1). They will also need to name beneficiaries to receive their assets.
You need at least two people who are "generally competent" to witness to a will in New Jersey, and there is nothing in the state legal statutes that prevents a beneficiary of the will from acting as witness. Each witness must sign within a reasonable time period after watching the testator sign or getting the testator’s acknowledgement. (§3B:3-8)
Learn more about witnessing a will.
New Jersey law doesn't have any explicit requirements for choosing an executor, as long as the person is an adult. But a court is allowed to remove an executor if it considers them incompetent, or if the executor has committed fraud. Out-of-state executors are allowed, but may have to post an executor bond. (§3B:14-21; §3B:15-1)
See also: Can an executor of a will be a beneficiary?
Wills in New Jersey do not need to be notarized in order to be valid — but if you want to make the will self-proved by including an affidavit, you and your witnesses should sign it in front of a notary public. (You typically have to pay a small notary fee.) A self-proving affidavit makes it so that your witnesses do not have to appear in probate court to confirm their signatures after you die, and having one can greatly shorten the time it takes for beneficiaries to receive assets. (§3B:3-4)
Wills in New Jersey can be changed up until the testator’s death. If you want to make changes to your will, you can do so by adding a codicil or writing a new will and destroying the old one. You may also want to expressly state in your new will that it replaces any previous wills. Codicils and new wills must be signed and witnessed again in order to be valid.
During the testator's lifetime, the will can be registered, but not yet filed, for a small fee with the Office of the Secretary of State, which keeps a Will Registry. Registering your will in New Jersey means submitting basic information about your will, not storing the will itself.
After the testator dies, the executor can file the will with the local Surrogate's Court or Superior Court, but it won't be probated by the court until 10 days after the date of recorded death.
When a person dies without a will, there is no appointed executor, so someone must act as personal administrator to oversee the probate process, which includes determining who inherits the deceased’s assets. (More on that below.)
Learn more about what happens when you die without a will.
The court will determine your heirs when you’ve died intestate (without a will). A surviving spouse typically has a right to claim at least some of a deceased’s estate. Here’s how much a surviving spouse would receive under a few different circumstances (§ 3B:5-3):
|If the decedent is survived by a spouse and:||Surviving spouse's share|
|Children from a surviving spouse, and the surviving spouse does not have children from a previous relationship||Everything|
|No children, parents, siblings, nephews/nieces||Everything|
|Parents, but no children from the surviving spouse||First 1/4 of the estate, but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000, plus 3/4 of the remaining intestate estate|
|Children from a surviving spouse, who also has kids from a previous relationship||First 1/4 of the estate, but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000, plus 1/2 of the remaining intestate estate|
|Decedent has kids from a previous relationship||First 1/4 of the estate, but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000, plus 1/2 of the remaining intestate estate|
Otherwise, when there is no surviving spouse, then the estate passes along in the following order according to intestate succession: (§ 3B:5-4)
Children, or their children
Siblings, or their children (nieces/nephews)
Grandparents, or aunts/uncles
For someone to receive the estate, there must not be anyone left in the category above them. If an inheritor is dead, then their share typically passes to their children by a per stirpes designation.
If you receive an inheritance — regardless of whether there was a will, you may have to pay a tax on it because New Jersey is one of six states that has an inheritance tax.
You can use Policygenius to create a will today, so the courts don't decide what happens to your property.
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