Inheritance and succession laws dictate the distribution of an individual’s assets when they die without a will, also known as dying intestate.
Each state in the United States sets its own laws, so they can vary greatly. Our discussion today reviews some of the rules for distributing the assets of someone who dies intestate.
In New Jersey, the order of intestate succession is determined by statute, which provides the rules for the order of inheritance among spouses, children, parents and other relatives.
Order of Inheritance Under Intestate Succession Laws in New Jersey
In New Jersey, intestate succession laws dictate that if you pass away without a will, the distribution of your estate depends on your surviving family members.
Specifically, if you have a spouse, registered domestic partner, or civil union partner, along with children who are also the offspring of the spouse or partner, the surviving spouse or partner is entitled to inherit the entire estate.
And there is no requirement to post a bond. A descendant is defined as the progeny of the decedent “across generations.”
Descendants are the blood relatives of the decedent. In other words, they are the biological children of someone in the decedent’s family tree, for example, parents, grandparents, cousins or nephews. A spouse is created by marriage or an equivalent legal relationship, including a registered domestic partner.
The surviving spouse of the decedent will receive the largest portion of the assets, while the remaining assets being divided among the children. When there are no surviving children, other family members, including parents, brothers and sisters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and grandparents, may be entitled to a share of the estate.
The legal sequence in which relatives inherit the deceased person’s estate In New Jersey is determined by state statute.
The deceased individual (referred to as the decedent) leaves a spouse (we use spouse here to include a registered domestic partner, or civil union partner) and children who are also the children of the spouse or legal partner, then the spouse receives all of the assets in the estate.
Surviving Spouse and Children of Another Marriage
If the decedent leaves a surviving spouse, and children of a prior marriage, the spouse receives the first 25% (but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000), plus half of the balance of the estate.
The children of the decedent share the remaining balance of the estate. If a child has died before the parent and that child produced grandchildren, the grandchildren share the balance that would have been their parent’s share.
Surviving Spouse, No Children and Parents
When the decedent had a spouse, but leaves no children, and is survived by a parent(s), then the e spouse receives the first 25% (but not less than $50,000, nor more than $200,000) plus three-quarters of the balance of the estate. The surviving parent(s) receive all other assets of the estate.
No Surviving Spouse, but Children
When a child survives the decedent, but no spouse survives, any children will take equal shares of the estate. If a child has died leaving his or her own children, then those grandchildren will take their deceased parent’s share.
No Surviving Spouse or Children but Parents or Brothers and Sisters
When there is no spouse or children and surviving parents, the parents inherit the entire estate. If there are no surviving parents, but surviving brothers or sisters, those siblings share the estate equally.
Here again, if a sibling predeceased the decedent, then their children (nieces and nephews of the decedent) take equally in any share that they would have inherited.
Surviving Spouse and Children
If you die leaving a spouse, registered domestic partner, or civil union partner and children, and the surviving spouse or legal partner has children from a previous relationship, the spouse receives the first 25% (but no less than $50,000 and no more than $200,000). Children of the decedent share the remaining balance of the estate.
Surviving Spouse and Only Stepchildren
Surviving stepchildren do not share in the estate of someone who dies without a will. If there is a surviving spouse and only stepchildren, the surviving spouse or legal partner receives 100% of the estate.
The New Jersey statute defines a descendant, a relative within a parent-child relationship across generations. When there are no children, spouse, parents or siblings, the estate goes to nieces, nephews and more distant relatives.
No Surviving Spouse or Other Descendants, Stepchildren
When there is no surviving spouse and no other descendants, such as parents, siblings, grandparents, or other direct descendants, the stepchildren share 100% of the estate.
Interests in the Intestate Estate Pass by the Rules of ‘Representation’
When a decedent’s intestate estate passes to descendants, as opposed to a spouse, it is dived “by representation.” In that process the estate it is distributed in equal shares divided among surviving descendants in the nearest generation and deceased descendants in the same generation.
Each surviving descendant is allocated one share, and any remaining shares are combined and divided among the remaining surviving descendants.
For example, if a decedent has three surviving children and one deceased child who left behind two children, the estate would be divided into four equal shares. Each surviving child would receive one share, and the remaining share would be divided equally between the two grandchildren of the deceased child.
In those cases when the decedent’s intestate estate passes “by representation” to the descendants of the deceased parents or grandparents.
The estate is divided into equal shares, with each surviving descendant allocated one share. The remaining shares are combined and divided among the surviving descendants, as if the surviving descendants had predeceased the decedent.
In this example, the estate of the decedent is divided into four equal shares: one for each surviving child and one for the two grandchildren of the deceased child.
This ensures that each surviving descendant receives an equal portion of the estate, while also providing for the deceased child’s children.
Distributing the Estate; The Role of the Administrator
An administrator is an individual appointed by the country Surrogate or the Chancery Court to manage the estate of the decedent and distribute the assets. Relatives may have a priorty to serve as administrator.
The administrator has an obligation to locate individuals who are entitled to a share of the estate.