In general and in an overall view, if a person dies without a Last Will & Testament (Intestate) several matters of concern normally come into play including but not limited to the following:
a. All joint assets of the decedent go to the surviving person(s) identified as the joint owners thereof, if they have the legal right to ownership rights of the share held by the decedent;
b. All insurances, pension benefits, IRAs or bank accounts payable on death and the like go to the person(s) named thereon as beneficiary of the asset;
c. Workers Compensation benefits go to those persons who are a “dependent” of the decedent and the Law in New Jersey has interpreted “dependent” liberally;
d. Assets that are subject to a preexisting Contract pass in accordance with the terms and provisions of that Contract;
e. Assets in the decedent’s name are distributed in accordance with Intestacy Law. In other words, the State will tell everyone who may be involved who gets what and how much of the Intestate share s/he is entitled to.
Intestate Share Distributions
Under the current laws in New Jersey, distribution of assets to the decedent’s next of kin is accomplished in accordance with the decedent’s familial circumstance at the time of death, as follows:
(Note: The following words “child”,” children”, “grandchildren” mean and include persons of any age and is not restricted to persons only under the age of 18 years)
a. The surviving spouse is entitled to all of the all of the assets provided the decedent is not survived by children, grandchildren or parents.
b. If the decedent is survived by a spouse and children who are also the children of the spouse, the spouse receives the first $50,000 plus one-half of the balance of the estate. The children receive the other one-half of the balance divided equally amongst them. If a child dies before the decedent leaving grandchildren of the decedent then the grandchildren take their deceased child’s share. If the all of decedent’s children die before the decedent then all of the decedent’s grandchildren share equally.
c. If the decedent is survived by a spouse and children who are not also the children of that spouse (children from a prior marriage), the surviving spouse receives one-half, the children receive one-half divided equally. If a child dies before the decedent leaving grandchildren of the decedent then the grandchildren take their deceased child’s share. If the all of decedent’s children die before the decedent then all of the decedent’s grandchildren share equally.
d. If the decedent dies leaving children and the decedent has no spouse, the children receive all divided equally among them. f a child dies before the decedent leaving grandchildren of the decedent then grandchildren take their deceased child’s share. If the all of decedent’s children die before the decedent then all of the decedent’s grandchildren share equally.
e. If the decedent is survived a spouse and there are no children or grandchildren, and if the decedent’s mother or father is still living, the serving spouse receives the first $50,000 of the decedent’s Estate plus one-half of the balance and the surviving parent(s) gets the remaining half.
f. If the decedent is not survived by a spouse, children, or grandchildren, then the decedent’s parent(s) receive the rest. If both parents are dead then the Estate goes to the decedent’s siblings in equal shares.
g. If the decedent dies and is not survived by a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, brothers or sisters, then the estate will be divided equally among closest persons in degree of kinship (beginning with nieces and nephews).
h. If the decedent dies and is not survived by any next of kin the assets of the estate escheat to the State of New Jersey.
The Court will then appoint an Administrator for an intestate estate. In general, the Administrator will assemble the assets, pay the taxes and distribute the assets to those persons entitled to same.
If the Decedent dies leaving a child or children under 18, and there is no legal guardian the County Surrogate must appoint one for the child or children. Importantly, both the Administrator and Guardian will be required to obtain Surety Bonds and depending on the size of the Estate, which is how insurance companies calculate rates, this can constitute an expensive item.
Surety Bonds, are, in essence, bonds issued by a bonding company to protect minors, creditor and beneficiaries against the mishandling of the administration of Estate finances which could otherwise cause significant monetary damages and/or losses.
Accordingly, it is imperative to consult with an experienced legal counsel, such as my law firm which emphasizes Probate, Administration, and Litigation of Estates.