Wills in New Jersey

by Beverly Bird
New Jersey has generous laws regarding the effect of separation or divorce on your will.

New Jersey has generous laws regarding the effect of separation or divorce on your will.

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New Jersey is more flexible than some states in its laws covering wills and estates. Anyone at least 18 years of age and of sound mind can make a will. While this is the norm among most jurisdictions, New Jersey has also passed progressive legislation to make it easy for your next of kin to locate your will after you pass away and to limit spouses’ shares to an estate under some circumstances. New Jersey recognizes domestic partnerships and the laws that apply to spouses also pertain to domestic partners.

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Legal Formats

In New Jersey, all wills must be in writing. Oral wills, also called nuncupative wills, are not legal. If you are unable to sign your name to your will for some reason, the state will allow someone else to do it for you as long as it happens in your presence and at your direction. Holographic or handwritten wills are accepted as long as the signature and all the “material” portions relating to bequests and your executor are in your handwriting. You can self-prove your will either at the time you sign it or at a later date by signing a sworn statement in front of a notary public that it is authentic. Your witnesses must also sign the statement in front of a notary and they must be the same ones who signed your will.

Witness Requirements

Holographic wills do not require witnesses in New Jersey. Printed wills need two witnesses. The state has no restrictions against them also being beneficiaries under the terms of your will.

Spouses’ Rights

Like most states, New Jersey does not allow you to disinherit a spouse. However, its statutes provide that someone stops being your spouse for purposes of inheriting from your estate when a complaint for divorce is filed. You can also simply live apart if it can be proved that you are doing so for reasons that can be considered grounds for divorce. The state does not require that you actually have a final decree. Otherwise, if you are living together and you attempt to omit your spouse from your will or leave her only a nominal share, she has the right to elect to take one-third of the value of your estate instead.

Beneficiaries

A beneficiary must survive you by 120 hours in New Jersey or the state treats the bequest you made to him as though he predeceased you. If your will contains no specific directions as to what you want to happen in this event, then New Jersey’s “anti-lapse” law will give his bequest to his descendants as long as they are also related to you. If they are not, the bequest reverts to your estate. If you are planning to disinherit a child in New Jersey, make sure the language in your will is very clear to that effect or the state will assume you forgot to mention him and give him a share. Any bequest you make to your spouse is automatically invalidated if you are divorced.