Is a wife the sole beneficiary of her late husband’s estate if he died without a Will?

My father recently passed and did not leave a will his wife whom is not my mother claims that without a Will she is entitled to all of his assets/belongings/personal effects. Is what she says true and, if not, what should be my next step. She refuses to speak to me.Im aware of most properties and accounts my father has the ones that were acquired before his marraige to her and properties and accounts are in more than one state.

Asked on January 31, 2019 under Estate Planning, New Jersey

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

In the case when someone dies without a Will, they are said to have died "intestate". This means that the laws of the state in which they were domiciled at the time of their death will control the distribution of the estate. Such a division would be between the surviving spouse and the remainder to the children of the deceased. Specifically, in NJ, since your father's wife is not your mother then she inherits the first 25% of the estate (but not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000) plus 1/2 of the balance; you inherit everything else (or share it with your siblings, if any). However, not all assets don’t go through probate so aren’t affected by intestate succession laws. For example, life insurance proceeds, funds in an IRA, 401(k) or other retirement account, assets held in a transfer-on-death (TOD) account, or property owned with someone else in joint tenancy. These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the maned beneficiary.

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

In the case when someone dies without a Will, they are said to have died "intestate". This means that the laws of the state in which they were domiciled at the time of their death will control the distribution of the estate. Such a division would be between the surviving spouse and the remainder to the children of the deceased. Specifically, in NJ, since your father's wife is not your mother then she inherits the first 25% of the estate (but not less than $50,000 or more than $200,000) plus 1/2 of the balance; you inherit everything else (or share it with your siblings, if any). However, not all assets don’t go through probate so aren’t affected by intestate succession laws. For example, life insurance proceeds, funds in an IRA, 401(k) or other retirement account, assets held in a transfer-on-death (TOD) account, or property owned with someone else in joint tenancy.
These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the maned beneficiary.


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