The legal jargon concerning estate planning can often be confusing. If you have heard of intestate succession, you may wonder what it is. This term refers to what happens to your parents’ property if they die without a will.

New Jersey has laws regarding the proper administration of such an estate. While it is best to navigate such a complex situation with professional help, it is still important to understand what these general laws are to have an idea of what you will face.

Who will be in charge of the estate?

The first person the court will look to appoint as surrogate is a surviving spouse or domestic partner. If both have passed on, the next eligible person is you or another one of their children. You can file with the court to become the representative.

Who gets what?

The answer to this question is more complicated and depends on your family’s specific circumstances. Factors that affect how the court divides the estate include the following:

  • If there is a surviving spouse
  • How many children your parents have together
  • If any of your siblings are also deceased and have their own children
  • If there are any children from your parents’ previous relationships

When there is a surviving spouse and no children from prior partnerships, the spouse gets everything. Otherwise, spouses retain 25 percent (within a numerical range), and all the children of your parent split the rest. The share of any deceased children will go equally to their children if applicable. When no spouse is alive, distribution is equal among all children. If you are an only child with no children yourself and you die before your parents do, then other possible heirs include your parents’ parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.

It may not be too late

If one or both of your parents are still alive, then it is not too late to prevent the state dictating what happens to family property. Help your parents create a simple will and other necessary estate planning documents to ensure their assets go where they want them to.