How to Create a Will in New Jersey: A Step-by-Step Guide

how to create a will

Creating a will is one of the most important parts of estate planning. A will ensures your assets and property will be distributed according to your wishes when you pass away.

While writing a will may seem daunting, having a plan in place can give you peace of mind, knowing your loved ones will be taken care of. This step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about how to make a legally valid will in New Jersey.

A Will: What is it? Why do you need one?

A will is a legally binding document that empowers you to determine the recipients of your property and assets following your demise. It also allows you to name an executor to handle your estate and pay any outstanding taxes and debts.

Without a will in place, your estate will go through probate and be distributed according to New Jersey’s intestate succession laws. This means a probate court will appoint someone to handle your estate.

Creating a will ensures your property will be distributed according to your wishes. It also designates someone you trust to execute your will and speeds up the probate process.

Steps to Make a Will in New Jersey

Follow these nine steps to create a valid last will and testament in New Jersey:

1. Determine Your Beneficiaries

Your first step is to decide who will inherit your assets and property. Typical beneficiaries include your spouse, children, and other close family members. However, you can name almost anyone as your beneficiary.

You’ll need to include each beneficiary’s full legal name to avoid any confusion. You can also name alternate beneficiaries in case your primary beneficiaries pass before you.

2. Choose an Executor

Your executor is accountable for submitting your will to probate and distributing assets to your named beneficiaries. Consider choosing a spouse, adult child, close friend, or estate planning attorney to take on the job.

Your executor should be someone you trust, who is organized and has the ability to provide sound guidance. Make sure the person is willing to serve as your executor as well.

3. Pick a Guardian for Minor Children

If you have children under 18, use your will to name a guardian to care for them. Discuss this matter with the person in advance to ensure they can and will accept guardianship.

Choose someone with strong values who can provide a stable environment for your kids. Also, consider naming an alternate guardian as a backup.

4. Be Specific About the Distribution of Assets

Create a detailed list of your assets, including bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement accounts, real estate, vehicles, and personal possessions. Then, assign beneficiaries for each item. You can leave all your assets to one person or distribute them among several beneficiaries.

If you have specific intentions for an item, like an heirloom passing to a certain child, make sure to document that in your will.

5. Choose Witnesses and a Notary

For your will to be valid in New Jersey, it must be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses. These witnesses should not be anyone named in your will. Many people choose close friends or colleagues to sign.

You can also make your will “self-proving” by signing it in front of a notary. This speeds up the probate process by validating your signature and mental state.

6. Sign Your Will

Once your will is written, review it carefully before signing. Make sure all beneficiaries are named, assets are assigned, and executor and guardian duties are defined. Then sign your full legal name in the presence of your two witnesses and notary (if using one).

Your witnesses will need to sign as well, affirming they saw you sign the will while of sound mind.

7. Store Your Will Safely

Keep the original signed copy of your will in a secure place like a fireproof safe or safe deposit box. Let your executor and close family know where it is stored. You may also want to give copies to your executor and will lawyer.

8. Review Your Will Regularly

Reviewing your will every few years and after major life events is wise. Events like births, deaths, marriages, or moves may require you to make a new will or add an amendment (called a codicil).

Updating it ensures your wishes are followed, and beneficiaries are protected.

9. Work with an Attorney

Hiring a Cinnaminson estate planning lawyer to help draft or review your will is highly recommended. An attorney can ensure your will is legally valid and your wishes are clearly documented. This gives you the ultimate peace of mind, knowing your estate plan is sound.

Can You Write a Will Without an Attorney in New Jersey?

Yes, you can create a will on your own in New Jersey if you meet all legal requirements. Your will must be in writing, signed by you, and witnessed by two adults to be valid.

However, writing a will without proper legal guidance can be risky. Even minor errors may cause your will to be invalidated after you pass away.

An estate planning lawyer can make sure your will is ironclad and protects your loved ones.

Work With the Simone Law Firm for Your New Jersey Estate Planning Needs

The Simone Law Firm has extensive experience helping New Jersey residents create customized estate plans. We guide you through every step of the will drafting and estate planning process.

Our team serves clients across New Jersey. We work hard to protect your assets and ensure a smooth transfer to your beneficiaries. Contact us today to discuss your situation and estate planning goals.

Author Bio

michael s. simone, esq.

Michael Simone is the Founder and Managing Partner of the Simone Law Firm, an estate planning law firm in Cinnaminson, NJ. With more than 20 years of experience in criminal defense, he has represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including estate planning, elder law, probate, real estate, and business law.

Michael received his Juris Doctor from the Rutgers University School of Law and is a member of the New Jersey Bar Association.

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