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Do You Need a Will?

A recent newspaper article said that 71 percent of adults under age 34 do not have wills. Even more surprising was the fact that 41 percent of adults over 60 do not have wills. The article went on to say that one of the reasons why persons do not have wills is the perception that wills are too expensive. Another reason is that some people believe they do not need wills if they place their assets into joint names with another. Finally, some believe that recent changes in the New Jersey laws of intestacy, whereby the majority of their assets will pass to their spouses, means that they do not need a will to protect their surviving spouse. In almost all cases, these reasons are not valid.

The cost of a simple will with all assets going to the surviving spouse and then to the children in most cases is less than $200 per will. Of course, the cost will be higher if the will contains more complicated provisions, such as a trust. In most cases the cost of preparing a will is far less than the cost of not having a will. For example, the probate laws of New Jersey require every executor and administrator to have to post a surety bond to insure that the estate assets are protected. The cost of the bond, which is paid out of the estate, can run into thousands of dollars depending on the size of the estate. By having a will, you can waive the requirement that the executor post a bond. The savings of not having to post a bond far outweighs the cost of having a will prepared.

Placing your assets into joint names with another person, such as a spouse or your children does not mean that you do not need a will. The most common example why this is false, is what happens if the other joint account holder should pass away before you? In such a case, the assets would pass back into your name. If you are competent you can open a joint account with another person. But what happens if you are not competent to open another account? The assets would then be in your name and pass under the laws of intestacy. This may not be what you want.

The laws of intestacy have changed in recent years in New Jersey with most of the assets passing to the surviving spouse provided that the surviving spouse is the parent of children. In the case of a second marriage with the decedent having children from a prior marriage, the assets are divided between the surviving spouse and the decedent's children. Also, the persons you are seeking to protect may not be covered under the laws of intestacy.

All of these can be avoided by simply having a will. We advise all persons to have wills to protect their assets for their loved ones.