A will is legal in New Jersey if it is handwritten or typed by a competent adult and witnessed by two other people. It is self-proving if it also has been notarized. Having a legal last will and testament ensures your surviving friends and family members follow your wishes when it comes time to distribute your assets and handle your final affairs. It also plays a key role in reducing the risk of estate litigation after your death.
Only Competent Adults Can File a Legal Will in New Jersey
New Jersey requires you to be over the age of 18 before you can write and execute a will. It is also important to note that the person executing the will must be legally competent to make this type of decision. In general, this means they must know:
- What a will does and the purpose of executing one; and
- What property do they own, where it is located, and who are their intended beneficiaries
Competence often becomes an issue when the person who created the will has a cognitive disability or dementia. Not knowing whether or not the loved one was competent when they wrote and signed their will is a common reason why family members contest a will.
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Witness Requirements for New Jersey Wills
New Jersey has different rules for handwritten wills and typed wills. Handwritten wills do not require the signature of any witnesses, as long as someone can verify it is the testator’s (i.e., the person whose will it is) own handwriting.
When a person types their will or prepares it with the help of an estate planning attorney, it must include their signature as well as the signature of two other people who witnessed them signing the will or otherwise acknowledging they approve of the will.
This may also apply if the person uses a template found online. Most estate planning law firms have a notary on hand to notarize the legal document and confirm all signatures are legitimate.
New Jersey Rules for Self-Proving Wills
While New Jersey does not require you to notarize a will to make it legal, there are significant benefits of getting it notarized. When a notary signs and stamps your will in New Jersey, this makes it “self-proving.”
This means the Surrogate will not need to take any additional actions to prove the will is authentic. In other cases, they must track down the witnesses to prove authenticity. This is why the probate process can be much faster with a notarized will.
When a New Jersey estate planning attorney prepares your last will and testament, they will likely ensure your will is self-proving. If you try to handle the process on your own, it is a good idea to have a notary meet with you and your witnesses to take care of this.
The New Jersey Will Registry
New Jersey also offers the option of entering your legal documents into the state’s will registry, which may make it easier to find and authenticate after your death. There is a small fee to file your will into the registry. It is important to note that if you opt not to register your will, your will is still legal as long as it meets the criteria.
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Having a Legal Will Has Many Benefits
Most estate disputes or litigation centers on estates without a valid will. Unfortunately, when someone dies without a will, it can cause significant disagreements between possible beneficiaries. Friends and family members argue over what their deceased loved one wanted, and sometimes this creates a rift that lasts for years.
The best way to avoid this is to have a valid, legal will that clearly outlines your intentions and wishes, and names a trustworthy executor to handle the administration of your estate. At Bratton Estate & Elder Care Attorneys, our estate planning attorneys can help you create a comprehensive estate plan that not only states your wishes but also stands up to legal scrutiny.
Talk to a New Jersey Estate Planning Lawyer About Your Will
If you have questions about the legal standing of your will, or if you need help executing a legal will, the team from Bratton Estate & Elder Care Attorneys can help. Our New Jersey team consists of not only estate planning attorneys, but also social workers and a registered nurse. We will get to know your family and your specific needs and help you draft a will that addresses them.
Contact us at 856-857-6007 to learn more or to get started today.