A recent article in the Star Ledger took a look at the way marriage and remarriage can quickly complicate an estate. The specific problem the article examined was how stocks and bonds purchased by a woman’s first husband are to be distributed after her death and the death of her second husband, where she leaves no will. Do those assets go to the children of the second husband or remain within the woman’s family? Good question.
Any property the woman held jointly, as tenants by the entirety, with her second husband would pass to him or his descendants automatically upon her death. But absent a will indicating otherwise, property which is in the sole name of the woman or registered as jointly owned with right of survivorship by her and her first husband should be used to pay for expenses of her estate when she dies. Those expenses include funeral costs, estate administration expenses, and any remaining debts. Any property remaining after these expenses passes by intestacy. Intestacy law provides the basic distribution scheme for property which is not disposed by will.
Under New Jersey’s intestacy law, any remaining property left by a woman who married twice will be split in half, with one half going to her second husband or his descendants and the other half going to the woman’s descendents.
Unfortunately, estates are not always administered properly at the time of death. Sometimes descendants don’t realize until years later that things weren’t done properly. One good place to start on these matters is with the surrogate’s office in the county where the deceased person lived at the time of his/her death. From there, it can be determined whether the assets in the estate were properly disposed.
Another resource to be aware of is the New Jersey unclaimed property list, at unclaimedproperty.nj.gov, which lists any lost or forgotten assets. Claims on such property can, in most cases, be made at any time, even by heirs.
In cases where property has not been properly disposed, it may be necessary to contact step-brothers and sisters in an effort to determine the existence and nature of any assets. Such situations are not always filled with courtesy and respect, and it may be necessary to hire an attorney. A good attorney will be helpful even when matters are relatively uncomplicated and straightforward, simply to ensure that things are done properly.
Source: nj.com, “Steps to tracking down a parent’s estate,” Karin Price Mueller, Sep 26, 2011.