If you die without a Last Will and Testament you are deemed to have died "intestate" and both New Jersey and Pennsylvania have statutes that outline a hierarchy of relatives which will determine who has a right to your Estate and how much of the Estate they will receive. These statutes also dictate who will be responsible for distributing your assets and making a proper accounting with the Court.
However, you can take control of your own Estate and dictate the manner in which you want your Estate to be handled after you are gone by having a simple Will. A Will is an inexpensive way to avoid the State's intestate laws and a Will allows you to pre-determine who receives your hard earned assets after you die.
In a Will you may outline specific bequests, where you list specific assets/objects in your Estate which you may want to leave to someone in particular. Intestate statutes do not permit this. Through a Will, you may leave specific bequests to anyone you wish and you are not bound by the hierarchy established by the intestate statutes. In a Will you can outline exactly who receives the rest of your Estate after specific bequests are distributed, called the residue, and instruct how the residue is divided among multiple beneficiaries. Again, this allows you to divide your Estate amongst whomever you desire, whereas the intestate statutes limit possible beneficiaries by their hierarchy classes.
Finally, a Will gives you the power to determine the Executor/Executrix of your Estate. The Executor is responsible for distributing your assets according to the instructions left in your Will and the Executor is also responsible for taking the appropriate legal actions with the proper court in your state. The intestate statutes determine who has a claim of right for this duty, but through a Will, you can decide for yourself who you trust is capable to do the job properly.
With a simple Will, you control the destiny of the belongings you took a lifetime to accumulate. Do not give the State the power to make those decisions for you by failing to have a valid Will at your death.
THE FOREGOING IS A GENERAL DISCUSSION OF THE LAW AND SHOULD NOT BE INTERPRETED TO BE LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC QUESTION, PLEASE CONTACT OUR OFFICE AND SPEAK TO AN ATTORNEY