I have a small estate. Do I need a will?

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Q. My wife and I have paid our house off. We are retired and on a fixed income. How can I obtain a will to protect my property and the extremely small amount of money in my IRA? Or do I not even need one?
— Planning

A. It is a good idea for everyone to have a will.

Having this document will ensure the proper administration of your estate, including the marshaling of assets, the payment of expenses and most importantly, the distribution of property as you desire.

But if everything you own is owned jointly with rights of survivorship, is in trust or has a designated beneficiary, and provided you do not have significant debts and do not have income significant enough that you are filing a tax return, you may not need a will as everything will pass by operation of law to the joint holder of the property or the named beneficiary, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

Moreover, she said, if there are additional assets, New Jersey law will set forth who will be appointed as the administrator of the assets and who will be the beneficiary of the assets.

“Unfortunately, without a will, the requirement that the estate representative post a bond cannot be waived,” Romania said. “Therefore, except in small estates, a bond will need to be posted by the administrator.”

She defined a small estate as one without a will, one that passes to a spouse or domestic partner and does not exceed $50,000, or one without a will that passes to other heirs and does not exceed $20,000.

Consider meeting with an estate planning attorney who can help not only with planning for your death, but also consider planning for disability, making sure you prepare a power of attorney and advance health care directive, she said.

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This story was originally published on Nov. 27, 2023.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.