By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Estate Probate Litigation Attorney

Mom always said she was leaving everything to a client’s brother and daughter equally when they came in to see me. Mom was a widow and died just after Christmas. When her will was found the kids were named as beneficiaries, but mom never signed it! What do they do now? Her main assets are a brokerage account of about $130,000 of which both children are named as death beneficiaries, and a second brokerage account of $110,000 that names her estate as death beneficiary. Does her estate have to go through probate now?

The brokerage account naming the clients as co-death beneficiaries will be divided and pass to each child equally without probate. She must notify the broker and provide a death certificate. Without a signed will, mom died intestate since her unsigned will is not valid. (If it was handwritten it could qualify as a holographic will and qualify for probate. See my blog posts on holographic wills, Click Here. Unfortunately, that means probate is necessary for that second account, and the client will have legal and administrative costs that could have been avoided had she named each child as the beneficiaries of that account. The probate court will award each child half of that account. If there are other children, or if there are grandchildren from a deceased child, they may also be entitled to a share of the account, even if she intended to cut them out.

As a practical matter, the client should keep looking to see if they can find a signed original will somewhere.

To discuss your NJ Estate Probate questions and matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.