Divorce and remarriage in New Jersey are very common in this day and age. Complex family structures are often one result of this phenomenon. One result of all of this is more complex estate planning. When both partners have offspring from prior marriages and possibly children together from the new marriage, they may want to ensure that children are provided for fairly after their deaths.

Estate plans occasionally need to be updated and a new marriage would be one of those occasions. If one spouse wants to ensure that part of one’s estate goes to the children of a previous marriage and not everything to the surviving spouse there are options. The simplest is that one spouse designates part of an estate to the children and part to the surviving spouse. Another option involves creating a trust for the surviving spouse that would provide a distribution to the surviving spouse for the duration of his or her life and the balance would then pass to the children.

If no changes are made to an estate plan and the existing will leaves everything to the deceased’s children, New Jersey law does provide some protection for the surviving spouse. One option may be a spouse’s ability to claim an elective share, which entitles a surviving spouse one-third of the estate and is needs-based. Another option is what’s known as the “omitted spouse” law. If a will made before a marriage excludes provisions for a future spouse, the surviving spouse may be entitled to a share, typically around 50 percent, of the deceased’s estate. This is part of New Jersey intestacy laws which typically only apply in the absence of a will, but this is one exception.

A person contemplating remarriage in New Jersey may wish to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can review the current and future family circumstances as well as family assets. A thorough review can help ensure that one’s final wishes are carried out and that children and other family members are provided for.