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        Table of Contents - Introduction - Health Issues - Family Issues
      
Financial Security - Immigration - Violence Against Women
       
Discrimination & Employment Issues - Basic Needs - Appendix

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     You should never be so removed from control of your own personal finances that you are incapable of making timely and sound financial decisions if and when the need arises. A woman at the age of 21 has an 86 percent chance of dying as a single woman either because she never marries (6 percent), divorces (33 percent), or becomes a widow (47 percent). In order to be ready to act effectively on your own, you must have a clear understanding of your financial assets (cash, property, stocks, etc.) and debts (loans, credit card balances, bills), have access to independent credit, and understand savings and investment alternatives available for your hard-earned assets.

Establishing Independent Credit
     Good credit enables you to borrow money when you need or want it. You must establish your own credit history to get good credit. You can do this by opening personal checking and savings accounts and credit cards in your own name and by listing your name along with your husband’s on joint accounts (provided that your husband manages money responsibly). Write to stores, credit card companies, or other credit agencies requesting that they list both names, issue a card in your name, and notify consumer credit reporting agencies to note your credit history.

Avoiding Discriminatory Credit Practices
     In the past, creditors denied most women the opportunity to establish the independent credit history needed to qualify for a loan. When widowhood or divorce left a woman to fend for herself, she often faced financial devastation, partly due to an inability to obtain credit. The financial community also made false assumptions about her ability to handle money, often using stereotypes and presumptions about her plans to have children to deny her credit.
     The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) now protects your right to obtain credit based on your own history and prevents the use of such stereotypes to deny you credit. Creditors may not discriminate against you based on such factors as:

  • Marital Status: A creditor may not ask if you are married unless 1) your spouse is to be liable for the account; 2) you plan to repay the credit using your spouse’s income, alimony, child support or maintenance payments; or 3) you plan to secure the loan with property which includes your spouse in the title. If you qualify for the credit based on your own assets and if your spouse is not a party or guarantor of the credit obligation, your marital status is irrelevant. If you qualify on your own for a personal loan or a loan to your business, a creditor cannot require the signature of your spouse or another person on the loan documents.
  • Child-Bearing Plans: A creditor may not ask about your use of birth control or your plans to have children. In deciding to grant or deny you credit, a creditor cannot make assumptions about your likelihood of having children.
  • Income Sources: The creditor must take into account all reliable income regardless of its source. The creditor must consider any part-time income, retirement benefits, alimony, child support, or maintenance payments which you choose to disclose.
  • Use of Joint Accounts: A creditor who considers credit history on joint accounts must consider the credit history based on all the names listed on the account.
  • Age or Change in Marital Status: A creditor cannot require you to reapply, change the terms of your account, or terminate the account because you have reached a certain age, retired, or changed your name or marital status. However, if your marital status changes and the creditor made the loan based on the income of your former spouse, the creditor may require reapplication if your income alone may not support the credit granted.

Application Procedures
     When you apply for credit either for personal use or on behalf of a business that receives less than $1,000,000 a year, the creditor must notify you of the action taken on your application within 30 days. If the application is rejected, the creditor must give an explanation. You are entitled to a copy of your credit report without charge if you request the report within 60 days of receiving the denial notice. If you are on welfare, are unemployed and seeking work within 60 days, or you certify that the report is inaccurate due to fraud, you are entitled to a free annual report. Otherwise you can receive a report at any time by paying an agency a fee of a maximum of $8. Contact a credit rating company and tell them promptly if any information in your report is inaccurate; they must then remove it from your report unless it can be substantiated.

Resources
     The three credit rating companies are:

  • Equifax: (800)685-1111
  • TRW: (800)682-7654
  • Trans Union: (440)779-7200
  • If you believe that a creditor has violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) contact: The Federal Trade Commission: (212)264-1207
  • If you believe you have been discriminated against as a woman contact: The New Jersey Division of Civil Rights: (609)984-3100

 

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     You must pay all bills on time to protect your credit. Even a two or three month overdue payment will affect your credit rating. Concentrate on paying off your debts first when developing a budget. Then determine what assets are still available after those debts are paid. New debt must not be incurred unless you are reasonably sure that you can repay it in a timely manner.
     Even with the most careful planning, events like divorce or job loss may suddenly make it impossible to pay all debts on time. In such a circumstance, you must pay your most important debts first: your rent or mortgage, your car loan, secured loans on other important goods, and utility bills. Neglecting to pay may leave you homeless, evicted, or without a car or utilities.
     Delayed payment of other bills like credit cards and doctors bills does not cause quite the same problems but still hurts your future credit. It can result in judgments authorizing the seizure of your possessions or bank accounts. Your employer may also be ordered to set aside part of your normal paycheck (up to certain limits established by law) to pay these creditors. You may have a greater chance of preventing this by negotiating some payment plan with the creditor as soon as financial instability strikes. You may find that the creditor is willing to accept partial payment to satisfy the entire debt.

Dealing with Creditors
     Bills that are not paid on time are usually sent to a collection agency. Federal law prevents these agencies from harassing you; once you inform them in writing not to contact you further, they must stop. You should keep records of each contact: who, when, and what was said.
     If a creditor brings a lawsuit against you and has your assets or bank account seized toward the satisfaction of the debt, New Jersey law permits you to exclude $1,000 for your own needs. Moreover, Social Security benefits, child support, and welfare payments cannot be seized at all; be sure to inform the court in writing if your bank account contains proceeds from these exempt items.

Coping with Financial Problems
     If your financial problems are caused by the involuntary loss of a job or a disability that is not covered by any employer or individual plan, you may be eligible to collect on the Unemployment Insurance that you pay out of every paycheck. This will provide some income for up to 26 weeks if you cannot begin working again earlier. See the chapter on
Basic Needs for further information about unemployment compensation.
     If you have high hospital bills that you cannot pay due to low income, ask the hospital to process your application for the state’s Charity Care Program; this may eliminate the debt entirely.

Resources

  • If you are under financial stress, contact: The Consumer Credit Counseling Service of New Jersey: (973)267-4324 They can help you make a budget, determine payment priorities, and negotiate with creditors to set up a repayment plan.

 

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     If you find yourself with more debt than you can repay and no other course is open to you, you may have the right to declare bankruptcy and eliminate your debt. Consider carefully before taking this step; the declaration will become part of your credit history, and will be reported as any other judgement would be, for up to 20 years. However, if you are drowning in debt, consider exercising this important right. Bankruptcy relief cannot be obtained more than once every seven years.
     The purpose of bankruptcy is to give a fresh start to honest debtors who simply cannot pay their bills. It does not help people who fraudulently incur debts without intending to pay them. As with all legal matters, anyone thinking about declaring bankruptcy should consult a lawyer.

Declaring Bankruptcy

There are two types of personal bankruptcy. A "Chapter Seven" bankruptcy results in the discharge of most debts when there are not enough assets available to pay debts. If you have only modest assets, you may be able to keep your home or apartment (if the mortgage or rent is paid), your car, and your personal effects. You can keep about $16,000 equity in your home ($32,000 for a joint petition with your spouse). Other assets are used to pay debts. With a few possible exceptions, you then have no more debts to pay.
     A "Chapter 13" bankruptcy should be declared if you own a home but have fallen behind on your mortgage and if you have a regular source of income (such as salary, social security, alimony, unemployment, or welfare). You need not lose your home even if you cannot pay the mortgage payments right away. You can propose a plan to pay the debts, in whole or in part, over a period of time. The plan must be approved by the bankruptcy court. If the plan is approved, you keep your property by paying your creditor with later earnings or assets. If your house is in foreclosure, consider filing promptly for bankruptcy because once a foreclosure judgment is entered you will no longer be able to protect your home.
     A bankruptcy petition prevents creditors from bothering you with further letters and telephone calls. File the petition with the clerk of the bankruptcy court and list all assets (with their location and value), all debts (the amount owed and the name and address of the creditor), and your current income. Any debts not listed will not be "discharged" and you will be required to pay them. All statements are made under penalty of perjury.

 

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     Housing costs consume much of the income of most people. If you are buying or selling a house, it is important to know how to proceed. If you are a tenant, you need to know your rights and responsibilities. Other housing issues involving the poor are discussed in the chapter on Basic Needs. Issues of discrimination in housing are discussed in the chapter on Discrimination and Employment.

Renting
     As a tenant, you have the following legal rights:

  • You may not be denied access to rental housing because of the sources of your income (alimony, welfare).
  • Your landlord must give you a Truth in Renting Statement.
  • Security deposits cannot be more than one and a half times one month’s rent. Your landlord must deposit your security in a current-rate, interest bearing account (for your benefit when the security is later returned) and must tell you where the money has been deposited. If the building is sold, the landlord must turn over the security and interest to the buyer and must inform you, by registered mail, that the new owner will be responsible for it.
  • The landlord must return your security within 30 days of the end of the lease or give you a written explanation of the damage or repair.
  • Your landlord may only enter your apartment uninvited for specific purposes, such as occasional inspections or to make repairs.
  • You must receive a minimum of one month’s notice of any rent increases. Rent increases must not be "unconscionable" in relation to the actual amount of increased costs.(Check to see if your town has a rent control ordinance that further limits increases.)
  • Your landlord must keep the property in safe and livable condition by repairing damage to vital facilities; maintaining heat at 68 degrees from October 1 to May 1; providing adequate ventilation, pest control and garbage removal; providing locks on doors and windows; and ensuring that every tenant respects the rights of other tenants in the building.
  • You may be entitled to a tax rebate from your landlord. Contact your city tax collector to find out if your rental unit is eligible for a rebate.

     Your landlord must use proper channels in order to evict you.

     As a tenant, you also have certain responsibilities which must often be met in order for you to exercise your rights. This is important because failure to do so makes it possible for your landlord to bring an action to evict you. These responsibilities include:

  • performing the terms of your lease;
  • paying rent on time;
  • notifying the landlord in writing (keep a copy) about needed repairs;
  • leaving the property in generally the same condition as you received it;
  • respecting the rights of other tenants.

Resource

  • For a Truth in Renting Statement, or for a heat emergency (landlord does not supply heat), call Office of Landlord/Tenant Information (609)292-4174

Buying a Home
     Your rights and responsibilities as a home buyer are determined by the agreement you reach with the seller based on the offer you made in a signed paper. That paper is usually called either a binder, a broker’s agreement, a memorandum of sale, or a deposit receipt. Thus, what you get in buying a particular house usually depends on what it says in the writing you sign when you tell the seller you are interested in buying the house at a certain price. This writing can usually become a binding contract that will obligate you in a certain way.
     To protect you, any contract must explain how problems that often arise in home purchases will be addressed. For example, it must make clear what happens if 1) the seller cannot give you clear title because of a problem that turns up in the title search, 2) the house turns out not to be all that it seems, and 3) problems develop with the house before the date of sale. How these kinds of issues are resolved may cost, or save, you money. Your rights depend on the agreement between you and the seller. The law requires a real estate broker to include in the agreement a three-day attorney review clause that allows you a broad right to choose to back out of the offer after you speak to a lawyer.
     Your ownership rights in the house after the "closing" (final agreement to purchase) will depend on the seller’s ability to give you "clear and marketable title" that can be insured against various possible problems. You can only get as good title as the seller has to give. If the seller has an unpaid mortgage, lien or court judgments against him, these issues must be resolved by the time of closing or you could lose your rights forever. Once the closing is held, enough money must be held to pay for the seller’s mortgage or other obligations that affect title. Your title must be recorded in the county.

What To Do

It is advisable to retain a lawyer when buying or selling a home. The law requires a broker to inform you of your right to hire a lawyer and prohibits anyone from trying to discourage you to do so. See the introductory section on "How to Find a Lawyer."

 

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     Insurance is an important financial planning tool because it safeguards you, your family, your home, your possessions, and your business from possible financial disasters. Your decision to buy most types of insurance is strictly voluntary except in the cases of car insurance (if you drive a car) and Medicare and Social Security (if you earn wages).
     Health insurance is discussed in the chapter on
Health Issues. Some other types of insurance include:

Life Insurance
     Life insurance can lessen some of the financial hardship caused by the death of you or your husband by providing the survivor/beneficiary with a payment to replace the income loss and/or new expenses resulting from the death.
     Life insurance needs vary depending on age, marital status, the possession of a home, the number of dependents, and whether they will receive substantial pension, savings, and Social Security benefits. Most young married people with children need life insurance equal to several times their annual salary. A non-working spouse might need life insurance to cover the costs that death would have on the family. You may usually decide who will become the beneficiary of your insurance when you die and name one or more alternate beneficiaries in case the first dies before you do.
     Term life insurance is the least expensive type and enables many people to afford the insurance they need. It provides benefits during your normal working years when insurance is most needed. It becomes increasingly expensive as you get older and the option to purchase coverage often ends completely when you turn 70. Whole life insurance stays in force for the lifetime of the insured unless the policy is canceled or lapses. It is more expensive than term life insurance because in addition to offering protection in case the insured dies, it also builds up cash value against which the owner of the policy may borrow in times of hardship.

Homeowner’s or Tenant’s Insurance
     Homeowner’s insurance protects against harm to your home and possessions and against claims stating that you caused physical harm or financial loss to another person.

Disability Insurance
     Disability insurance enables you to continue earning when you cannot work due to an injury or illness. Your employer may offer such coverage (see the section on Unemployment Compensation in the
Basic Needs chapter).

The Law
     Your right to buy insurance is regulated by law. For example, regulations adopted under the Unfair Trade Practices section of New Jersey’s Insurance Law prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status in the sale, cancellation, or renewal of any type of insurance. This means that any insurance that is available to men must be equally available to "similarly situated" women. Pregnancy cannot be treated less favorably for insurance purposes than a sickness or illness. However, differences in the economic and employment status of women, compared to that of most men, often result in less favorable insurance opportunities. Since most workers get at least part of their life, health, and disability insurance through their employer, the many women who are homemakers, part-time workers, or without group coverage are at a particular disadvantage.

Resources

  • If you believe that an insurance company is treating you unfairly, contact: New Jersey Department of Insurance, Division of Investigations and Complaints (609)292-5316

 

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     Once you can pay all the bills necessary for living, part of your income should be set aside to meet future needs and build wealth. Develop a regular habit of saving and investing; plans that automatically deduct savings from your paycheck help many people because they lessen the temptation to spend before investing. Keep enough money in a savings or money market account to meet about three months of expenses before going on to other investments.
     No one investment choice is perfect for everybody. Your choices depend largely on how fast you will need the money and how much risk you can tolerate. You should not be so afraid of losing money that you hide your savings "under a mattress" or keep large sums in a low-interest savings account. You would unknowingly invite the risk of losing money through inflation because the rising cost of living makes it likely that your money will earn much less in the future than it does now. For example, if you save $1000 in a bank account that pays you five percent interest, you will actually lose $10 this year if inflation rises by six percent. On the other hand, also be wary of investments that seem too good to be true; they often are. They may put you on a roller coaster that will cause you to lose some or all of what you now have.

Considering Your Options
     One investment option is "growth stocks" (common stocks of corporations that are expected to give high, long-term returns). They are fairly risky investments in the sense that their value can take steep declines as well as reaching exciting heights. Nonetheless, high-quality growth stocks have been shown to be one of the best ways to stay well ahead of inflation in the long run. If you will not need your money for three or more years, consider investing in them. You can reduce risk by diversifying (putting part of your money in lower-risk investments like certificates of deposit and bonds). Be sure to research a company whose stock you are considering buying.
     Also consider the effect of taxes on your investment strategy. Some investment tools offer tax exempt savings; an investor in the 33 percent tax bracket who invests in a tax-exempt bond that pays six percent will do as well as a person who invests in the taxable stocks that give her nine percent on her investments. Other investment tools defer taxes until later so that you can have more money to invest now; this low-overhead investment approach helps savings grow much faster than taxable savings. One example of a tax-deferred savings tool is a U.S. Series EE savings bond. Some others, considered below, permit tax-deferred investment in a variety of investment vehicles, including the high-return growth stocks. Especially when you start early, the miracle of compound interest makes it possible to use modest investments to earn large returns in a lifetime. Remember, however, that growth stocks can be volatile, making them the wrong vehicle for a person who will need to draw heavily on money before many years.
     To sum up, experts recommend starting the saving strategy as early in life as possible by putting part of each paycheck into an interest bearing savings account at the bank or credit union. Save for short term goals in things like a money market fund or bank certificates of deposit (CDs) that offer safety and some growth. Once you have enough savings set aside in an emergency fund to cover about three months worth of expenses, consider putting some or all of your remaining savings into aggressive, long-term growth stocks, especially if you are young. The average investor should consider doing this through a mutual fund that matches her investment goals. Aggressive but sensible investing should build your wealth beyond the rate of inflation and help you build your assets for use in later years.

The Effect of Most Financial Plans on Women
     Even the modern career woman often finds herself at a disadvantage in her efforts to build financial security. Social Security and private pension plans — the principle ways of providing for financial security in retirement — are both tied to years spent in the workforce. Yet the career pattern of a typical woman differs greatly from that of a typical man. She might interrupt her career for a considerable time to raise children. She might sacrifice her own job seniority when it becomes advisable for her spouse to relocate. Her departure from the workforce might prevent or reduce her Social Security eligibility and the lack of continuity at one job may prevent her from earning a pension. These disadvantages make it particularly important for women to give careful attention to investment ideas that can safeguard their future financial security.

Social Security
     Social Security is a federal system of financial benefits designed to partially replace wages lost when someone retires, becomes disabled, or dies. It is payable either to the worker or to his or her spouse and children. As a retired worker, you might qualify at age 65 for full benefits (or as early as age 62 for partial benefits, though receiving these benefits reduces the amount of your payments throughout retirement). This assumes, however, that you have earned enough "work credits" based on the amount of your deductions and the number of years you have worked.

The Law
     You are permitted to receive full benefits even if you earn some other income; currently, persons over 70 may receive full retirement benefits no matter how much other income they receive. Those 65 to 69 may earn $14,500 and those under 65 may earn up to $9,120. For every $2 earned over these limits, $1 will be withheld from your benefits if you are under age 65. If you are between 65 and 69, $1 is deducted for every $3 you earn above the limit. Looking ahead, the age for receiving full benefits will start to rise in 2000 until it reaches 66 in 2009 and 67 in 2027.
     If you are married and employed long enough to earn work credits, you can receive benefits either as a worker or as a spouse of a worker. If you and your husband have both had high earnings for many years, you will probably do better collecting your own benefits rather than your spouse’s benefit. On the other hand, if you stopped working or had low earnings some of the time, the wife’s benefit payable on your husband’s record might be higher. At 65, a spouse’s benefits are 50 percent of what the other spouse is entitled to at 65. The spouse’s benefit gives some recognition to the fact that marriage is an economic partnership and that each partner shares equally in all benefits — a hard-earned victory for women won through an amendment to Social Security laws.
     As an employee, your share of the Social Security and Medicare tax is deducted from your wages (up to $68,400 in 1998) by your employer who adds a matching amount and submits the total to the government (7.65 percent each from the employer and from the employee). As a self-employed individual, you pay 15.3 percent and must pay the Social Security and Medicare tax when filing your federal income tax return.
     Benefits can go to a spouse who is caring for a child under 16 (or older if disabled). Benefits can also go to unmarried children under 18 (or 19 if still in high school) or older if they are severely disabled.
     Besides these retirement benefits, Social Security also includes Survivor’s Insurance that provides a one-time, lump-sum payment and monthly benefits for the widow or widower and young children if the worker should die. These benefits may be received by:

  • a surviving spouse who is 60 or older (50 if disabled), or at any age if caring for an entitled child (under 16 or disabled);
  • a divorced widow or widower under the same conditions as above if the marriage lasted 10 years or if caring for an entitled child;
  • unmarried children up to 18 (or 19 if in high school);
  • disabled children; or
  • a dependent parent who is 62 or older.

     Besides retirement benefits and Survivor’s Insurance, a third type of Social Security benefit for some people is Social Security Disability Insurance, benefits for workers who have suffered a disability which prevents them from working for a year or more or is expected to result in death. Benefits are also payable to members of the worker’s family as listed above under survivor’s insurance.

What to Do
     Apply for Social Security retirement benefits about three months before actually retiring. Most Social Security business can be handled by telephone, including applying for benefits. Since criteria for receiving benefits are somewhat complex and vary according to the type of benefit, it is wise to call and ask about your personal situation. It is also important to know that you may appeal an unfavorable decision on a disability claim within 60 days of receiving written notice of the decision. You may challenge a notice of an alleged overpayment within 30 days.

Resources

  • To apply for Social Security: Look in the blue pages of the telephone directory under "Social Security"

Pensions, 401 (k) Plans, and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)
     Many individuals seek to insure financial stability after retirement beyond that provided by Social Security by participating in various plans offered by their employers or by starting a plan of their own. Many companies offer more than one plan for their employees and the federal government offers individuals several plans with attractive tax benefits.
     Unfortunately, these plans are unavailable to many women, namely those who work for small companies with no plans, those who cannot stay with a company long enough to qualify, and those who have taken time off to raise children. Many women also find themselves without sufficient assets to set up their own individual programs. Nonetheless, some new government programs will make saving easier for many women. A brief look at both the traditional programs and some new ones can help. The most popular plans include:

  • Money Purchase Pension and Profit Sharing Plans: Companies with low or unstable income do not offer these plans to employees because they entail high employer risk. An employer establishing this retirement plan promises to contribute to your pension a sum that depends on how long you have worked for the company, your salary, and your retirement age. To meet the promised payments, the employer might need to contribute more money if the plan’s investments do not produce all that was promised.
         When not used properly, pensions can fall far short of their potential and of the expectations of some who count on them. For example, a woman who is counting on her husband’s pension for security should know that the pension payments will stop at his death unless he chose to provide a survivor benefit. The law prevents the worker from assigning benefits to someone other than the spouse without that spouse’s written consent.
  • 401 (k) Plans: An employer sets up these "salary reduction plans" through an outside company but makes no commitment regarding the amount that the employee will receive. Contributions are made by the employee from pre-tax salary and she chooses her own investment options from a list provided by the plan sponsor. Some employers match these contributions up to a predetermined percentage of salary. Besides offering tax-deferred investment growth, 401 (k) plans also lower current income taxes and, perhaps, tax rates. These features enable you to save more than you otherwise could.

     If your employer offers to match 401 (k) contributions, you have access to an unusually powerful investment program. You will probably want to keep investing in this program, at least until the maximum matching contributions have been reached, before contributing to any other retirement investments. These plans permit tax-deductible investments even when your income is too high to qualify for a tax-deductible contribution through other plans. They also permit contributions of up to $10,000 per year — much more than other tax-deferred investment plans. Withdrawals are usually taxed at retirement when many employees are then in a lower tax bracket and end up paying less tax. The investor can also borrow from these plans (like one can from pensions but not from some other tax-deferred investment plans). However, if the money is withdrawn before the age of 59 1/2, it will usually be subject to a hefty ten percent penalty besides being taxed as ordinary income.

  • Traditional IRAs: Unlike pensions and 401 (k)s, these "Individual Retirement Accounts" are set up by the individual herself. If she earns income, she may invest up to $2,000 per year or 100 percent of compensation (meaning earned income and alimony but not pensions, interest, or dividends), whichever is less. Normally, a person must earn "compensation" to contribute to an IRA plan. The contributions themselves may be partially or wholly deductible, depending on your income level and whether you or your spouse is covered by an employer’s plan.
         As in prior years, IRA withdrawals before age 59 1/2 are subject to a ten percent penalty, but two important exceptions to this have recently been added: money may now be withdrawn for family education tuition beyond high school, and up

 

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aaaaaA will serves many purposes. First, it lets you decide who will receive your possessions. You may give a particular item or parcel and/or a certain percentage of general assets to an heir. You can set conditions for the transfer and name alternate heirs to inherit if the first party does not. You may also designate the person(s) you want to serve as a guardian for your minor children (and other dependents who cannot manage their own affairs), name the "executor" who will manage the distribution of the estate, and, if you choose, waive the cost of the executor’s bond that state law otherwise requires. A will can also state what you want done with your remains.
aaaaa A woman’s will often has unusual importance. Since most women survive their husbands, it is even more important for a woman to have a will, regardless of the amount of independent income she herself earned. When an estate passes between spouses, no estate tax is owed, regardless of the size of the estate. If most of the husband’s estate passes to his wife at his death, it is her will that will determine how other heirs participate in both his and her remaining assets.
aaaaa When a person dies without a will, state law makes presumptions about what amount relatives should receive. However, if you die without a will, anyone can challenge the automatic distribution scheme provided in the law. If your husband dies without a will, you are entitled to about one half of the estate, depending on the number of survivors (children, parents).
aaaaa While property is normally transferred exactly according to an existing will, there are some exceptions. For example, if you are disinherited in your husband’s will or receive a disproportionately small share of the entire estate, a court will give you a certain part of the estate that state law gives to you, as the spouse, as a matter of right. aaaaaSome assets are not affected by the will. If your house is owned as husband and wife, it passes to the survivor automatically as do other items that are owned with rights of survivorship or directed to particular beneficiaries such as an insurance policy or pension.
aaaaa Your will must be signed in front of two witnesses. In New Jersey it can be made "self-executing" (also called "self proving") so that the witnesses will not have to step forward to verify the will when you die; you must sign it with certain additional provisions before a lawyer or a notary to do this. Witnesses confirm that they witnessed you signing the will and that you stated that you read the document, understood it, and that you were acting of your own free will in deciding the disposition of your estate.
aaaaa When the will is presented to the Surrogate of the county in which you lived before your death and is found to be valid, the Surrogate then gives the executor power to manage your estate, providing "letters testamentary" that prove the executor’s power to others.

 

 

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The League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund gratefully acknowledges underwriting of this online Women's Guide by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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