From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: Before she died, my aunt lived with me in Burlington County, New Jersey for several years. My wife and I took her to the doctor and cared for her when she became bedridden. She died without a will and all her assets are being divided between my cousins. They never helped with her care. This is not fair. Can I make the estate pay me for my time?
Under New Jersey rules, your Aunt could have made a will and given you the entire estate, or had a will that said you would receive some of her estate to reflect the work you did. Because she did not make a will, the New Jersey intestate rule divides her assets between all her children, equally. Prior to the assets being divided, all her creditors must be paid. This includes her funeral expenses and final taxes.
Had she made an agreement with you and your wife that you would be paid for the care you provided her, then you would also be a creditor. It sounds like — from what you described — you had no such agreement. Because family members regularly provide each other with care, this care is considered a gift unless you can prove otherwise. Your cousins could agree to give you more of the estate to reflect your work, but that would be up to them.