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When someone in New Hampshire dies, it can be a trying time for the family if the deceased owned assets but did not leave a plan or will behind. A day in court can be the only option to sort things out. In 2022, the 10 circuit courts in Granite State reported 7,885 estate cases filed in the probate court.

New Hampshire is known for having residents who trace their lineage several generations back. Its population is slightly over a million, and 120,000 own over 75% of the state’s forested lands. Many of them own woodlots that have been in the family for generations. When one of these affluent locals dies, the legalities surrounding their estate can leave surviving heirs in a lot of stress and emotional turmoil. They would need to be educated on New Hampshire inheritance laws to deal with the matter.

This article is an informational guide for those interested in New Hampshire inheritance and succession laws. These laws can be simple for families with minimal assets, given that there are no inheritance or estate taxes in the state. Still, complicated family dynamics can cause legal complications, even for small estates. Seeking guidance from a probate attorney can be invaluable in navigating these complexities.

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in New Hampshire?

When someone dies and leaves a will, that will must be submitted to a probate court in New Hampshire within 30 days. A certified death certificate must accompany this. 

Different probate procedures apply depending on the type of estate and other qualifications. For example, a probate case must be opened if the deceased has assets that must be transferred to beneficiaries. In New Hampshire, different probate procedures apply depending on the type of estate and other factors. A probate case must be opened if the deceased has assets that must be transferred to beneficiaries.

What is considered a valid will?

In New Hampshire, anyone at least 18 years of age and of sound mind can prepare a will. Those who are under this age but married can do so as well. 

According to New Hampshire Probate Laws, a will is considered valid if:

  • The testator signed it before two witnesses.

  • The two witnesses must sign the will and cannot be beneficiaries named in the will.

  • The will is written on paper. Oral or video wills and e-files are not accepted. Wills spoken to a witness by a servicemember on active duty or seafarer are exempt

Currently, e-wills are not legally recognized in New Hampshire. It is one of only two states that expressly prohibit e-wills.

Additional considerations

A will does not need to be notarized to be legal. However, doing this can save time for surviving family members and beneficiaries when the will passes through probate court. 

The testator must name the person who will carry out the will's provisions, also known as the "executor.” If the testator does not name an executor, the court will appoint one

Changing or rescinding a will

The testator must carefully change or properly rescind a will. This can be done by:

  • Physically destroying the initial document.

  • Ordering another person to physically destroy it before the testator.

  • Creating a new will and revoking the previous one.

If the testator wants to make minor changes, it can be updated by adding a codicil document. For major updates, the testator should create a new will completely. Improperly replacing wills can cause contention among inheritors when the testator passes away. 

Contesting a Will

Persons with legal standing or “interested parties” may be able to contest a will in New Hampshire. They can be apprehensive creditors, dissatisfied family members, and disgruntled relatives who want a slice of the assets the deceased left behind. 

However, interested parties must have compelling reasons to contest a will. These reasons may be any of the following:

  • Invalid wills - For this reason, wills must follow the formalities required under the law. Such issues can commonly occur with DIY wills or those that are hastily prepared. For example, a testator, unaware of the legal requirements while making the will independently, may employ their child and beneficiary as a witness. 

  • Lack of mental capacity - There can be many situations where the testator may not have been mentally fit when the will was created. Some of these are alcohol intoxication, advanced age, lunacy, and drugged impairment. 

  • Undue influence occurs when someone manipulates the testator to gain something from their assets. Because undue influence can take many subtle forms, allegations frequently arise when wills are contested.

  • Fraud - If someone provides misleading information to a testator to gain something, this person is said to be fraudulent. 

  • Forgery - In some cases, the testator’s signature can be forged. 

The interested party must contest the will in court within six months after probate is filed. The latter sections will discuss the probate process in more detail.

Non-probate assets

The deceased’s assets, already named to a certain beneficiary, can be transferred without probate. Examples of assets like these are life insurance payouts, payable-upon-death bank accounts, and real estate properties in a living trust.

Additionally, any real estate or personal property held under both spouses' names must undergo probate. This is legally known as “joint tenancy with the right of survivorship.” Such properties include the family home, joint bank accounts, and vehicles. 

If the estate is made up of any or a combination of these assets, then the will can be filed without administration. This means a probate case need not be opened for the estate. In this case,  the form, Notice of Will Filed – No Estate Administration Requested, will be filed along with the will. 

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in New Hampshire?

When a person dies without a will—or intestate—the probate court oversees the distribution of their assets using New Hampshire intestacy laws. Such laws also dictate to whom a share is given and how much. 

Under New Hampshire's intestate succession law, the deceased's assets are distributed to their family members in a prioritized order, typically starting with the surviving spouse and children.

The following table provides a summary of the inheritance rights and asset distribution according to different scenarios:

If the deceased is survived by:

What happens:

Spouse only - no children or parents

The spouse gets all

Children only

Children get all

Parents only

Parents get all

Siblings only

Siblings get all

Spouse and parents

The spouse gets the first $250,000 of the assets and ¾ of the balance. 

Parents get everything else

Spouse, with children and their descendants from marriage with the deceased

The spouse gets the first $250,000 of the assets and ½ of the balance.

Children and their descendants get everything else

Spouse, with children and their descendants and

Not all children are from the spouse’s marriage with the deceased. 

The spouse gets the first $150,000 of the assets and ½ of the balance.

Only the deceased’s children and their descendants will get a share

Spouse, with the deceased’s children and their descendants from another marriage

The spouse gets the first $100,000 of the assets and ½ of the balance.

The deceased’s children and their descendants will get a share

Spousal eligibility

The surviving spouse must be legally married to the deceased upon death. At times, this can be clear for most couples, but for some, it may be uncertain. 

The following points can be considered when there are uncertainties:

  • Same-sex marriages - Surviving spouses of same-sex marriages conducted after January 1, 2010, have the same rights as traditional marriages. This is in accordance with the NH Uniform Marriage Recognition Law

  • Legally separated or almost divorced - A judge will have to decide if the surviving half of the couple is considered a surviving spouse. A surviving half who is estranged from the deceased and is guilty of the conduct that caused the divorce may not be entitled to an inheritance. 

  • Neglectful husbands - A husband who neglects or abandons his wife three years before her death cannot be considered a surviving spouse. This means the husband will not inherit anything unless the will states otherwise.

Common law marriages

The surviving half of an unmarried couple may be considered a surviving spouse even if common law marriage or cohabitation is not recognized in New Hampshire. This is because the state offers provisions to these couples for inheritance purposes only. 

However, the following conditions exist:

  • The couple must have been together for at least three years before the death of one partner.

  • There exists proof that the couple publicly acknowledged themselves as married, as evidenced by, but not limited to, having the same last names, owning properties jointly, and filing joint tax returns. 

  • The community they live in knows them as being married.

Note that cohabitation without proof that the couple lived as married will not be considered valid by the court. This further means the surviving half of the couple cannot be entitled to an inheritance. 

An example of this case was a ruling from the Rockingham County Probate Court issued in 2008. The court ruled based on the available evidence that the wife, who filed a claim after being left out of the deceased husband’s will, cannot be entitled to a spousal share. The court denied the wife's claim for a spousal share, even though the couple had cohabited for a decade and had a child together. This is because the wife failed to provide enough proof that she and her husband treated each other as married under common law. 

Children’s Rights

Generally, under New Hampshire intestate succession laws, only legal children may be able to inherit a share of the deceased’s assets. This can be clear-cut for some families, but for blended ones, it may be a bit confusing. 

Below is a summary of the important points to be considered:

  • Children born outside of marriage - A child born outside of marriage and whose paternity was established by the parent before or after death can receive a share. 

  • Adopted children - Legally adopted children can receive ​​a share just like biological children. 

  • Foster children and stepchildren - Unless the children are legally adopted, they may not be able to inherit anything.

  • Children placed for adoption by the deceased - If the child whom the deceased placed for adoption is adopted by another family, the child cannot receive a share. Children adopted by the surviving spouse can inherit something.  

  • Children born after death - A child still in the womb at the time of death can get an inheritance if they survive for more than 120 days. 

  • Grandchildren - If the deceased’s children no longer live, only then can their descendants inherit something. 

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

If the deceased were unmarried and childless, it would not be easy for their assets to be escheated or forfeited in the state’s favor. This is because, under New Hampshire laws, distant relatives such as nephews, nieces, cousins, and aunts and uncles are afforded the right to inheritance. 

Surviving relatives in the following unique situations have rights as well:

  • Immigrants - The legal status of a relative will not affect their right to an inheritance. 

  • Half-relatives - Half-relatives are entitled to an inheritance just like full siblings. For example, a stepsibling can get the same inheritance as the biological child. 

  • Relatives in the womb - A relative still in the womb is treated as a living relative if they live for more than 120 hours. 

In addition, New Hampshire intestacy laws provide a special succession statute called the survivorship period. Under this statute, a person who outlives the deceased by 120 hours can obtain a share of the inheritance. 

An example of this situation is when a father and son get involved in a car accident and die afterward. If the son outlives the father by 120 hours, the son can inherit from the father's estate. 

Estates With No Heirs

If an estate is found to have no heirs, its properties will be considered unclaimed. In this case, the New Hampshire Escheat and Unclaimed Property Laws will take effect.

Under these laws, the state will take custody of the properties for safekeeping. Generations later, a family member with the right paperwork may be able to claim the property.

Probate process in New Hampshire

A probate case is initiated once the executor, the administrator, files the necessary requirements using the NH Probate Division of the Circuit Court’s Electronic Filing System. If there is no will, an interested party can also do so. In New Hampshire, there is no deadline when probate must be filed after death. 

There are several reasons why probate is conducted:

  • Ensuring all the assets of the deceased are properly accounted for.

  • Determining if the deceased’s will is valid and litigating any disputes over its validity.

  • Enabling creditors to settle debts owed by the deceased.

  • Distributing the assets to beneficiaries.

Formal probate is a long and tedious process, but there are options to avoid it, whether there is a will or not: 

  • Summary administration - It is a more streamlined process compared to full probate. To qualify, the estate must have no unresolved claims or outstanding debts. Additionally, the estate’s probate case must have been open for more than six months before the administrator can file a summary administration. 

  • Filing a waiver of administration - This process also entails minimal court supervision. Various qualification requirements apply. One of the qualifications includes the administrator or an interested party as the sole beneficiary. 

However, if an estate undergoes any of these options, any interested party can request the probate court for full administration until the estate’s closure. 

Several processes must be accomplished during probate. These include inventorying the assets, informing people with legal interests in the estate, and paying taxes and creditors. 

On average, it usually takes at least six months to around a year and a half to complete probate, with the timeframe dependent on the complexity of the case. 

Does New Hampshire Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

There are no inheritance and estate taxes imposed in the state. This means that New Hampshirites do not need to pay taxes for a deceased loved one’s estate or when they inherit something. 

However, if the deceased owned properties in nearby Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine, they would be taxed before being transferred. These are some of the 17 states that impose estate taxes. 

Still, high-value estates do not entirely escape taxation. The federal estate tax applies to inherited estates worth more than $12.92 million in 2023

All applicable tax returns must be filed within nine months of the date of death unless an extension is obtained. If these tax returns are not filed on time, the estate may face financial penalties. 

Legal Resources Related to Inheritance Law in New Hampshire

Grieving family members and estate administrators have much on their plates during the probate process. They are encouraged to educate themselves by seeking out various resources relevant to inheritance laws in New Hampshire. 

New Hampshire Bar Association

The State Bar does more than just provide a lawyer directory that inheritors can check to hire a private lawyer. Its staff also guides them in choosing a qualified lawyer in their area and takes the time to listen to their concerns. The staff can point inheritors to a community resource if a lawyer is not needed in their case. To access the free NH Lawyer Referral Service, individuals can call 603-229-0002 or use the online service

New Hampshire Legal Aid

The online resource called New Hampshire Legal Aid is the collective effort of several nonprofits in the state. These include 603 Legal Aid and New Hampshire Legal Assistance. This resource provides a guide for individuals with probate concerns. These individuals can also apply for legal aid using the website.

NH Judicial Branch Self Help Site

The NH Courts have prepared a directory of information that can aid individuals who choose to proceed with their case without a lawyer. They can find information on preparing for court, contacting a nearby court, and getting started with their case, as well as the forms and fees, legal definitions, and FAQs

NH Judicial Branch’s Booklet on Administering an Estate

At 20 pages long, the booklet is a handy guide for administrators of estates in the state. It is issued by the NH Judicial Branch’s Circuit Court Administrative Office and updated as of 2021. However, it is only used as an informational guide and does not constitute legal advice.

NH Division of Vital Records Administration

Certified death certificates can be obtained from the New Hampshire Department of State, Division of Vital Records Administration. Contact the DVRA at (603) 271-4650 for office hours, fees, and the application process. Additionally, death certificates can be obtained from the funeral home or the city or town clerk’s office where the death happened.

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