Probate is the legal process of proving the validity of a will and appointing a personal representative to ensure that the property left behind by a person who has died is distributed according to his or her wishes. If the person died intestate—without a will—New Jersey’s laws of intestacy will dictate how the assets are to be distributed. Probate and administration are handled by the New Jersey Surrogate’s Court. The personal representative may be an executor appointed by the deceased when making the will, or in the case of intestacy, an administrator who is appointed by the court.
The Probate Process in New Jersey
After qualifying the executor for the estate and ascertaining that the deceased actually left assets owned solely in his or her name, the Surrogate’s Court will determine if the will is valid. This is usually a fairly routine process, unless there is a challenge to the will. When there is a challenge, the length of time it takes to complete probate is often extended considerably and usually at a significant loss of funds to the estate to cover the costs of litigation.
In New Jersey, probate cannot begin until the eleventh day from the date of death.
The Tasks of an Executor
In many cases, a close relative or friend of the deceased is named as executor of the estate. Settling an estate is often a complex and labor-intensive job, so if you have been chosen to fulfill this function, you will probably want to bring an experienced estates and trusts attorney on board to assist you.
When an executor or administrator is approved by the court, the following tasks must be undertaken:
- The deceased’s property to be distributed during the probate process must be fully identified, and inventoried, and a value determined. If the deceased owned property in another state, the executor must institute ancillary proceedings in that state.
- The creditors of the deceased must be notified of the death, personally whenever possible or by posting a public notice. They need to be informed where and when they will need to present their claims against the estate. Debts, taxes, and estate expenses, (including court costs, attorney fees, costs associated with notifying creditors, funeral expenses, etc,) are taken from the total value of the estate.
- Whatever property remains is then distributed among the heirs and beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or, in its absence, the state’s laws of intestacy.
The Surrogate’s Court only has jurisdiction over property covered by the will. Not all types of property have to go through probate; in fact, trying to keep as much property from probate is often a goal of careful estate planning. Examples of this property excluded from probate include:
- Jointly accounts and payable on death (POD) accounts
- Property held in trusts
- Insurance and pensions with a named beneficiary to be paid following the owner’s death
- Property titled with another as joint tenants with the right of survivorship
Debts and Other Claims Against the Estate
Not all claims presented by purported creditors and others to executor of the estate are necessarily valid. The executor needs to evaluate the evidence of the debt each party claiming to be a creditor has submitted. If there is a dispute, you will need to consult your attorney, who will either negotiate the matter or litigate it in court.
If the deceased was a defendant in a lawsuit, for example in a personal injury case, the estate cannot be settled until that case has been resolved.
Southern New Jersey Probate Attorneys
Probate of an estate can become incredibly complex, and it is best undertaken with experienced legal counsel. In the Jersey Shore area, you will find the expert legal guidance you need at the firm of Barnes Law Group, LLC. Our estates and trusts lawyers will work with you throughout the entire probate process, from having you appointed as executor by the Surrogate’s Court to dealing with creditors and other claimants and handling any matters that require litigation. Being an executor of an estate can be extremely stressful and labor intensive. When you bring Barnes Law Group, LLC on board, we will ensure that all paperwork is filed properly, that estate obligations are handled expeditiously, and that the distribution of assets is completed in the least possible amount of time.
Call Barnes Law Group, LLC. today to learn how we can help. We have offices in North Wildwood and Egg Harbor Township for your convenience.