Smart estate planning is your key to making sure all of your assets are protected and can be passed on to your loved ones when you pass away. To understand the importance of estate planning and the purposes of the tools involved, it is important to first understand the probate process. In today’s blog post, we’re taking a look at the ins and outs of New Jersey probate.
What exactly is probate anyway?
Probate is a process that occurs shortly after a person’s death. Here in New Jersey, it takes place no sooner than eleven days after a death. The steps of probate include the following:
- Validating the will
- Identifying property of the decedent
- Appraisal of the decedent’s property
- Payment of the decedent’s outstanding debts
- Payment of estate taxes
- Distributing the property in the estate in accordance with the decedent’s will or intestate law
Depending on the size of the estate and how complicated its organizational structure, the probate process can sometimes be very time-consuming. It can also become expensive as court fees add up.
How to Begin Probate
The executor of the estate is named in the will or appointed by a judge. This person is responsible for filing the paperwork that begins the probate process — the certificate of death and application for probate. These documents must be filed at the Surrogate;s Court in the county where the decedent lived at his or her time of death. Probate court must validate the will, then the executor notifies creditors and family members that probate is taking place with a Notice of Probate.
Who inherits the estate if there is no will?
When someone dies without a will, his or her estate is distributed among heirs in accordance with intestate law. Essentially, your assets will be given to your closest living kin.
What does the executor do during the probate process?
During the probate process, the executor must manage the decedent’s assets. This might include ensuring that property (such as a home) is cared for while it is appraised and potentially sold to pay off debts. In New Jersey, if a beneficiary has a developmental disability the executor is required to post a bond, except in cases of exemption, in accordance with Ronnie’s Law.
Do all assets pass through probate in New Jersey?
No. In fact, with careful estate planning, it is sometimes possible to avoid probate altogether. As long as the decedent has a will and his or her total assets are worth less than $10,000, his or her spouse may file an appeal to avoid probate. With no will, an Affidavit of Surviving Spouse can be filed for estates worth under $20,000. Next of kin can file an appeal if there is no will and the estate property is worth less than $5,000. Bigger estates can avoid probate, too, but will need to use other methods to transfer assets to beneficiaries/heirs, such as trusts.
What happens when a will is not properly executed?
If a will is not properly executed, probate can be denied by Surrogate Court. The court would then enter an Order of Doubt or Difficulty and the case would go to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Who can help me navigate, avoid, or understand probate?
Whatever your situation, if it involves probate, the Matus Law Group can probably help. Our team has the knowledge and experience to offer you guidance in all aspects of New Jersey probate. To discuss your situation with our attorney, contact us today to schedule a consultation.