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Your Guide to New Jersey Probate

Last updated on: October 9, 2023

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. 

Navigating the complexities of New Jersey probate is challenging, but an experienced New Jersey probate lawyer can ensure a smoother process. Don’t fall for common probate misconceptions. At The Matus Law Group, our lawyers can assist you every step of the way, from understanding the intricacies of probate laws to efficiently managing the distribution of assets. Contact us today at (732) 281-0060 to schedule a consultation.

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.

New Jersey Probate Process

If an estate fails to meet the requirements for simplified procedures and its assets necessitate the probate process, it will likely follow the standard probate process in New Jersey. Below are the essential steps of the probate process in New Jersey:

Initiating Probate

The probate process in New Jersey commences when an individual passes away, with the submission of their will to the Surrogate’s Court situated in the county where the person lived. The court reviews the will for its validity and compliance with legal requirements. It’s crucial to initiate probate promptly since the law requires probate within ten years. Initiating it sooner ensures the efficient distribution of assets and settlement of debts.

Appointment of Executor or Administrator

An important step in probate is appointing an executor or administrator to manage the deceased’s estate. Typically, the deceased would have designated an executor in their will, someone they trusted for estate management. If there’s no designated executor or will, the court appoints an administrator with similar responsibilities to ensure assets are distributed according to intestate laws.

Notifying Heirs and Beneficiaries

After the appointment of the executor or administrator in New Jersey, it becomes their responsibility to notify all heirs and beneficiaries of the estate. This includes informing interested parties such as the deceased’s spouse, children, and close relatives about the probate proceedings. Additionally, all individuals named as beneficiaries must be given a copy of the will, accompanied by a comprehensive explanation of their respective entitlements, ensuring the equitable distribution of assets in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.

Managing Estate Assets and Debts

The executor or administrator’s responsibility is to gather and protect the assets left by the deceased. They are required to determine the value of these assets and establish an inventory for the court’s official documentation. In addition to asset management, the executor or administrator must address any debts or obligations incurred by the deceased, such as unpaid bills, taxes, and loans. These debts are typically settled using the estate’s funds before asset distribution to beneficiaries can take place.

Distributing Estate Assets to Beneficiaries

After estate assets have been gathered, appraised, and debts have been resolved, the executor or administrator can proceed with the distribution of assets to the beneficiaries.This must adhere to the instructions specified in the will or, in situations where there is no will, it must align with the intestate laws of New Jersey. This process may necessitate the sale of specific assets to generate funds for distribution, or the transfer of property titles to the designated beneficiaries. Detailed records of every transaction must be maintained and a detailed financial report must be provided to the court.

Closing the Estate

Once all assets have been distributed and all documentation has been finalized, the executor or administrator is obligated to present a financial report to the Surrogate Court for the formal closure of the estate. This report should be a summary of all financial activities throughout the probate proceedings. Upon the court’s approval of the final accounting, the estate is officially closed, and the executor or administrator is officially relieved from their responsibilities.

Understanding New Jersey’s probate process is crucial as it can be complex and time-consuming. At The Matus Law Group, our New Jersey probate lawyers can guide you through every step of the probate process. With our extensive experience in probate law, we are well-equipped to aspects of estate administration, from paperwork to dispute resolution. Contact us for a consultation to start the probate process efficiently.

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.

Probate Process Topics Description
Definition of Probate Probate is the legal process that occurs after a person’s death, involving steps like will validation, asset appraisal, debt settlement, and asset distribution.
How to Begin Probate The executor initiates probate by filing necessary paperwork (death certificate, probate application) at the Surrogate’s Court in the decedent’s county of residence.
Who inherits the estate if there is no will? When there’s no will, estate assets are distributed to the closest living relatives according to New Jersey’s intestate laws.
What does the executor do during probate? The executor manages the decedent’s assets, including property care and potential sale, and may post a bond, especially in cases involving beneficiaries with developmental disabilities.
Do all assets pass through probate in NJ? Not all assets go through probate; careful estate planning can help avoid it, especially for smaller estates, using appeals or trusts for asset transfer.
Consequences of improperly executed will If a will is improperly executed, it can be denied by Surrogate Court, leading to an Order of Doubt or Difficulty and potential involvement of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Christine Matus

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Christine Matus
Christine Matus

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