Approximately 74,000 New Jersey residents pass away each year, with the leading causes of death being heart disease and cancer. The unfortunate reality of death is that somebody must handle your affairs after you’re gone, either through your wishes as stated in your last will and testament or in accordance with New Jersey probate law.
If a loved one recently passed away, the last thing you want to do is address the administrative aspects of losing your loved one as life moves on for the rest of the world. Whether assets need to be distributed in accordance with a will or debts and taxes need to be paid, numerous steps may be necessary for the administration of your loved one's estate.
While you may be able to handle the estate administration process without the help of an attorney, doing so can be risky. Probate and estate administration are complicated even for attorneys, so adding pressure to your already stressful situation can only make things more difficult for you.
My firm — Adams, Cassese & Papp, L.L.C. — has helped clients with their estate administration needs in and around Woodbridge, Perth Amboy, Edison, and Sayreville, New Jersey, for more than 40 years. If you need guidance with probate and estate administration following your loved one's death, reach out to me. I will make every effort to meet your unique needs with personalized service.
Probate is the process of administering a deceased person's estate. In probate, a court determines, either through a will or by New Jersey law, how assets and other property should be distributed to heirs. The probate process is much easier when the deceased person leaves a will that clearly identifies how property is to be distributed.
Assets that typically go through probate include property that was solely owned in the name of the deceased person. Examples of such assets include real estate and vehicles.
Assets that do not need to go through probate include assets that are identified in a deceased person's will. For example, if your will leaves all your assets to your surviving spouse upon your passing, probate may not be necessary so long as the will complies with New Jersey law.
Other assets that do not need to go through probate include retirement accounts for which a beneficiary is named, life insurance proceeds, property or assets held in a living trust, and co-owned property that directly goes to the surviving co-owner upon a person's death.
Probate may be simple and not take more than a few months, or it could be complex and time-consuming. When simplified probate is not an option, your loved one's estate will go through general probate, which is handled in New Jersey's Surrogate Courts.
Under New Jersey Revised Statutes Section 3BL10-3, estate administration is not always required. If your deceased loved one did not have a will and the value of assets at issue in your loved one's estate does not exceed $50,000, the surviving spouse, partner in a civil union, or domestic partner can seek probate without administration by filing an affidavit with the Surrogate Court.
If you are seeking to administer the estate of a loved one, the entire process could take up to one year or longer, depending on the amount or quantity of assets at issue as well as your loved one's unpaid debts and taxes. Moreover, if your loved one had a will that left assets to various individuals, such as children, additional steps may be necessary before the administrative process can be completed.
The first step before estate administration can begin is the appointment of an executor or administrator of the estate. If your loved one had a will, the person named in the will would be the executor of the estate. If your loved one died without a will, New Jersey law dictates that the surviving spouse, if there is one, be appointed as administrator of your deceased loved one's estate. The Surrogate Court will issue papers identifying the executor (Letters Testamentary) or administrator (Letters of Administration).
The Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration provide the executor or administrator with certain duties and authority, which include the following:
Collect and keep a record of the deceased individual's assets (i.e., safekeeping);
If required, have assets appraised (which may be needed in the event the sale of property is necessary);
Pay debts and taxes; and
Distribute property (after all debts and taxes are paid) to heirs either identified in your loved one's will or as identified in accordance with New Jersey law.
When the administration of your loved one's estate involves multiple parties, matters can get complicated and contentious very quickly. Learn about your rights and obligations by speaking with a probate attorney.
Whether you have lost a loved one or simply have questions about probate and the estate administration process, I am here to help. With more than 40 years of experience, Allen N. Papp, of Adams, Cassese & Papp, L.L.C., provides legal representation to clients from Woodbridge, New Jersey, as well as the communities of Perth Amboy, Edison, and Sayreville. Contact me today to learn about your legal options.