Probate Process in New Jersey

Explore our in-depth guide on the Probate Process in New Jersey. Understand the steps, legal requirements, and how Wenarsky and Goldstein, LLC can assist you.

What You Need to Understand About the Probate Process in New Jersey Probate

Probate is a court process that takes place when a person dies and leaves behind properties and personal belongings. In addition to settling debts or claims against the deceased’s estate, it involves managing the distribution of their assets to their beneficiaries. Whether you are a beneficiary or a personal representative, it’s critical to comprehend how probate functions to ensure a smooth and successful process.

If you are going through or about to start probate, contact the Law Offices of Wenarsky and Goldstein, LLC, for experienced legal representation and assistance. Our law firm has helped families and individuals with probate and estate planning for many years. We can help you navigate the process smoothly and achieve the most favorable outcomes.

Understanding the New Jersey Probate Process

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s assets are distributed, and their affairs are settled under the supervision of the court. During probate, the probate court, known as Surrogate’s Court in NJ, validates the deceased person’s will, if there is one, and oversees estate administration, including settling debts and taxes and passing down the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

Probate also provides a formal mechanism for resolving any disputes that may arise following one’s death.

When Is Probate Necessary?

Probate may not always be necessary. However, here are the circumstances that will require probate in New Jersey:

  • The assets are owned solely by the decedent, with no co-owners or beneficiaries.

  • The deceased had possessions that are subject to creditors’ claims.

  • Real estate properties are involved.

  • The probate estate does not qualify for small estate administration.

It’s important to remember that not every asset must go through probate. Assets held in a trust, assets held in joint tenancy with survivorship rights, and assets with designated beneficiaries—such as certain bank accounts, retirement accounts, pension benefits, and life insurance policies—usually don’t go through probate but straight to the designated beneficiaries.

The Probate Process: Step by Step

The complete probate process in New Jersey involves the following steps:

  1. Filing the Petition: The initial action involves submitting a petition or the decedent’s will to the Surrogate’s Court located in the county where the decedent resided at the time of their passing.
  2. Appointment of Executor/Administrator: The court appoints an administrator if there is no will or named executor.
  3. Notification of Interested Parties: The appointed executor or administrator must inform creditors, beneficiaries, and heirs of any relevant information on the probate process.
  4. Inventory and Asset Appraisal: The executor or administrator compiles a list of the deceased person’s assets and has them appraised as of the death date. The court will review and approve this inventory and appraisal.
  5. Settlement of Debts and Taxes: The executor/administrator locates and uses estate assets to settle the deceased person’s outstanding debts and taxes, including the deceased’s final income tax returns.
  6. Approval by Probate Court: The executor or administrator presents an accounting of the estate to the court for approval.
  7. Distribution of Assets: If a will is absent, New Jersey’s intestacy laws govern how and to whom the estate’s assets will be distributed.
  8. Final Accounting and Closing the Estate: Following the court’s approval of the final accounting, the estate may be closed, and the executor/administrator may be relieved of their responsibilities.

Probate Documentation

The specific documents that must be filed during probate may vary by case. However, here’s a list of common documents needed at the filing stage:

  1. Original Will: The original will must be submitted to the Surrogate’s Court.
  2. Original Death Certificate: Along with the will, an original of the deceased person’s death certificate must be filed to start the process.
  3. Inventory of Assets: When there’s no will, an inventory of the decedent’s possessions is required. Assets such as bank accounts, investment accounts, personal property, and real estate holdings should be included in this inventory. Documentation of the assets and their value must also be provided.
  4. List of Creditors and Debts: The Surrogate’s Court must be given a list of the deceased person’s known creditors and debts.
  5. Surety Bond: When there is no will, the administrator will need to purchase a surety bond to ensure the faithful performance of all duties. Once the probate is closed, the bond can be refunded and the executor released once all beneficiaries and the executor file a Refunding Bond and Release.

Understanding Executor Duties

The primary roles of an estate executor include the following:

  • Initiating the probate process

  • Locating and securing the decedent’s estate assets and properties

  • Locating beneficiaries and heirs

  • Listing and appraising of probate assets

  • Notifying creditors and paying outstanding obligations

  • Filing taxes

  • Distributing assets to beneficiaries and heirs

  • Accounting and reporting all estate transactions

  • Resolving disputes and closing the estate

Common Challenges in the Probate Process

Dealing with Debts and Taxes

Part of the executor’s responsibilities is to notify the creditors of the decedent’s passing. The executor must review creditor claims to ensure their validity. They are also in charge of allocating the estate’s available funds to cover legitimate debts and expenses. This could include funeral expenses, hospital bills, unpaid debts, administrative costs (including probate fees), and any other debts the deceased person had.

Taxes are one aspect that can require financial and legal assistance. Depending on the value of the estate, federal estate tax may need to be paid.

Probate Disputes and Litigation

During a New Jersey probate process, several disputes may surface among the decedent’s surviving spouse, family members, beneficiaries, and creditors.

Here are some common disputes during a probate process in New Jersey.

  • Validity of the will

  • Disagreements between family members and designated beneficiaries

  • Creditor claim disputes

  • Executor misconduct

  • Asset valuation disputes

  • Inheritance disputes

The executor must work in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries while resolving these conflicts and keep lines of communication open with all parties involved. Executors are allowed to seek advice and assistance from financial advisors and probate attorneys as needed. Early and cooperative dispute resolution can reduce conflict, avoid court proceedings, and speed up the process.

Seek the Help of an Experienced New Jersey Probate Attorney

New Jersey probate laws can be overwhelming, especially in a time of grief. Seeking the help of the Law Offices of Wenarsky and Goldstein, LLC, could help reduce the risks of disputes and mismanagement of estate property.

Our law firm offers top-tier wills, estates, trusts & guardianship services. We assist beneficiaries and executors in navigating the probate process and protect their rights. Our lawyers’ extensive knowledge and experience in New Jersey probate law can prove especially helpful when adversary claims are initiated.

Call us today, and let us know how we can help you.

Call the Law Office of Wenarsky & Goldstein

At the Law Offices of Wenarsky & Goldstein, LLC, our New York and New Jersey attorneys are experienced and knowledgeable in bankruptcy, estate planning and probate, guardianship, special needs planning, and real estate law. To learn more about how we can assist you with your legal needs, call us today at 973-453-2838.