After a loved one passes away, figuring out how to administer his or her estate can be challenging, particularly if you have never done it before. You’ve likely heard horrible things about estates languishing in probate and wonder if that is going to happen to you. If it does, do not worry. You do not have to endure the probate process alone.

What is probate? Is it always necessary? How does it work in New Jersey? Is there anything else I need to know about the probate process?

Probate is…

Probate is the legal process of closing out a person’s estate after he or she dies. Probate is not always necessary. It all depends on how the decedent’s estate plan was written — if there is one, — what assets he or she owned and if any beneficiaries were assigned to specific accounts. For example, property in a trust may not be subject to probate, funds in retirement accounts and life insurance policies may pass directly to beneficiaries, and jointly owned real estate would just pass to the surviving owner.

How does it work?

In New Jersey, probate cases go through the Surrogate Court in the county in which the decedent resided. If an estate plan does not name an executor, the court will assign the job of personal representative to an individual or firm deemed qualified to handle the position. The personal representative’s responsibilities include:

  • Inventorying assets
  • Paying creditors
  • Paying taxes
  • Handling claims against the estate
  • Distributing assets

There are a few different kinds of probate administration processes available in New Jersey. Small estates are typically handled with the simplified process. More complex estates generally require a traditional probate process.

Things to consider

Probate takes time. Do not expect to open a probate case and have it closed out in a day or two. Creditors and others who may file claims against the estate have a set amount of time to submit their claims. It can take months to officially close out an estate — longer if there are complex issues that the court needs to address.

Probate can be difficult to get through. Thankfully, you have the right to have legal counsel at your disposal through the entire process. With the right assistance, you can close out and administer the estate properly and in a timely manner.