When a loved one dies, one of the most challenging tasks can be settling the estate, ensuring that assets are legally transferred in accordance with the decedent’s wishes. That’s the function of the probate process. The probate court oversees the settlement of the estate, ensuring that all necessary steps are taken to legally transfer title, if necessary, and that the property in the estate is distributed properly.
Step One – Determine Whether There Is a Will
If your loved one did not have a will, don’t be surprised—less than half of all adults in America have a valid will in force. In New Jersey, unlike many other states, a person who dies without a will can take advantage of the state’s “simplified” administration process. To qualify, the following conditions must be met:
- The value of the entire estate of the deceased does not exceed $20,000, and the surviving spouse is entitled to everything
- There is no surviving spouse, but the total value of the estate is less than $10,000
If neither of these criteria are met, the estate must go through a full administration process.
Step Two – If there is a Will Probate it
If your loved one had a Will and it is properly executed, you can submit the Will to the County Surrogate’s Court for probate. The process is fairly simple and the New Jersey Surrogate fees are not based upon the value of the Estate.
Step Three – Determine Which Assets Need to Be Distributed by the Probate Court
As a general rule, the probate process only applies to those assets owned solely by the deceased at the time of death. Some assets won’t need to go through the probate process:
- Any property that the decedent owned jointly with another person or persons will pass automatically upon death and does not need to go through probate
- Assets with a named beneficiary, such as retirement funds or payable on death (POD) bank accounts
- Life insurance proceeds where a beneficiary is designated
- Assets that have been placed in a revocable living trust
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