In our first blog in this series, we identified the limited situations where survivors may use the simplified probate process in New Jersey. If you don’t meet those requirements and there are assets that must pass through probate, the estate will need to go through the regular probate process. In most instances, that process can be completed in less than a year.
Step One – Appointing an Executor
If you have been named in the will as executor or administrator, you’ll need to file a request with the surrogate’s court in the county where the deceased lived, asking to be appointed executor. That request should be made within ten days of the death of your loved one. Bring the original will, as well as a certified copy of the death certificate. You may also need at least one of the witnesses to the signing of the will. If the will was signed in the presence of a notary, it’s generally considered to be “self-proving,” and that’s not necessary.
If there’s no will, the court will appoint someone to act in a capacity similar to the executor. That person is known as the administrator. Under New Jersey law, a surviving spouse has first priority to be named administrator.
Step Two – The Letters Testamentary
Assuming that there’s no will contest and that the court has no reason to question the validity of the will, “letters testamentary” will be issued (if there was no will, that document is referred to as “letters of administration”). With those letters, the executor or administrator has the power to:
- Identify, gather and document all the assets of the estate
- Pay any final debts, obligations or taxes
- Obtain any required property appraisals
- Distribute the assets in accordance with the terms of the will or the state intestacy laws (if there is no will)
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