Appointing an Executor or Administrator | Handling Estate Assets

Probate Title On Legal DocumentsIf you’ve been named as executor under a last will and testament or have the right to become an administrator of an estate in New Jersey as an heir at law, you may think that gives you the power to start distributing property. Think again—before you can take any action, you must be formally appointed by the surrogate’s court in the County where the deceased resided. You’ll have to wait at least 10 days after the death of your loved one and you need to bring a certified copy of the death certificate to the surrogate’s court when you make your application to qualify. In addition, if the will isn’t “self-proving,” the court will require at least one of the witnesses to the actual signing of the will to appear in court. (A self-proving will typically includes a provision that attests to its validity.”

Once an executor or administrator is appointed, the court will issue what are known as “letters testamentary,” or “letters of administration.” Such letters grant authority to the executor or administrator to:

  • Take possession of assets and prepare an inventory
  • Obtain appraisals of property, if necessary
  • Pay all existing debts and taxes of the decedent/estate
  • Distribute the assets of the estate in accordance with the terms of the will

The executor must provide written notice to all heirs and beneficiaries of the estate within 60 days of the admission of the will to probate, notifying them that probate proceedings have been initiated and that they have been appointed as either executor or administrator. The Notice of Probate must also offer to provide a copy of the last will and testament upon request.  Under New Jersey law, the executor or administrator is entitled to compensation for the work of administering an estate.

Managing the Assets of the Estate

As a general rule, the executor or administrator opens a bank account in the name of the estate and pools all cash assets in that account. Any additional amounts that come into the estate, such as from the sale of assets or from interest earned, also go into that account. The executor or administrator also has authority over physical assets, such as real estate, vehicles and personal property.

The executor or administrator must keep detailed and accurate records of the assets of the estate, including income and distributions. While most estates are resolved informally both the beneficiaries and the executor or administrator have the right to proceed with a formal accounting proceeding before the cour t and the executor or administrator must be prepared to render a complete accounting.

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