Many people leave a percentage of their estate, instead of a specific dollar amount, to one or more charities in their Last Will and Testament. Under New Jersey law, when a percentage of the estate is left to a charity, the State Attorney General’s office is required to review the estate accounting to be sure that the amount left to the charity was not compromised in bad faith. In short, the Attorney General’s office must approve the estate accounting and the amount the charities are being given, and it is advisable for an executor to receive this approval before any money is distributed to any beneficiaries.

In the last year, the backlog of the Attorney General’s review of these files has grown very large. Presently, the turn-around time is up to one year from the date the AG’s office receives the estate accounting. This will cause major delays in closing estates. Not only will the charities not receive their money in a timely fashion, but other beneficiaries, including family members, will endure the delay as well.

Recently, in an attempt to address this concern, I submitted the following letter to Governor Christie:

Dear Governor Christie:
I have recently been informed that the Attorney General’s Office is backlogged over one year in reviewing and passing on probate accountings involving charitable bequests. This is a hardship for charities which need the funding these estates would provide, and also to the loved ones of the deceased who must wait to be paid their bequest.
As you may recall, the AG’s Office is charged by statute to review these accountings in order to protect charities. While I am sympathetic to budgetary constraints, this one year wait is more of a danger to the charities than unscrupulous executors.
Many of the charities have their own, in-house counsel, who review and approve of these accountings before submission to the Attorney General. May I suggest that in cases where the accounting has been reviewed and approved by in-house counsel, and when in-house counsel has executed a release and refunding bond, that the Attorney General clear the estate for distribution without review? Given the population’s demographics, this may work to alleviate the inevitable workload, and get these important gifts where they can do good work.”

I do not expect that anything will be resolved with a single letter. However, in the meantime, I recommend that anyone leaving money to charity in their Last Will be sure to leave a specific dollar amount, rather than a percentage of their estate. This will avoid the review by the Attorney General’s Office, and the resulting delay.

Remember, a Last Will can easily be changed by a Codicil. Do not write on your original Will document. Please call my office to set an appointment to revise these bequests. It is important to ensure that your family members receive their inheritance without the interference of the State.

© Shanahan & Voigt, LLC 2014

BE ADVISED that these comments are not legal opinions and are not to be relied upon as legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact your county bar association; most of which have referral services.