Handling the estate of a deceased family member or friend is one of life’s duties. Whether being named as “Executor” in a will, or stepping forward to act as “Administrator” where no last will was prepared, the “Personal Representative” will be required to carry out the administration of the deceased’s estate. There are legal, financial, and practical requirements to be followed.
Probate of a Will
If a last will and testament exists, the estate is submitted to “probate”. In New Jersey, probate consists of the named executor bringing the original will and death certificate to the county surrogate. After a few papers are signed and a filing fee is paid, the executor will be issued surrogate certificates which prove that he or she has the legal right to act on behalf of the estate.
Estates Without a Will
If a will does not exist, a family member must apply to the county surrogate for “administration” of the estate as per New Jersey statutes. The surrogate’s office then appoints an administrator of the estate. After obtaining a bond, filling out paperwork, and paying a fee, the administrator will be issued surrogate certificates which prove that he or she has the legal right to act on behalf of the estate.
Will vs. No Will
Without a will, submitting an estate to administration usually takes longer, is typically more costly, and requires that the administrator distribute remaining assets in accordance with statutes. By comparison, probating a will is typically faster, less costly, and requires adherence to the written intentions of the deceased.
Once surrogate certificates have been issued, the personal representative (Executor or Administrator) can administer the estate. An executor or administrator is a fiduciary who must act in the best interests of the estate. Pressure is often placed on the fiduciary by the beneficiaries for a distribution of funds before the estate is ready.
However, first, bills must be paid. Taxes may be owed by certain deadlines to avoid interest and penalties. Certain charitable gifts require notice to the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and review of the estate’s accounting before the estate is distributed. Sometimes, there is not enough money to pay bills, let alone distributions to beneficiaries. Every estate is different. Other actions may be necessary. The process can take longer than desired. At the end, it is important that the beneficiaries sign a document releasing the personal representative of all liability before money is distributed.
Help Is Available
What value will hiring an attorney bring to the fiduciary handling the estate? An attorney will bring service, certainty, and sanity, by efficiently managing and administering the estate while avoiding costly mistakes and time delays.
The fiduciary gains peace of mind that the estate has been handled properly and without personal liability from often contentious beneficiaries. New Jersey law allows a fiduciary to hire tax and legal representation using the estate assets.
We know the legal and other responsibilities imposed upon personal representatives and how to smoothly bring the estate to a close. If there are family issues, the firm uses strategies to reduce stress, time, and costs. In the end, it’s about family.