If you have recently had a loved one pass, please accept our deepest condolences. We have all been through the grieving process and know that the last thing you want to do is deal with attorneys and the court system. As a New Jersey Probate Attorney, I am providing the complimentary information below to help you through the process.

Is there a general summary of the probate process?

Generally speaking, you can think of the probate process or estate administration like starting up a business. It will collect all of the assets, manage them for the life of the “business”, and then pay them out to beneficiaries (“shareholders”) as soon as possible. This typically takes about a year (although, of course, this may differ depending on the specifics of the estate).

How about some more details?

To being the probate process, the designated estate representative (if any) will have to present the decedent’s death certificate to the Surrogate of the county where the decedent lived, along with several forms.  These forms are typically available on the Surrogate’s web page.

This will allow the Surrogate to present the Estate Representative with “Letters Testamentary”.  Think of this as your license to represent the Estate.  It allows businesses to deal with you directly.  At this point, legal notices must also go out to the legal heirs of the Estate.

After the legal notices have been sent, the Estate Representative needs to determine what the assets of the Estate are.  All liquid (cash equivalent) assets need to be placed into an Estate bank account, so the Estate Representative will also need to use the Letters Testamentary to open up a bank account in the name of the Estate.

Once the assets have been identified, the Estate Representative must transfer the assets into the Estate’s possession.  This occurs either through bringing them into the bank account or changing the legal title to the property (for example this may be necessary with real property or some stocks).

While the assets are being “marshaled” (gathered), the Estate Representative should also be identifying the creditors of the Estate.  The creditors must be paid before any beneficiaries receive their inheritance.

Additionally, prior to six months after the date of death, the Estate Representative will have to determine whether there are any New Jersey State “Death Taxes.”  In New Jersey, we have both an Estate Tax (tax on the total value of the Estate) and an Inheritance Tax (tax on the distributions to the beneficiaries).  These taxes are not always due to the State of New Jersey, but when they are the Estate Representative is responsible for getting the money to the State prior to the six-month deadline.  After that, there may be interest or penalties assessed.  In some instances, the Estate Representative may also be dealing with Federal Estate Taxes, which is another topic altogether.

After the taxes (if any) are paid, the creditors are paid, the Estate Representative can start thinking about closing the Estate.  Prior to that, the Estate Representative will have to account to every beneficiary about their activities over the previous months. This accounting usually shows everything from how much was spent on attorneys, accountants, taxes, and other various expenses, to the amounts each beneficiary will be receiving.  The beneficiaries should sign off on this accounting before the Estate Representative sends out their bequests.  When all of the money is distributed, the Estate Representative can close the Estate.

Depending on the size (and therefore complexity) of the Estate, any of the above duties can go from straight forward to incredibly complex and time consuming.

What can Rasmussen Law do to help me?

Our goal is to use our experience in the Estate Administration process to put your mind at ease and let you focus on your family in this difficult time.  Ideally, a client meets with us once or twice initially and–other than being kept informed on how the administration is going–will have little involvement in the “day-to-day” estate administration until the time the disbursements are made.  Of course, if you would like to be more “hands on” we welcome that as well.  Simply put: it is our goal to let you be as involved as you want to be so that you can be present for your family and focus on the important things in life.

Contact our team, we are here for you!