According to a 2018 study by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in partnership with Age Wave, only 55% of American adults aged 55 and older have a will. Whether a person dies testate (with a will) or intestate (without a will) in New Jersey, the surviving family members must go through the probate process to settle the deceased person's affairs. Through probate in the Surrogate Court, the surviving loved ones can gather the decedent's assets, pay taxes and debts, and eventually distribute the remaining assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
At the Hudson Law Firm, I'm dedicated to helping people navigate the complex procedures involved in probate in the Surrogate Court. As an experienced New Jersey estate planning attorney, I can inform you about the benefits of having a trust or will and help you understand your available options to make your way through the potentially lengthy and time-consuming probate process. I can guide you through the different stages of wills, trusts, probate in the Surrogate Court, or estate administration.
My firm — the Hudson Law Firm — proudly serves clients across Union City, New Jersey, and the surrounding communities of Jersey City, Bayonne, North Bergen, and Hoboken.
Probate is a court-supervised legal process that is used to settle the final affairs of a deceased person. Probate in Surrogate Court gives someone (the personal representative of the decedent) the legal authority to:
Gather and evaluate the decedent's estate or assets
Pay taxes and debts
Transfer assets to inheritors
In New Jersey, probate court proceedings are only required for assets that are owned in the decedent's name alone.
Below are some ways through which probate affects your surviving loved ones:
Probate is costly. This means that it reduces the size of your estate that may be left for your family members to inherit.
Probate in Surrogate Court is time-consuming. It is common for there to be long delays before assets are finally distributed to inheritors.
During the probate process, all of the decedent's assets and bank accounts are frozen. Until the probate process is completed, all assets will be totally inaccessible to your surviving loved ones.
Probate lacks privacy and becomes a matter of public record.
Your estate and other assets will be subject to federal, state, and inheritance taxes.
Personal representatives have little or no control over who inherits what or how to handle certain properties, liabilities, or debts.
In New Jersey, probate matters are handled by two courts — the Surrogate Court and the Superior Court.
The Surrogate Court has jurisdiction to deal with probate and estate administration matters. The Court handles mostly probate matters that are uncontested, such as:
Admitting original wills to probate
Appointing personal representatives to administer the decedents' estates
Appointing administrators ad prosequendum (“for prosecution,” meaning the decedent was a victim of neglect or wrongful death)
Appointing guardians for minor children
The Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction that handles all contested probate matters. The Court also handled disputes that arise with respect to the decedent, guardianships, trusts, and conservatorships.
The probate process in New Jersey starts when you petition the court to appoint an executor (if there is a will) or an administrator (if there is no will). After appointing an executor or administrator, he or she will do the following:
Notify heirs and beneficiaries, including decedent's spouses, children, and grandchildren
Notify creditors of the probate proceedings
Gather and assess all of the decedent's assets
Collect all of the decedent's income, including claims, rents, dividends, interests, and debts owed
Pay the final expenses
Pay valid creditor claims
Pay all federal and state taxes, including income, estate, and inheritance tax
Prepare and file the decedent's final income tax returns
Transfer asset titles to heirs
Distribute all remaining property to the designated beneficiaries
Avoiding the costly and arduous probate process involves planning ahead. Here are some ways to avoid probate in Surrogate Court:
Joint tenancy — listing an asset with more than one owner
Revocable living trusts
Tenancy by the entirety
A will is a legal document that provides specific instructions regarding how a person's assets should be distributed to surviving family members or disposed of upon their death. A trust is a fiduciary relationship that allows you to appoint another person (a trustee) to help manage your final affairs and transfer assets to inheritors upon your death.
Wills are cheaper upfront but won't allow your loved ones to avoid probate in Surrogate Court later on. In contrast, trusts can be more complicated and pricier upfront. Trusts can help prevent your estate and family members from dealing with probate once you're gone.
In New Jersey, probate in Surrogate Court involves several complexities. Without an estate plan, your estate and surviving loved ones must trudge through the probate proceedings with little instruction. Fortunately, your surviving family members can avoid navigating the stressful and costly probate process alone if you have a detailed estate plan. A knowledgeable New Jersey estate planning attorney can review your situation and determine the ideal estate plan that best suits your unique needs.
At Hudson Law Firm, I have the resources and experience to guide you through all legal matters of probate and estate planning. As your attorney, I can review your circumstances and help you understand your available options. I can also guide you through the entire estate planning process from start to finish, or help you update your existing wills, trusts, or other estate planning documents.
Additionally, I will help simplify the complicated probate procedures, determine the best way to protect your assets, loved ones, and investments. I will work diligently to address your needs and concerns and create a plan that works for you.
The probate process is very complicated. Contact me at the Hudson Law Firm today to schedule a consultation. I can offer you the experienced legal guidance, assistance, and advocacy you need to make informed decisions. I proudly serve clients across Union City, Jersey City, Bayonne, North Bergen, and Hoboken, New Jersey. Reach out today to start planning for your tomorrow.