When a loved one passes away, the days, weeks, and even months that follow are filled with grief and other strong emotions. If you recently experienced the death of a loved one, the practical and legal ramifications of your loved one’s death are probably not at the forefront of your mind. If you were named as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, however, your loved one is counting on you to be able to put aside your grief to the extent necessary to handle administering his/her estate. The same applies if your loved one died without a Will and you are the obvious choice to volunteer to be the Administrator of the estate. If you have never served as an Executor/Administrator, you may know very little about the process of probating an estate which is why you should consider retaining the services of an experienced New Jersey estate planning attorney. To help get you started though, the estate planning attorneys at Augulis Law Firm. have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Hillsborough Township, New Jersey area.
The New Jersey Probate Process
As someone new to the concept of probate, it helps to familiarize yourself with the process itself first. Probate serves several important functions, including providing a legal framework within which the decedent’s assets are transferred to the new owners as well as ensuring that all creditors of the estate, including tax authorities, are paid. When a Will was executed by the decedent prior to death, the person in charge of the probate process is the Executor named in that Will by the decedent. In an intestate estate, the person appointed by the court to be the Administrator is in charge of the probate process and the New Jersey intestate succession laws govern the distribution of the decedent’s estate assets. To make things simpler, the term “Personal Representative” is used to refer to either an Executor or an Administrator given that they perform essentially the same function. For more general information on the probate process, the American Bar Association has a section entitled “The Probate Process” on its website that you may wish to read. In addition, the Somerset County Surrogate’s Court has a published a pamphlet entitled “How to Probate a Will in the Somerset County Surrogate’s Court” that provides some helpful information.
The probate of an estate usually occurs in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of his/her death. A decedent who lived in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, therefore, would likely have his/her estate probated in the Somerset County Surrogate’s Court. Although you are not legally required to retain an attorney to assist you, the complexity of the probate process coupled with the time and attention you must spend on it causes most PRs do hire an experienced estate planning attorney. If you decide to proceed without the assistance of an attorney, referred to as proceeding “pro se,” you will be expected to understand the court rules as well as the state and federal laws applicable to the probate of the estate. The New Jersey Courts do have a Self Help Resource Center online that may be helpful to you if you proceed pro se. The courts also published a list of things the court staff can and cannot do for you. On that list you will note that although the staff can direct you to forms, they cannot answer legal questions because only an attorney can do that.
Finding the Right Attorney
If you recently lost someone close to you, it can be very difficult to focus on probating the estate, particularly given the inherent complexity of the legal system. Your will find that retaining an attorney makes your job much easier and dramatically decreases the likelihood that you will make a costly mistake. A good place to start if you do decide to hire an attorney is with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. In addition, Somerset Bar Association’s “Lawyer Referral” serve may be able to help you locate the right attorney for you.
Personal Representative Resources
As the Personal Representative of the estate you will have numerous duties and responsibilities throughout the probate process. To get the probate process started you will need to file the appropriate petition with the Somerset County Surrogate’s Court. When you file the petition you will need the original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament along with a certified copy of the death certificate. You may obtain certified death certificates from the New Jersey Department of Health. You will also likely need to conduct a thorough search to make sure you have identified all real property owned by the decedent. A good place to start is Somerset County “Real Estate Search” website where you can conduct a search of the county property records. Creditors of the estate must also be notified that the probate process has been initiated. Known creditors may be notified directly; however, for unknown creditors you must publish a notice in a local newspaper. For Somerset County, New Jersey, contact the New Jersey Press Association to arrange for publication.
Paying Federal Gift and Estate Taxes
Because every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes, you will need to be familiar with how to calculate the tax and how to prepare the tax return. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If it turn out that the estate does owe federal gift and estate taxes, any tax obligation due must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate. Prior to 2018, New Jersey also imposed a state gift and estate tax; however, that tax was repealed as of January 1, 2018. If you are probating the estate of a decedent who died prior to January 1, 2018, the estate may owe New Jersey estate taxes. The State of New Jersey, Department of the Treasury is where you can find additional information to help you determine if the estate is potentially subject to New Jersey gift and estate taxes.
If you have additional questions about the probate of an estate in Hillsborough, New Jersey, contact the experienced New Jersey estate planning lawyers at Augulis Law Firm by calling 908-222-8803 to schedule your appointment today.