The loss of a loved one is typically followed by a grieving period that is full of heightened emotions ranging from denial to anger to depression. If you are currently grieving the loss of a loved one, the last thing on your mind is probably the practical and legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. Someone, however, must be in charge of overseeing the probate of the individual’s estate. If you were named as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, your loved one has put you in charge of the administration of his/her estate. If your loved one died intestate, or without a Will, you may also find yourself volunteering to oversee the probate process as the Administrator. If you have never served as an Executor/Administrator you may know very little about the process of probating an estate. Retaining the services of an experienced New Jersey estate planning attorney is always wise; however, to help get you started, the estate planning attorneys at Augulis Law Firm. have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Plainfield, New Jersey area.
The New Jersey Probate Process
Probate is the legal process that is typically required after someone dies. 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. The individual who oversees the probate of an estate is referred to as the Executor and is appointed by the decedent if a Last Will and Testament was executed prior to death. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult may volunteer to be the “Personal Representative(PR) and oversee the probate of the estate. The duties and responsibilities of an Executor and Personal Representative are essentially the same and the generic term “Personal Representative” is frequently used to refer to either someone appointed in a Will or who volunteered for the position. In a testate estate, the terms of the Will dictate how the estate assets are distributed whereas in an intestate estate the Florida intestate succession laws govern the distribution of the decedent’s estate assets. 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 Union County Surrogate Court offers several pamphlets related to the probate of an estate that may be of assistance to you
As the PR you will be responsible for initiating the probate of the estate in the appropriate jurisdiction. Typically, this means in the county wherein the decedent was domiciled at the time of his/her death. If the decedent lived in Plainfield, New Jersey that will likely mean probate will take place in the Union County Surrogate’s Court. Most Personal Representatives (PRs) retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist during the probate process given the often complex nature of the probate process and the challenge presented by navigating a court system with which they are unfamiliar. If, however, you decide to proceed pro se, or without the assistance of an attorney, you will be expected to understand the court rules as well as the state and federal laws applicable to the probate of the estate. There are some resources available to you that may be helpful. For example, the New Jersey Courts have a Self Help Resource Center online that you may find helpful. The courts also published a list of things the court staff can and cannot do for you. As you will note, although the staff can point you to forms and things such as that, they are not allowed to answer legal questions nor give advice.
Finding the Right Attorney
The probate process can be a lengthy and complex process that is difficult to navigate under the best of circumstances. If you recently lost someone close to you, it can be even more difficult to focus on what needs to be done. Retaining an attorney to assist you allows you to focus on the grief process and dramatically decreases the possibility of making a costly mistake. A good place to start 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, Union County Bar Association’s “Lawyer Referral” service may also be able to point you in the right direction.
Personal Representative Resources
When you file the petition to open probate with the Union County Surrogate’s Court, 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 the Union County “Public Land Records” website where you can conduct a search of the county property records by owner’s name. As the PR you will also be responsible for notifying all creditors of the estate that the probate process has been initiated. For unknown creditors you must publish a notice in a local newspaper. For Union County, New Jersey, contact the New Jersey Public Notices to arrange for publication of the notice of probate.
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 Plaintiff, New Jersey, contact the experienced New Jersey estate planning lawyers at Augulis Law Firm by calling 908-222-8803 to schedule your appointment today.