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In general, the probate process in New Jersey is not very complicated. A copy of the death certificate, along with a copy of the decedent's will and the county's information statement, can be faxed to the county Surrogate for processing and preparation. Usually within days, the surrogate's office calls to inform you that all your probate forms are ready for signing. Payment will be due at the time of your visit and varies depending on the number of Letters Testamentary that have been requested. These "letters" are certificates that inform banks, credit card companies, financial institutions and others that you have been appointed as the Executor of the Estate.
If the person (or "decedent") died intestate (without a will), the court will appoint an Administrator and generally require this person to purchase a bond to protect against stealing of estate assets. Dying without a will complicates the probate process in that more formal filings will be required and legal fees will generally be higher.
The Executor, or Administrator as the case may be, is responsible for notifying the estate beneficiaries of their inheritances and provides them with a copy of the will. A beneficiary has 4 to 6 months (with some exceptions) from the date of notification to contest the will or probate.
Be wary of unscrupulous attorneys who try to sell you on estate arrangements that avoid New Jersey probate. While there are some limited situations that would necessitate the avoidance of probate, in general, these higher costs plans are a waste of money and complicating to your life.
Also, be aware of taxes that may be due on an estate. These include federal estate tax, New Jersey estate tax and New Jersey inheritance tax. It is important, as the executor of the estate, that you can all estate returns filed to receive tax waivers to access bank accounts, securities accounts and sell real estate. Contact us for more information about probate in New Jersey.