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Whenever talk of estate planning comes up in Ocean County, you likely hear the same topic again and again: Avoid probate at all costs! Why is that? Most assume that the probate process will almost always be protracted, which will inevitably result in inordinate expenses paid from the estate’s assets that can cut into whatever interest you and others may have in it. Yet the truth is that many estates can actually avoid the probate process altogether (or at least be probated quickly). 

According to Section 3B.10-3 of New Jersey’s Statutes, if you are the spouse or domestic or civil union partner of the decedent, you can present a small estate affidavit to the court if the total value of his or her estate is less than $50,000. Doing so allows you to bypass administration and automatically inherit the entire value of the estate (with $10,000 protected from collection efforts by any of your deceased spouse’s creditors). The same is true if the decedent was a loved one with no surviving spouse, only in this case, the value of his or her estate cannot exceed $20,000. 

In either case, when presenting the affidavit to the court, you must provide the following information:

  • The residence of the decedent at the time of his or her death
  • The nature, location and value of all of the estate assets and property 
  • Your understanding that the total value of the estate does not exceed $50,000 ($20,000 if the decedent was not your spouse or partner)

You must also detail your relationship if the decedent was your spouse or partner. If you are an heir, you must provide the names and relationships of all of the decedent’s other known heirs. If the affidavit is approved, you assume all of the duties of the estate’s personal representative

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