Probate is usually the first step toward settling an estate after someone dies. In New Jersey, probate is relatively simple in most cases.
- Original Last Will and Testament
- Certified copy of the death certificate
- Contact information for the immediate next of kin, who may or may not be named beneficiaries
If everything appears in order, they sign papers that qualify them as the estate executor, and they receive multiple copies of a Surrogate’s Certificate. They may need to present these copies to banks and life insurance companies to close out accounts. There is a 10-day post-mortem waiting period before the clerk can provide the documents. Once the executor receives them, the state considers the will probated.
If there is no will, a personal representative presents the aforementioned documents to the Surrogate clerk. This individual is usually the spouse or other family member, and the clerk will qualify them as the estate administrator. They will usually be required to post a surety bond and make annual payments until the estate settles. The bond protects the heirs from any wrongdoing on the administrator’s part.
Once an executor or administrator is named and verified, that individual distributes assets without further oversight by the Surrogate Court.
Going through the probate process is unnecessary if beneficiaries are already associated with all the assets. You can accomplish this by creating a living revocable trust that holds your valuable personal property, having named beneficiaries on all your bank accounts and life insurance policies and ensuring that you have joint ownership for all real estate holdings.
Create an estate plan that either allows for probate or minimalizes the need for it. The choice is yours.