As with anything involving the law, the probate process can be difficult to wrap your head around on your first go or your fifth. It’s made a little easier if you can hire an attorney experienced in the probate process, but things should go smoothly, so long as everything is in order before death. Even if they’re not, don’t fret! Probating a will in New Jersey is divided into six steps.
- Validating the will
- Appointing an executor or executors
- Taking inventory of the estate
- Paying all claims against the estate
- Paying all estate taxes
- Distributing any and all remaining assets
In case that’s still a bit confusing, let’s take a closer look at some of the major steps in the probate process.
- Obtain Probate Papers and Qualify as an Executor
Probating is a word that can look scary at first, but really, it’s just a fancy word that means determining the genuineness of a will, and this process begins after death. It can be performed either by a surrogate or the Superior Court of the county where the deceased lived when they died. A personal representative or executor can be appointed by going to the surrogate or Superior Court, though some documents are needed.
Those include: the original will, the certified death certificate, and unless the will is self-proving, at least one witness who signed the will and can prove it is his or her signature on the will.
However, if these steps are not followed properly, either the Surrogate or Superior courts can help the executor(s) in following the proper procedure to make sure that things go smoothly.
Taking an inventory of the estate is the next step in the process. Basically this just means assessing the value of all the stuff in the entire estate. While the executor should be able to handle the basic things, high-value assets (homes, vehicles, land or any valuable collections, such as art) should be handled by professional appraisers that have been appointed or certified by the court.
- Pay Claims of the Estate
It is the executor’s responsibility to notify any creditors or those with claims against the estate. Anyone who has a claim should notify the probate court within a certain time period. The executor will also be responsible for accepting or rejecting any claim as it is submitted. If it is accepted, the claim is paid out of the total value of the estate. If a claim is rejected by the executor, creditors may file a lawsuit against the estate. Once any and all claims have been dealt with and inventory is complete, it is then submitted to, reviewed and affirmed by the court.
- Death and Taxes
For the next step, any applicable tax forms must be completed and sent to the IRS after inventory is completed. Among these is the 706 form, which is required by the IRS for estate taxes. This must be completed within 9 months of death, unless an extension is granted. Also required is a final 1040 form, which must be completed for the year of death, as well as 1041 forms for any trusts that have been left behind.
Dependent on the final inventory of the estate and completion of necessary tax forms, taxes are then paid to the IRS. Once received, a letter will be issued stating that any and all taxes have been paid. However, this process can take a while, up to 1-2 years after death. Family members need not worry though, as an experienced attorney can handle this step, minimizing both expense and time, as well as helping to avoid serious consequences caused by any potential errors.
Once everything with taxes and claims is settled, a final accounting is done to summarize affairs for the court. A final accounting includes the initial inventory, any and all earnings, sales, and bills and taxes paid. Payments received by heirs are itemized before payout, which happens once final accounting has been approved by the court. If any disputes arise, beneficiaries are able to challenge the executor before the court.
The Last Round Up
Once everything has been approved and signed off on, final accounting is submitted to the court for approval. They will then issue an order that stating that everything is good in terms of distributing things amongst heirs. At this time, heirs are paid according to the wishes outlined in the will, but if someone has died intestate, heirs are then paid according to those laws.
Distribution is the final step in probate. This is when anything left to any and all heirs is given out. This can include anything from money to property, but all beneficiaries must sign a release and refunding bond before that can happen.
This concludes our quick look at the probate process. While it can be difficult to wrap your head around all the rules and regulations, we do hope that this has helped you to get a little better grasp on the whole thing!
If you or someone you love needs assistance with Elder Care law issues, call 856-281-3131. Let us help ease your stress and give you a plan.