Hamilton Probate Lawyer
Whether you are considering estate planning options or someone close to you recently passed away, it is important to understand the basics of probate laws in New Jersey. Probate is the process that serves to sort out the decedent’s property, pay debts, distribute assets to heirs or beneficiaries, and gain closure on legal and financial matters. The deceased person is not around to accomplish these tasks, so probate also involves appointing someone to act on their behalf. The specifics vary based upon the presence of a will and other factors, but a substantial proportion of decedent estates must go through probate to wind down final affairs.
Probate, also known as estate administration, is an official court proceeding that encompasses complicated laws and procedural rules. Depending on your position, you may have responsibilities; you might also have interests and rights to protect. Legal representation is critical, and you can trust the Scott Counsel, P.C. team to advocate on your behalf. We represent all parties in estate administration, so please contact us to set up a consultation today. A Hamilton probate lawyer can provide personalized advice after reviewing your circumstances, though some general information is useful.
5 Things to Know About New Jersey Probate Laws
Probate is an expansive term used to describe the legal transition and process of taking a decedent from life to death. When someone passes away, there are still rights and obligations that survive. Probate is the process by which a living person, with the authority of the court, addresses these rights and responsibilities – a means of sorting out the loose ends.
There are a few points to note about probate in New Jersey:
- When the decedent died with a will, the terms of the document drive the estate administration process. The court will officially appoint the person named as executor, and this person is tasked with following the intentions of the deceased testator.
- For a person who dies without a will, New Jersey intestacy laws apply. The court will appoint a personal representative to handle estate administration, and the surviving spouse has a preference to act. Adult children, parents, and siblings may also be appointed in some cases. Because there is no will to direct management of the estate, the probate code steps in to dictate distributions to heirs.
- Whether the matter involves a will or intestate estate, the executor/personal representative serves in a fiduciary capacity. This means the individual must prioritize the estate when acting and making decisions. There can be severe consequences for breach of fiduciary duty.
- Estates may be in the position to pursue a lawsuit, and they can also be sued. Some of the most common estate litigation includes creditor claims, will contests, claims against the fiduciary, and disputes over the personal representative.
- Though the executor and personal representative need to retain representation, other interested parties may benefit from hiring legal counsel. Creditors, beneficiaries, heirs, and others have rights to protect.
Steps in the Probate Process
Being a legal proceeding, the first step in probate is opening the estate. This is accomplished by filing the will and other required court documents; for an intestate case, an individual seeking appointment as the personal representative will file the proper petition. Our lawyers at Scott Counsel, P.C. will prepare the necessary paperwork and appear in court at the initial hearing. During this first appearance, the judge will issue letters of office that give the personal representative the authority to act concerning estate administration.
Our Hamilton probate attorneys will also assist with subsequent proceedings, tasks, and requirements, including:
- Sending required notices to all required parties and creditors;
- Gathering and itemizing the decedent’s real estate, personal property, and other assets;
- Completing an inventory of all assets owned by the deceased at death;
- Getting a taxpayer ID and opening a bank account specifically for the estate;
- Collecting rents and other income;
- Preparing the final income tax return for the deceased;
- Paying claims of creditors and contesting unverified claims;
- Making distributions to beneficiaries as designated by the will; and
- Determining which heirs are entitled to distributions under New Jersey intestacy laws.
Once all essential estate administration tasks are complete, we will assist with closing the estate. The personal representative will be required to file an accounting showing all assets, income, and expenditures of the estate. If the court is satisfied that all requirements have been met, the representative is relieved of duties and the case is closed.
Strategies for Avoiding Probate
After reviewing the legal process, you may be wondering if there are ways to sidestep some or all of estate administration in court. Fortunately, you have multiple options to avoid or streamline probate. Our attorneys at Scott Counsel, P.C. can explain:
- Beneficiary Designations: With pay-on-death (POD) bank accounts, you can name a person who is entitled to the proceeds at your passing. Your designated beneficiary will simply need to show a death certificate to access the funds.
- Life Insurance: The proceeds of life insurance automatically go to the beneficiary upon death, so they do not pass through probate.
- Joint Tenancy: Some assets, especially real estate, are titled joint tenants with the right of survivorship. When one tenant dies, that interest passes to the survivors and does not become part of the decedent’s estate.
- Living Trusts: When you create a living trust and fund it, the assets held in the trust do not officially belong to you. They are distributed according to the trust terms and not subject to probate laws.
A Hamilton Probate Lawyer Will Guide You Through Estate Administration
From the above description, you can see that skilled legal counsel is essential if a loved one recently died. Whether you are a personal representative, heir, or beneficiary, you have valuable interests to protect. The information is also useful in demonstrating ways to avoid probate or limit estate administration, and solid advice is necessary to achieve these goals. The New Jersey probate attorneys at Scott Counsel, P.C. are prepared to serve your needs, so please contact our firm to schedule a consultation. You can reach us by calling (856) 672-7248 or checking out our website.
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