Hammonton Probate Lawyer
Hammonton Probate Lawyer
Every person who dies has an estate, and that estate must be administered properly according to law. In New Jersey, probate is a court-supervised process for administering the estate. Probate occurs whether there is a will or not and regardless of whether a person has a home or is poor.
For some estates, probate runs smoothly and the entire process wraps up in a few months. However, other estates could be much more complex. There might be questionable claims made against the estate, or family members might challenge the validity of a will. Contact a Hammonton probate attorney at Scott Counsel, P.C. if you need assistance with a probate matter.
Personal Representatives in New Jersey Probate
There are two types of personal representatives in New Jersey who administer estates: an executor and an administrator. If a loved one died with a will, then the executor should be named in it. However, if there is no will, then a loved one died intestate, and an administrator will be appointed by the county Surrogate’s court.
The personal representative has many important duties and is essentially the estate’s representative in court. A personal representative will:
- Create an inventory of the deceased’s assets
- Collect and safe keep estate assets
- Buy insurance, if necessary, to protect the value of assets
- Issue a notice to all creditors
- Review claims against the estate (such as unpaid bills) and pay, settle, or reject them
- Litigate a claim, if necessary
- Distribute assets to beneficiaries
- File and pay taxes for the deceased and the estate
The Surrogate court supervises the process fairly closely, and personal representatives owe fiduciary duties to beneficiaries, such as the duties of care and loyalty. If they administer probate carelessly, or if they take advantage of the process for their benefit, they can be replaced and sued.
Legal Disputes Involving the Personal Representative
Those who stand to benefit from the estate have certain legal rights, such as the right to challenge the personal representative in court. For example, a child who is a beneficiary might fear that the representative is wasting assets or misappropriating them, which reduces how much she will inherit. She can request that the court investigate and potentially act to preserve the estate.
A lawyer is a big help with requesting an order of accounting or the creation of a constructive trust. Personal representatives can also receive a commission for their services, which is another source of conflict if they take too much.
Probate without a Will
Too many people die without having created an estate plan, which means they have no will. Nevertheless, the estate is still probated. However, assets get distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws. These rules divide the estate based on many factors, such as whether the deceased was married at the time of death and if they had children with their surviving spouse. For example, if a man was married only once to a spouse who survives him, then the wife inherits the entire estate.
Some intestacy rules apply even with a valid will in existence. For example, the deceased might have tried to disinherit his wife or a child might have been born after the creation of the will. In these cases, those left out of the will could still receive estate assets.
Will Challenges in Probate
Someone disappointed with what they will inherit might challenge the will itself. If they can get it set aside, then a prior will becomes effective or the estate gets distributed according to intestate succession.
There are several grounds for challenging a will:
- The testator lacked capacity. If they struggled with dementia or severe illness, they might not have understood what they were doing, so the will is legally ineffective.
- Coercion or undue influence. Some elderly people are heavily dependent on others, such as older children, to provide care. This person might unduly influence the ward to change their will to benefit them.
- Fraud. A person might have signed a will not knowing what it was.
- Failure to follow formalities. New Jersey statute 3B:3-2 lays out the requirements for a valid will, such as the signature of two witnesses. If the will fails to follow these formalities, it is ineffective.
- Revocation. The will submitted to probate might have been revoked or amended by a subsequent will or codicil. The person challenging the will can submit these documents to the court for its consideration.
Will contests are time-consuming and difficult for people to navigate. A lawyer can represent either those looking to set the will aside or the representative defending the will.
How a Hammonton Probate Lawyer Can Help Personal Representatives
Most personal representatives are spouses or children of the deceased. They have no experience with probate or tax issues, and they might be overwhelmed by their duties. Nevertheless, many representatives want to avoid hiring a probate lawyer because of the expense. Though the estate can pay for the lawyer, they fear that they are taking assets away from family members who will inherit the estate.
A probate lawyer is an enormous benefit for representatives to have in their corner unless the estate is very small. An attorney can advise on many issues, such as:
- How to properly protect estate assets
- Whether to accept, reject, or settle a claim against the estate
- Whether to sell assets to pay creditors and which assets to sell
- Defending the validity of a will in court
- Providing an accounting to beneficiaries and the Surrogate court
- Filing taxes, especially when estates are complex
- How to properly invest certain assets prudently until they are distributed
A probate attorney in Hammonton can minimize disputes and cost-effectively resolve them. Trying to administer an estate without one can ultimately cost more money.
Speak with a Hammonton Probate Lawyer Attorney
Scott Counsel, P.C. can represent either personal representatives as they fulfill their duties or individuals seeking to challenge the will of the representative for misconduct. To better understand legal options, please contact us today by calling (856) 485-4585 to schedule a meeting.
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