Probate or estate administration in New Jersey ultimately grant authority to act on behalf of a deceased person. The process can be easy or very difficult, but it can be hard to tell which without expert guidance. A probate proceeding involves a Will, whereas an estate administration proceeding generally does not.
In New Jersey especially, the county Surrogate’s office tries to help people avoid the expense of hiring an attorney for probate or estate administration. For some people, that may be the right approach, but for estate with multiple heirs, families who don’t get along, or situations where a tax return needs to be filed, the executor or administrator of the estate should consult with counsel as early in the process as possible. If a client is having a hard time navigating the rules, or if someone objects to administration or probate of a will, a lawyer is usually necessary.
A person who probates a Will is called the Executor of the Will. They are often able to avoid posting a bond, which is essentially an insurance policy against the representative for the estate stealing the assets of the estate. Once they receive their authority to act in the form of Letters Testamentary and an Executor’s Short Certificate, an Executor is then able and legally required to file any tax returns required, and transfer title to property into the name of the Estate and ultimately to its new owners. The Executor must at this point also ascertain whether the Estate has any debts, and pay them if assets exist to do so. By contrast, an administrator of an estate (for which there either is no Will or for which no named Executor is willing or able to qualify) will almost always have to post a bond. They will receive Letters of Administration and an Administrator’s Short Certificate, and will be able to use those documents in much the same way that an Executor uses theirs. They have the same legal obligations as an Executor. The difference is that, being bonded, they must follow some additional steps at the end of the process so that the Surrogate discharges the bond, and the Administrator does not have to pay for the bond anymore.
If an Estate needs to file a tax return, or the representative of the Estate needs to swear under oath about the contents of the Estate, it is wise to consult with an attorney throughout that process so that the representative does not inadvertently make a false statement and subject themselves to liability. Likewise, when making distributions from an estate, its representative has to run judgment searches on all heirs according to New Jersey law or risk having personal liability for the judgments. In such situations, as well as those where a Will is in dispute or family members do not get along, a lawyer may help reduce tension and miscommunication and avoid costly and time-consuming litigation that usually just serves to tear a family apart.
Archer Brogan is equipped to handle all aspects of estate administration and probate, and also to handle estate litigation proceedings if they become necessary. While it would be best if there were no conflict during these difficult times, the firm’s attorneys stand ready to protect an heir or a representative’s rights and interests if a lawsuit does need to be filed.
Archer Brogan’s attorneys will give its clients an honest assessment of whether they need an attorney for their case. If now is not the time for a lawyer’s assistance, my clients leave knowing they can always call a lawyer in later on to use as a resource. If there’s a need for more extensive litigation between feuding family members, the firm’s attorneys are prepared to appear in court to represent an estate and defend the intent of the decedent or the heirs.