The process of proving before a legally authorized officer that an instrument submitted is in realty the Last Will and Testament of a decedent.
WHAT TO DO FIRST:
- Contact Social Security.
- Locate the decedent's will.
- If the decedent was a veteran, investigate veteran's benefits.
- Obtain one or more original death certificates, with a seal, from the funeral director.
- Secure all estate assets, especially the house and valuables. If there are multiple heirs, an inventory may be prudent.
- Start a checklist of estate debts, such as medical expenses, charge accounts, utility bills, etc.
- Start a checklist of estate assets, such as bank accounts, stocks, credit unions, etc.
- Arrange for pickup or forwarding of mail.
- Locate and protect assets.
- Apply for probate with the Surrogate's office by bringing:
- Original Will
- Original death certificate
- Addresses of all beneficiaries listed in the will and names and addresses of all next-of-kin
- Executor cannot be appointed until the 11th day after death, however application for probate can be made at any time.
- Surrogate's certificates or Letters Testamentary are issued by the Surrogate's office and are used to transfer assets of the decedent's estate. They are the executor's authority to act for the estate.
Except for a sole beneficiary situation, an Executor may wish to open an estate bank account to provide accountability of estate transactions. An identification number may be required and can be obtained from the IRS at 1-(866)-816-2065.
The Executor must ensure that all debts have been or can be paid by the estate before any distribution, even of personalty, can be made to beneficiaries.
Within 60 days after the probate of a will, the Executor shall mail to all the heirs-at-law, and to the beneficiaries (if different), a notice in writing that the will has been probated, the place and date of probate, and advise the addresses that a copy of the will is available upon request.
Proof of mailing, or a sworn statement, shall be filed with the Surrogate within 10 days of the notice of probate. The NJ Attorney General must be noticed if a charity is a beneficiary.
Refunding bonds and releases should be obtained from each heir and beneficiary receiving from the estate and filed with the Surrogate's office to protect the Executor from future liability.
Currently, many estates do not have an obligation for federal or New Jersey inheritance taxes if the estate is under $1,000,000 gross value. However, the Executor may have to file Federal and State income tax returns for the year of death.
The final distribution is made when the real estate, if any, has been sold or transferred, all debts and taxes paid and refunding bonds and releases have been filed with the Surrogate's office.
A surety bond may be required for an Executor in certain situations. The bond protects the creditors, beneficiaries and heirs of an estate.
A bond must continue in effect until the estate is settled and a Release of Surety is issued by the Surrogate. Bond Premiums are an expense of the estate.
Surrogate's certificates or Letters Testamentary are also called "short form certificates." The certificates are required to transfer ownership of each asset in the name of the decedent.
Certificates are dated and may or may not be accepted if they are over 60 days old. They can be updated if necessary for a small fee.
Additional certificates can be obtained by writing to the Surrogate's Court, providing the name of the decedent and enclosing the fee for the number of certificates requested. Certificates are usually mailed within one day of receiving a request.
A caveat to prevent a will from being probated may be filed with the Surrogate at any time before the judgment of probate is entered. If a caveat is filed, all future estate actions take place in the Superior Court.
To protect the estate during litigation, which may be lengthy, the Court may appoint a temporary administrator.
The persons, or organizations that have legal standing to contest a will are the beneficiaries in the latest, or immediately preceding will, the intestate heirs-at-law and possibly creditors.