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What are the basics of a New Jersey probate case?

Individuals in New Jersey may have heard of "probate" (for better, or worse,) but unless they have experienced the probate process first-hand, they may not understand what it means. The term "probate" refers to the legal process of distributing an individual's assets and winding up the individual's estate after he or she passes away. If the individual had a valid will, his or her assets will be distributed per the terms of the will. If the individual did not have a valid will when he or she died, then his or her assets are distributed to his or her relations per New Jersey intestacy laws.

In New Jersey, county Surrogate Courts handle probate cases. The court will name an individual to handle the administration of the deceased's estate. Sometimes this individual is named in the deceased's will. This individual is known as the "personal representative." In general, the personal representative has to complete several roles.

First, he or she must gather all of the decedent's property. This includes tangible property such as homes, furniture and jewelry, and intangible property, such as stocks and bank accounts. Then the personal representative must pay all of the decedent's bills. This might include expenses related to the funeral and general administration expenses, along with paying any necessary taxes on the estate. Finally, the personal representative will distribute to the deceased's heirs what is left over from the deceased's estate after the expenses and taxes are paid.

This is only a brief overview of the probate process in New Jersey, and does not serve as legal advice. A personal representative may have additional duties not listed here, depending on the complexity of the deceased's estate. Therefore, anyone in New Jersey who has been appointed as a personal representative to an estate should make sure he or she understands what his or her duties are, so he or she can execute them accordingly and avoid liability. Some people choose to enlist the services of an estate administration attorney in such endeavors.

Source: FindLaw, "New Jersey Probate Laws," accessed Sept. 24, 2016

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