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Is probate important when crafting an estate plan?

For a New Jersey resident who is preparing an estate plan, a frequently overlooked part of the process is probate. Many people who take the steps to craft an estate plan do not fully grasp the importance of probate. It is vital for people who would like the distribution of assets to go smoothly and according to their estate plan that they are fully cognizant of probate and its different aspects.

After the testator has died - with or without a will - there will be a process of probate. When there is a will, all the person's assets will be distributed as the decedent stipulated. When there is no will, the state has certain probate laws that determine how the assets will be distributed. The assets will determine whether probate is necessary or not. The probate case will go to the Surrogate Court. The documents will subsequently be distributed. Depending on how the estate plan is structured, there can be an executor or an administrator. The executor will get Letters of Testamentary. The administrator will get Letters of Administration.

Once probate starts, the court will appoint a personal representative. That could be someone who was named in the will. However, if that is not the case, the court will appoint someone. That person will: assemble the assets of the decedent; pay all outstanding bills; and distribute whatever is left. For a small estate, it is possible to have an expedited probate process if there is no valid will and the value of the property does not go beyond $20,000 and the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary; or if there is no will and the value does not go beyond $10,000, there is no surviving spouse, and there is only one heir with all other heirs consenting to it.

For those who are considering their estate plan, it is essential to understand the probate process as well as other issues. A legal professional who is experienced in helping clients with all the different responsibilities that accompany probate is a key part of the process.

Source: findlaw.com, "New Jersey Probate Laws," accessed on Dec. 19, 2017

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