New Jersey Probate, Estate and Trust Administration

Serving Families Throughout New Jersey

Administration of a decedent’s estate involves, among many things, probating the estate, collecting the decedent’s assets, calculation and payment of estate taxes, and the distribution of remaining assets to the beneficiaries. An experienced probate and estate administration attorney can help to facilitate this often difficult process in a timely and effective manner.

Probating the Estate

An estate is comprised of the totality of the property owned by a deceased individual (the decedent). If the decedent had a Last Will and Testament (the “will”), then the property is ultimately distributed pursuant to the terms of the will and to the persons or entities that the decedent specifically named as their beneficiaries. If there is no will, then the assets are distributed pursuant to what is called the laws of intestacy. The laws of intestacy is the state’s plan for who receives the decedent’s assets when the decedent did not have a Will. Whether or not the decedent had a will, the assets that are in the decedent’s name will need to through probate. Probate is the court procedure by which:

  • The will is proved to be valid or invalid.
  • The property covered by the will is shown to be the decedent’s.
  • If there is no will, it is determined how the property is to be distributed, in accordance with the inheritance laws of the state where the decedent lived.
  • Unpaid creditors of the decedent are given the opportunity to file claims against the estate.
  • Fees for the administration of the estate are approved and paid.
  • The probate assets of the estate are distributed to the beneficiaries.

Before the property can be distributed, it is generally necessary to go through probate, or, in the case of small estates, a less formal procedure under the general supervision of the probate court.

Probate Avoidance

Because probate can be a lengthy, costly, and public process, many people choose to avoid it. There are a number of legal strategies that will allow you to pass property to another person after death, without that property going through probate.

Joint Tenancy & Tenancy by the Entirety

Adding another person to your assets as a joint owner or “joint tenant with rights of survivorship” will allow your property to pass to them upon your death without going through probate. There are pitfalls to this strategy, however, which include subjecting such assets to any claims (such as lawsuits) against the co-owner and making them available to the co-owner’s creditors — all while you are still alive and planning on using the assets yourself!

Beneficiary Designations

Transfer on Death (TOD) or Pay on Death (POD) beneficiary designations can be added to financial accounts. Beneficiary designations like these can be preferable to joint tenancy in that they allow you to transfer property only upon your death without giving away current ownership.

One of the drawbacks, however, is that it can be difficult to obtain an equitable distribution of property among your heirs by utilizing beneficiary designations. Additionally, understand that if you have beneficiaries listed on your assets, those assets will be distributed upon your death to the listed beneficiaries, even if your will states otherwise.

Revocable Living Trust

A Revocable Living Trust is a legal document that allows you to establish a separate entity (the trust) to “hold” legal title to your assets while you are alive, and to name trustees to manage those assets according to the trust terms. 

Typically, you serve as the trustee while you are alive, managing your assets for your own benefit. Upon your disability or death, the trust terms appoint your successor trustee who then continues to manage — or distribute — the assets held in trust. A properly drafted trust can accomplish many goals, including guardianship and probate avoidance for your estate and bloodline, marital and creditor protection for your children.

The goal, then, is to plan ahead and restrict the number of assets held in your personal estate as much as possible. This can require careful funding and administration of trusts, with regular updates to the trust’s contents in order to reflect the current holdings of the trust creator.

Trust Administration

Assets contained in a properly drafted and funded trust will generally avoid probate. The trust need not be filed with the probate court. Nonetheless, there are still steps necessary to administer the trust: beneficiaries must be contacted; assets must be gathered, valued, and managed; potential creditors must be notified; debts, taxes, and final expenses must be paid; and, ultimately, any remaining income and assets must be distributed in compliance with the trust terms. 

Successor trustees often lack the time, resources, or knowledge to personally administer the trust, and therefore may call upon legal, accounting, and investment professionals for assistance. We can help your successor trustee(s) deal with the complexities of administering your trust. 

Reach out to Van Dyck Law Group for legal assistance with any matters involving estate planning, probate, or trust administration. Please call our office and we will be happy to schedule a consultation, whether or not our office has drafted the original will or trust.

Schedule a confidential consultation with no obligation when you call (609) 293-2621 or contact us online.

Van Dyck Law Group Client Reviews

“ Fiona and her team made a complicated and potentially difficult process of planning for the inevitable an easy, pleasant and uncomplicated experience. Amazing!”

– Anonymous survey 2

“ The staff was very professional, courteous, and responsive. The process of updating and restating our trusts was less arduous than anticipated. Every question was clearly explained and clarified and aimed at our level of understanding. This was an A+ service.”

– David & Diane of New Providence, NJ

“ Fiona is professional and highly knowledgeable, but what sets her apart is her ability to explain complex legal details in an easy to understand manner. She is friendly and patiently answered our many questions thoroughly. Her staff is equally friendly and responsive. And they accomplished all of this under virtual conditions! Very pleased with our experience.”

– James and Sheri H.- Hopewell, NJ

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