If you have been named executor of an estate, you probably have a lot of questions about the probate process. Probate is the legal settling of an estate after someone dies that directs how specific assets and debts will be handled. It is a huge responsibility to settle a loved one's affairs after their death. Here, we break down the duties of an estate executor in NJ to hopefully help clarify and demystify the process.
1. File the Petition
The first thing you will need to do as executor is file a request to begin the probate process in the deceased's New Jersey county of residence. In addition to the standard paperwork for that county, you will need to provide a copy of the will (if it exists) and a death certificate. This petition will be filed with the court and a hearing will be scheduled to approve you as executor. This hearing will also include any objections from other parties. If approved, you will officially be named the legal executor of the estate and the probate case will be opened.
2. Notify Involved Parties
Once probate has been opened and you have officially been granted executorship, you will need to send notifications via mail (within 60 days) that the estate is in probate. Notifications will go out to all creditors, beneficiaries, and heirs. It is a good idea to obtain proof that you mailed these notifications either by sending them via certified mail or filling out a proof of mail form after the notice is sent.
3. Take an Inventory of Assets
You will need to collect, inventory, and appraise all assets subject to the probate process. This list of assets will need to be presented to the court. It can include bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, real estate, and valuable personal items (like expensive jewelry or art). Be sure to also identify non-probate assets. These can include joint-owned real estate, living trusts, and life insurance policies.
4. Manage Bills and Debts
Collect any outstanding money owed to the estate, like paychecks, social security payments, retirement benefits, and life insurance payout(s). Then, review any bills or debts owed by the deceased and determine what should be paid and how. If the decedent did not compile a list of debts and accounts as part of their will, this step could take some time. Go through checkbooks, bank accounts, and other records to determine outstanding debts. You will also need to determine if the estate can cover the full cost of the debts before you begin paying them off. You will also be required to pay any taxes and file a final income tax return on behalf of the estate.
5. Distribute Leftover Assets
Any assets that remain after all debts and bills have been paid will need to be distributed according to the will.
6. Close the Estate
Once all of the assets are accounted for, you can provide record of your accounting to the court and request that the estate be closed. Once the estate is closed, you will be released from your role as the executor.
The probate process can be complex and nerve-wracking for those who are named executor. Veitengruber Law is a law firm that is well-versed in estate planning. If you need help executing a will, reach out to us and let us know how we can help you settle your loved one's accounts. We can also help you set up your will to be as clear and inclusive as possible to make the probate process smooth for your executor when needed.