New Jersey Probate Laws

Definition of Probate

In New Jersey, probate is the legal process that happens after a person (the "decedent") dies, regardless of whether the person died with or without a valid will. If a decedent dies with a will, then their property is distributed according to the will. If a person dies without a will, then the Garden State's probate laws dictate how the decedent's assets are distributed. Probate isn't always required after someone dies; it depends on what assets the decedent owned.

The Probate Process in New Jersey

In the state of New Jersey all probate cases go through the county Surrogate Court (PDF). The Surrogate Court will distribute the required legal documents: either "Letters of Testamentary" for an executor or "Letters of Administration" for the administrator.

Then, the probate proceeding begins. The court will appoint someone to handle the administration of estate, i.e. a Personal Representative. Many times the decedent will already have named the personal representative in his or her will. If not, the court or clerk of the court will appoint someone (see below).

He or she must:

  1. Assemble all the decedent's assets
  2. Pay the bills (funeral expenses, creditors, taxes, and general administration expenses)
  3. Distribute any assets that are left over

Types of Estate Administration

The process of administering the estate will vary depending on whether or not the decedent had a valid will and the type of probate administration the decedents estate will have to go through. In New Jersey, if a decedent's estate is small enough, the law allows the estate to be probated using a simplified process.

See Probate Court, State Probate Courts, Avoiding Probate, and Estate Taxes for more information.

Code Section N.J.S.A. 3B:3-22 et seq
Types of Probate Administration

Small Estate: 2 Types (Expedited Probate Proceeding)

1.

  • There is no valid will and the value of all property doesn't exceed $20,000
  • The surviving spouse or domestic partner is the only beneficiary.

2.

  • There is no will and the value of all property doesn't exceed $10,000
  • There is no surving spouse or domestic partner
  • There is only one heir and all other possible heirs give their written consent.

Regular Probate: All other estates.

What Assets Go Through Probate?

Probate is necessary when a person dies leaving property in his or her own name (such as a house titled only in the name of the decedent) or having rights to receive property.

Examples: Bank accounts in the decedents name with no co-owner and no beneficiary designation; real estate that is owned by the decedent individually; real estate that is co-owned as tenants in common; stocks and bonds in the decedents name, tangible possessions such as clothing, jewelry, household furniture, and cars registered in the decedents name only

What Assets Skip Probate Entirely
Estate Taxes Yes, New Jersey has a separate estate tax.

New Jersey probate laws can be tricky. Please consider contacting a local probate attorney who can help you better understand the current rules and procedures.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.