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The process of administering an estate

Administering an estate in New Jersey begins with locating a will. The items that the will controls, or probate assets, and the person who will be in control of the distribution of these assets will be named in the will as the executor of the will. In some cases, the deceased party may leave behind a trust document. However, there are cases in which there is no will or trust document left. In these cases, an administrator will need to handle the estate administration based on the prior estate planning.

Regardless of the existence of a will, some assets may need to be distributed according to previous agreements. These assets include retirement funds, property held with another person, life insurance policies and any assets that are owned by a trust. If the insurance funds and retirement funds are directed to the deceased person's estate they will become probate assets and will be under the governance of the will. However, if the beneficiary is a person or non-profit organization they do not become probate assets.

If a will is available a process known as the probate process will begin. If there is no will, then a qualified person will go to the courthouse to begin the process of becoming a personal representative. The estate will need to be appraised and the contents of the estate will need to be marked as either probate or non-probate.

It is important for everyone to have a valid will to reduce conflict and confusion after death. Estate planning attorneys may be able to help New Jersey residents develop a solid estate plan for what will happen after their death. Some individuals could also benefit from creating a trust to further control their assets. Those who do not develop an estate plan or construct a will may not be appropriately protecting their family and their property.

Source: The Journal, "Administering an estate", Deborah Miller, June 09, 2013

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