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Probate overview: gathering assets and paying creditors

In our previous post, we looked briefly at the process of gathering together estate assets and paying off debts and taxes of the estate. In this post, we'll look at the final step of distribution of estate assets.

The final step of probate administration is to actually distribute the assets, and this may not take place until the debts and taxes on the estate are paid and a tax waiver has been filed. After this, the assets remaining in the estate may be distributed under the will or by statute.

When there is no will, assets will be distributed according to New Jersey's Intestate Distribute Statute. In following the statute, one should be sure the law is current at the time of the decedent's death. One may consult an attorney or the county surrogate's office for confusion as to how the statute is to be interpreted.

If the remaining assets are distributed by will, there are several possibilities for the way each asset is to be distributed. An asset may be specifically described and left to a beneficiary. A general devise leaves a specified amount of money to a beneficiary. The will may also leave a residuary devise, which is a share of the remaining amount of the estate after specific and general devises have been satisfied.

This is only a basic overview of the probate process. It is smart to work with an attorney, particularly where there are complications in the process or where one simply feels overwhelmed about the undertaking. Something else to consider is that, if improperly done, probate can be very expensive and could result in litigation. Securing professional advice will reduce the chances of any personal liability and ensure that the estate is properly administered.

Source: www.nj.com, "Your Legal Corner: Part two of basic estate administration," Victoria M. Dalton, 30 Jan 2011.

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