First and foremost, you should locate their Will. The Will identifies the Executor or another individual who will be responsible for making the funeral arrangements. After that, the Executor should contact an Estate Attorney to probate the Will and begin the Estate Administration process.
If there is no Will, the next-of-kin determines the funeral arrangement. This is usually the spouse or a child. If the deceased never married or had children, next-of-kin could be a parent or sibling. The closest living relative should then contact an Estate Attorney to qualify as Administrator and begin the Estate Administration process.
What Steps should I take to Assist the Estate Attorney?
At the outset of every estate, your Estate Attorney will need to see the Original Death Certificate and Original Will, including any Codicils thereto. Your Attorney will also need a list of all immediate relatives, including the deceased’s spouse, children, parents, and siblings. Finally, the Estate Attorney will need a list of all assets and debts in the deceased’s name or in which they have an interest. Assets include real property, bank accounts, life insurance, stocks, bonds, etc. Debts include funeral expenses, unpaid final medical expenses, mortgages, auto and other loans, and credit cards, etc.
Where do I gather Information about Assets and Debts?
Gathering information about the estate is a bit like detective work. Unless you were familiar with their finances, it is going to take some investigation. The first place you should look is in the deceased’s personal papers, i.e. their desk, filing cabinet, safe, etc. If you have access to their email, that can also be a valuable tool. We are looking for recent financial statements, life insurance policies, credit card statements – anything having to do with their finances. You should also go to the nearest Post Office and forward their mail to your address. As Executor or Administrator, you may open their mail.
Once your Estate Attorney has information about the location of accounts, we will reach out to the various institutions to request additional information, including a list of all accounts, the value or balance due, forms, etc.
My Spouse or Loved one had a Car. What should I do?
Do NOT drive the car under any circumstances. If you are involved in an automobile accident, the Estate could become a Defendant in a costly lawsuit, even if you are not at fault. This is to be avoided.
If the car is financed or leased, call the lender or leasing company to return the vehicle. If the car is owned outright, the primary method of disposing a motor vehicle is by selling it to a willing Buyer at fair market value. If the car is of little value, it may be permissible to donate it to charity or simply junk it in exchange for removal.
If there is a specific provision in the Will, the car may be transferred to the named Heir by signing title over to them.
My Spouse or Loved one owned a Home or other Real Property. What Should I do?
If there is a Will or agreement among the Heirs, the property may be transferred to an intended recipient, either as some or all of their Inheritance or purchased at an agreed-upon price. However, if there is no one willing or able to receive the house, it must usually be listed for sale. An appraisal may also be necessary.
Once the house is under contract, your Estate Attorney will guide you through the process until the closing occurs and the house is transferred out of the Estate. Homeowner’s Insurance should be maintained until the closing occurs. If sufficient funds exist in the Estate, the mortgage, property taxes, and upkeep of the property should also be maintained to the extent possible. Your Estate Attorney can explain to you some of the possible consequences if there are insufficient funds in the Estate to pay the carrying costs, and should also be consulted if there is little or no equity in the house.
The proceeds of sale will then be held in the Estate Account to pay Administrative expenses prior to distribution of any remaining balance to the Heirs.
My Spouse or Loved one owned Property in Another State. What Should I do?
A New Jersey estate administration does not give you authority to transfer property in another State. You will need the assistance of an Attorney in the foreign jurisdiction to open an “ancillary proceeding.” Your New Jersey Estate Attorney will coordinate with the out-of-state Attorney.
How do I hire an attorney to help me administer an estate in New Jersey?
Mark Goldstein, Esq. and the attorneys at Goldstein Law Group have decades of combined experience assisting New Jersey residents with the probate process and a myriad of estate administration and related issues, including contested estate litigations, and we are here to help you when a loved one has passed. To schedule an appointment to speak to one of our knowledgeable New Jersey estate attorneys, call us at 732-967-6777 and ask for a Free 10 Minute Case Evaluation*. We represent clients in Old Bridge, Monmouth County, and the surrounding area.