Helping you settle a loved one’s estate
The passing of a loved one can be an overwhelming time, but for many families, there is an added complication—the need to settle the loved one’s estate. This process, known as estate administration, can be even more complicated if the decedent didn’t leave a full estate plan.
We understand that taking on the administration of a loved one’s estate can feel like a part-time job—but we also understand that not all families need the help of an attorney in handling the estate.
How We Can Help with Estate Administration
Estate administration refers to all the steps in settling an estate—from probating the Last Will and Testament to distributing the estate. It can take a lot of time, and contrary to common perceptions, it’s not a process that applies only to the wealthy.
In fact, estate administration tends to be more complicated when the loved one who passed, also known as the decedent, had only a partial estate plan or no estate plan at all.
Families may overlook making a full estate plan for all kinds of reasons, including because they didn’t think they needed to yet or because they didn’t think this level of legal planning applied to their situation.
Most people don’t have the time or expertise to settle issues and distribute an estate. Even those with enough time are typically overwhelmed by a process that is foreign to them and occurs at the most inopportune time—immediately after the death of a loved one.
At Goldberg Law Group, we recognize that families don’t always need an attorney to handle every estate. Instead, we will talk with you on the phone and assess whether or not you should engage a professional. If the estate administration is complicated or you just need a guiding hand on a basic estate, we’re here to help.
What the Estate Administration Process Involves
Estate administration, also known as probate, is the process that allows a named executor to handle the affairs and wishes of the person who has passed. The executor or executrix can be a person, such as a family member, or an institution, such as a law firm, but in either case the executor must be named in the will.
Additionally, in order for someone to be legally named the executor, the will needs to be probated, which is the process of “proving” a will in court. The probate process needs to happen in the county where the decedent last lived, and the court legally won’t consider the will until ten days after the decedent has passed.
Once the initial probate process is complete, the executor must attend to the following:
- Identify and gather all assets
- Identify all debts
- File any taxes
- Distribute anything specifically designated in the will
- Open an estate account and pay debts
- Confirm the value of the estate
- Determine how the estate should be split
- Prepare release forms for beneficiaries to sign
Keep in mind, however, that each part of the process tends to involve its own additional steps.
At Goldberg Law Group, we understand that learning about and adhering to specific legal requirements during an emotional time is challenging, even for those used to juggling all the complexities of family and professional life.
Why Do You Need Probate?
Probate is the process of legally proving a will in court. While this may seem like an elaborate hurdle that is more recognizable as a scene in a movie than in real life, probate is an important step in estate administration.
Probate allows for the executor to be legally named. Or, if there is no will, then a New Jersey court will appoint an administrator of the estate.
Probate is also needed for the executor to marshal—or take (temporary) possession and control of—the decedent’s assets. In other words, probate is the required step to have access to your loved one’s assets in order to pay their taxes, pay off their debts, distribute inheritance, and more.
Which assets, specifically, need to go through probate? The distinction has to do with beneficiary designation.
- Probate: any asset in the decedent’s name alone that does not have a beneficiary designation
- Non-probate: any asset that is jointly held and/or has a beneficiary designation
In addition to being legally required, in situations where there is property of emotional importance or financial value to be distributed, probate helps all potential beneficiaries know that the process is being meted out according to the will. After all, the passing of a loved one or family member can affect people in ways they never anticipated, and emotions may run high during this time.
The team at Goldberg Law Group provides effective, efficient estate planning and administration services. We recognize that every estate and situation is different, and we take pride in providing compassionate and individualized services.
Managing Estate Assets and Debts
Once the probate process is complete, the executor or administrator of the estate is ready to manage their loved one’s assets and debts.
To begin with, you will need to identify and gather all known assets, debts, and expenses, such as:
- Real estate
- Life insurance policies where the estate is the beneficiary
- Personal property
- Bank accounts and investment accounts
- Business interests
- Veteran, union, and/or Social Security benefits
- Credit card balances
- Medical bills
- Funeral and burial expenses
- And more
This part of the process can vary widely—from the relatively straightforward to opening mail and going through files to track everything down. Under New Jersey law, the person who administers the estate may charge a commission for their time that is determined by a set formula.
Once you’ve gathered and inventoried assets and debts, you’ll need to determine if there are estate, inheritance, or federal taxes due. You’ll also need to determine if income tax needs to be filed. At this point in the process, it may be helpful to work with an accountant or other financial professional.
The team at Goldberg Law Group brings a collaborative approach to our legal services, and we are used to working with other professionals to better address the full spectrum of our clients’ needs.
Settling the Estate
Although the phrase “settling the estate” is often used interchangeably with “estate administration,” settling an estate also refers to a specific part of the estate administration process.
In addition to distributing any property specifically designated to certain beneficiaries in the will, the executor or administrator must also open an estate account and deposit the marshaled assets, or the assets they have legally taken control of as part of the estate administration process.
Once the assets have been deposited in the estate account, they can be used to pay off any known debts. Likewise, the executor will need to arrange for taxes to be prepared and filed or obtain tax waivers when necessary.
If the estate doesn’t have enough assets to pay off all the debts, then New Jersey state law has regulations for prioritizing who gets paid first.
It’s also worth noting that in New Jersey, you aren’t personally responsible for the estate’s outstanding debt. The debt may be paid out of the estate’s assets—but not out of an inheritor’s or beneficiary’s personal assets, no matter what creditors may try to get you to agree to.
At Goldberg Law Group, we aim to reduce as much stress as possible on you and your family during the estate administration process.
Distributing the Estate
The final phase in the estate administration process is to distribute the estate.
In the distribution process, you must:
- Confirm the value of the estate, which may include hiring valuation professionals to determine the market value of a home or business
- Determine how the estate is to be split, according to legally determined inheritance, although sometimes the beneficiaries may agree to a slightly different arrangement among themselves
- Prepare (or hire an attorney to prepare) release forms for each beneficiary’s signature
In estates where more than one person stands to inherit, the executor may feel pressured to distribute the estate as soon as possible. After all, if a sibling needs money in the moment, it can be hard for the executor to put them off until the whole process is wrapped up.
However, as an executor or administrator, you are responsible for administering the estate properly. This means that if additional debt emerges within a legal time frame for payment or if it turns out that the assumed value of property isn’t as high as the actual market value and you’ve overpaid one inheritor, then you are financially responsible for the error.
At Goldberg Law Group, our team helps ensure that the estate distribution progresses in a timely but legally sound manner.
Work with Our Estate Administration Professionals
At Goldberg Law Group, our estate administration attorneys and professionals have extensive experience in working with families from all kinds of life and financial backgrounds in settling their loved ones’ estates.
If you need help administering a loved one’s estate or have questions as to whether or not your situation will be complicated to the point where hiring a professional may be helpful, contact us today for a free consultation
Serving New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado