Probate and Estate Matters
Though end-of-life planning can be a difficult subject, taking steps to ensure that your loved ones are protected in the future can help them to avoid even greater difficulties during a time of personal loss. Probate is a long legal process that gives someone the authority to carry out the necessary legal tasks after a person's death. If you die without a will, your property is distributed according to New Jersey's rules of "intestacy." Under these standards, there are close relatives to whom your property is distributed by law, starting with your spouse and children. If you have no living blood relatives, the state takes your property. In order to direct how their affairs are handled after their deaths, many people make wills. An experienced New Jersey estate planning attorney can help you create a will, living will, or power of attorney, or represent your legal interests if you have a sound reason to contest a will or estate.
While you do not have to retain an attorney to prepare your will, an attorney can ensure that you make provisions for all contingencies, including tax issues. An attorney's help may also make it less likely that your will is subject to heated and expensive will contests subsequent to your death.Formation of Wills, Living Wills, and Powers of Attorney
There are several important steps you must take in order to draft a valid will. For example, New Jersey law requires that your will be signed in front of two witnesses and that the witnesses sign your will. You do not have to notarize your will, but if you want to speed up probate for your loved ones after your death, you will need to make your will "self-proving." That does require you and your witnesses to get the will notarized. In light of these and other requirements, it can be beneficial to work with an attorney not only to draft a sound and comprehensive will, but also to ensure that your will adheres to all necessary procedures so that your final wishes are carried out properly.
You may also want to retain a probate and estate attorney to prepare a "living will." This is a form of advance directive that expresses your preferences regarding healthcare. Typically, it includes specific directions about whether you want life-prolonging treatments to be administered and under what conditions. An alternative to a living will is a durable power of attorney, which appoints someone to make a healthcare decision for you if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. Like your will, a directive must be witnessed by two adults, neither of whom is the one you designate to make health care decisions in the power of attorney.Will Contests and Estate Disputes
If you dispute a loved one's will, you may want to file a will contest. Our firm can help anyone with "standing" to challenge a will. Those with standing to challenge the will include a person who is named on the face of the will or a person who would inherit from the decedent if the will were determined to be invalid. Most wills are presumed valid, but in certain situations, a presumption of "undue influence" may arise. Undue influence may be found if there were (1) a confidential relationship (such as parent-child, clergy-parishioner, lawyer-client, or nurse-patient) between the testator (the decedent) and proponent of the will, and (2) suspicious circumstances.
Probate of a will in New Jersey can start as early as the eleventh day after the death of the decedent. To start a will contest, a person with standing must file a "caveat" with the Surrogate's Court before the will is admitted into probate. When a caveat is filed, someone who supports the contested will cannot simply present the death certificate to initiate probate. Instead, under New Jersey Court Rules, he or she must file a lawsuit to probate the will and a greater burden is placed on him or her.
Will contests can also be filed by an aggrieved New Jersey resident after the will is admitted to probate by filing a lawsuit under New Jersey Court Rule 4:85-1. This lawsuit asks the court to set aside the probate of the will within four months of the date of probate. Those outside New Jersey have six months from the date of probate to file a will contest.Retain an Experienced Somerset County Probate Attorney
An experienced New Jersey probate lawyer can help to ensure that your wishes regarding your property, children, and healthcare are followed. At the Grimes Law Firm, we have 25 years of experience helping individuals and businesses with will contests, probate, and estate matters in Neshanic Station, Somerset County, and the rest of the tri-state area. To schedule a free consultation, contact us at (908) 371-1066 or via our online form.