Probate and Estate Planning Lawyers Serving Residents of New Jersey

Wills are an important estate planning tool for many people in New Jersey. They are instruments whereby a person can leave instructions regarding how to dispose of their property when they die, among other things. Wills are administered during probate, which is a legal process supervised by the court. During probate, an executor is given authority to gather the decedent's property and assets and pay all of their debts, taxes, and other liabilities. They then transfer the remaining property and assets according to the instructions in the will. If you are seeking to draft one of these instruments or concerned about its validity, the New Jersey wills lawyers at the Grimes Law Firm may be able to help. We also represent clients in a wide range of other legal matters, such as personal injury cases and criminal prosecutions.

The Importance and Function of Wills

In order to be enforced, a valid will must be made in the course of estate planning. Wills can provide instructions about the disposition of property after death, name an executor, name children's guardians, make provisions for pets, determine payment of debts and taxes, and provide a backup in case certain pieces of property do not make it into a living trust.

The person making the will is known as a testator. To make a valid will, you must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Someone is of sound mind if they understand the purpose and meaning of the instrument and understand the extent and nature of the property of which they are disposing. The will needs to be in writing and signed by the testator, as well as by two witnesses who observed the testator signing the will or witnessed the testator acknowledge his or her signature or the will.

If these requirements are not met or are in doubt, it is likely that there will be a will contest after the testator's death. For example, if the testator has Alzheimer's and does not remember the extent of her property, it may be possible for a wills attorney in New Jersey to help you challenge the will on the basis that the testator was not of sound mind.

Sometimes probate is not necessary because the decedent only owned property jointly or in a tenancy by the entirety, so the property passes automatically. For example, a marital home or other real estate may be owned in the form of a joint tenancy or a tenancy by the entirety in which one spouse automatically gets the home if the other one dies through a right of survivorship. Certain other assets are those for which a beneficiary is designated, such as IRAs and 401(k) plans. However, other assets, such as businesses, vehicles, and personal property, may need to be addressed through a will or trust instrument.

When there is not a lot of valuable property, it may be possible to go through simplified probate in New Jersey. The value of the assets left by the decedent cannot be greater than $20,000, and the surviving spouse or domestic partner must be entitled to all of it without probate, or there must be no surviving spouse or domestic partner, and the assets' value must not be greater than $10,000.

Probate can be complex, so hiring a New Jersey wills attorney can be helpful. Probate is handled by the surrogate's court in the county where the decedent lived. When there are no obstacles, the process will last less than a year. The probate court will appoint an executor or administrator. If the testator named a particular executor in the will, the named person must go to the surrogate's court and ask to be formally appointed as executor of the estate, providing a certified copy of the death certificate and the will. When a will is not self-proving, one of the two witnesses is supposed to appear in court. If the named executor is not available to serve, the probate court can name an administrator.

People who believe that the will is not valid can file a will caveat. If there is no reason to believe that the will is invalid, the court can issue Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration. This authorizes an executor to collect and inventory the decedent's property and assets. The property may be appraised. Debts and taxes will be paid, and then the remainder of the property is distributed according to the will.

Sixty days after a will is admitted to probate, an executor or administrator must provide notice to all of the heirs under intestacy law and beneficiaries that the decedent named in the will.

Consult a Knowledgeable Wills Lawyer in New Jersey

When there is no will, intestacy law will determine who should inherit your property or assets. Usually, this is a person’s closest relative, but not everyone wants his or her property to be distributed according to intestacy law. Whether you hope to draft a will or need representation during the probate process in New Jersey, you should consult an experienced attorney. At the Grimes Law Firm, we represent people in Neshanic Station and elsewhere in Somerset County, as well as throughout the tri-state area. Call us at (908) 371-1066 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. We also assist New Jersey residents in many other complex matters, such as criminal cases or business disputes.

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