County Surrogates Offices are working remotely, but some procedures are suspended

The Middlesex County NJ Assignment Judge has issued a Notice with details concerning procedures for filing and handling of cases in Middlesex County now that the courts are closed to in-person proceedings.  mcba_county_procedures_3-31-     Depending on the court, cases can be initiated electronically or by mail or drop off in an outside mailbox; mail is being held for 24 hours before processing so you need to give yourself extra time if a deadline is approaching.

Notably missing from the Assignment Judge’s Memo to the County Bar Association  is any explanation about the procedures in the Surrogate’s Office. We are working on finding out how things will be done that normally were handled at the Surrogate in person.The Surrogate accepts original Wills for probate when a person dies. The Surrogate issues the Letters of Guardianship after the Judge signs the Judgment in which a person is declared incapacitated and a Guardian of person and/or property is appointed. The Surrogate  takes applications for appointment of an Administrator of an “intestate estate,” which is an estate of a person who died without any written Will. The Surrogate holds and invests inherited funds belonging to minors, and takes requests by the parent or guardian of the minor for release of funds. Once  the minor turns 18, ordinarily he or she goes to the Surrogate to sign all the papers to request release of the funds.  These and more are procedures that have always been done “at the desk” of the person who works in the Surrogate’s office.

A quick review of other counties shows that although they have procedures for receipt of mail, processing of faxes, and taking telephone calls on a limited basis, even the Monmouth County Clerk’s Notices don’t specify what the Surrogate’s replacement procedures will be. The Morris County Surrogate has suspended in-person applications of all kinds until further notice, but no alternate procedure is identified for the types of proceedings mentioned above Union County has reduced hours, but all in person appearances are suspended. Same for Passaic County and others.

Attorneys at our Firm and elsewhere are working on ways to help clients fill out forms, get them signed and notarized, and submit them to necessary places. I certainly hope that our county Surrogates can devise alternative procedures that will enable them to issue the completion paperwork that’s needed to open an estate, appoint a guardian, and other crucial matters.

Call us for representation and advice about estate administration/probate, guardianship and other Surrogate Court matters … 732-382-6070

 

County Surrogates Modify Hours and Practices in Response to COVID-19

Much of our work in the area of guardianships, probate and estate administration involves our County Surrogates.  As we continue to adjust to working with COVID-19, be aware that each Surrogate Office is adjusting their hours and policies to deal with the pandemic. The overview of changed hours and policies in each county can be found here.  In Union County, the new hours are Mon. & Thurs. 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. to reach staff by phone and schedule emergent matters.

Court proceedings for uncontested Guardianships are being handled on the papers. The court-appointed counsel files his or her report, the Judgment (Order) is exchanged between the parties and then the Court handles the case on its regularly-scheduled date. In some cases, the Court may hold that hearing by telephone. Our office handled a guardianship case in Essex County last week which involved some unusual issues and the Court decided to conduct a hearing with all the parties present. The Judge was on the bench with his clerk, and six people as well as the Judge called in to the conference from various locations. Witnesses were sworn, oral argument was made, testimony was taken, the Judge issued the ruling. All by telephone and it worked out very well for everyone concerned.

We continue to keep in touch with Union, Middlesex and other Surrogate’s Offices to facilitate mail in and email qualifications for guardians, executors, and administrators, as well as all related necessary filings with this office.  Thank you County Surrogates!

We’re here to help!  Contact us at ………732-382-6070 

Designating your representative can prevent a fight over your remains

I have been saying for years that taking the time to put things in order in proper legal documents can save a lot of headache and money in the long run. “Careful planning can prevent a crisis” has been one of my professional mottos for many years now. New Jersey has a statute that allows a person to sign a document that designates a Funeral and Disposition Representative who has authority to make the decisions about final disposition of the body at death. A person can write these instructions in a Last Will and Testament or can sign a separate document and provide it to whoever might need to know. A new court decision called In the Matter of Estate of John Travers Jr. Travers App Div tackles the thorny problem of who is entitled to make those decisions for a person who died without a Will and without any written designation.

John Travers, Jr.,  died without any written instructions concerning his remains. He had no Will. He was single and had no children. His parents survived him, but they were divorced  They disagreed over what should happen — the father believed that his son should be buried, but the mother believed that his remains should be cremated. . The court noted that under the statute, the priority would be given to (1) spouse if any; (2) majority of the adult children if any, and then (3) the surviving parents. However, the statute said nothing about what to do when there is a dispute between the parents, who are the equally-situated next-of-kin.

The Appellate Division decided that the Legislature would want the decision to be as much in accordance with the individual’s preferences as a court could discern . Here, he had failed to make his wishes known, but there was evidence that he had a closer relationship with his father at the time of his death. The Court decided that the father was therefore in a better position to determine what his son’s wishes would be. Another factor that impressed the Court was that the father was likely to be appointed administrator of the estate and would also likely pay for all disposition arrangements himself since his son had few assets.

Family planning is full lifetime planning. Call us for individualized assistance and solutions ……. 732-382-6070

Don’t be the Executor if you can’t do the Job

When you create an estate plan, you are selecting people whom you trust to perform various jobs for you and your beneficiaries. You may be selecting an agent to act as your Power of Attorney. You may select a medical decision-maker in case you become mentally incapacitated. You may have a Trust and select the Trustee who will manage the money for the beneficiaries. And you may be selecting an Executor who will handle your estate after you pass away

People often feel that being named as Executor is a big honor. Disputes have erupted within families when one child rather than another was named as Executor. Sometimes the person who was named as Executor wants the power and control that come along with the title of Executor, but ignores the responsibilities that come with it. Other times, the Executor has financial troubles of their own, starts “borrowing” funds from the estate, and just lets the estate lie around for years without paying the bills, paying the inheritance taxes or selling the property.

The Executor is a fiduciary — entrusted by law to handle “other people’s money” — and has duties to the funeral home, the tax authorities, the estate’s creditors, and ultimately, to the beneficiaries. Although an Executor is not obligated to reveal every step and every action to the beneficiaries, at some point, the beneficiaries will want to see an accounting so that they know that the amount of their distribution is correct. Reconstructing an accounting after several haphazard years of erratic management of estate assets can be a nightmare that leads to lawsuits brought by beneficiaries.

Managing an estate can be very time consuming. Dealing with third parties to obtain date-of-death values and payoff amounts for debts, tracking down missing assets, and selling real estate can turn into big chores. But the Executor has those duties and obligations.

Ideally, every Will has a list of successors written into it in case the Executor refuses to accept the appointment or decides to resign. But turning over an estate to a successor can create problems of its own, and a process must be initiated through the Surrogate or Court to be discharged as Executor.. Better to think carefully before stepping up to the plate and taking on the responsibility in the first place if you have any doubt of your ability to complete the task.

Call us for advice and assistance with estate administration, and ask about the fiduciary services we provide .. 732-382-6070

 

Questions the Executor should ask the Estate’s Accountant

The house is sold, the estate’s debts and bills have all been paid, the accounting has been presented to the beneficiaries, they have signed off on the Release & Refunding Bonds, and now it’s time for the estate’s Executor or Administrator to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries according to the Will or according to the requirements of the law. The estate may have acquired dividends or interest or rents on which income tax must be paid. An income tax return has to be filed for the Estate if more than $600 in gross income was received, and in fulfilling his/her fiduciary duty, the Executor/ Administrator wants to be sure to investigate all available income-tax saving opportunities.

Here are a few of the questions to ask when you call the estate’s accountant: :

  1. What is the estate’s expected marginal tax bracket?
  2. Is it beneficial to pass the estate’s income and losses (if there is a loss on sale of assets such as stock or real property) through to the beneficiaries?
  3. Can income or loss be passed through in a year that the property isn’t actually distributed?
  4. If assets have to be distributed out in order to pass thru the tax liability, which plan saves the most taxes — distributing or holding?
  5. Is there any limit on the amount of losses that can be passed through to the beneficiaries?

Serving as Executor or Administrator is a job with many responsibilities. It’s vital that the fiduciary get advice on all of the steps required so that the interests of the beneficiaries are protected, and so that the fiduciary can be protected as well.

Call us for complete advice “A to Z” about the estate administration for decedents’ estates … 732-382-6070