After the passing of a loved one, the task of settling their estate falls on the executor, also known as the personal representative. In New Jersey, this process, commonly referred to as probate, includes several steps: validating the deceased's will, inventorying their assets, paying off any debts and taxes, and, eventually, distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. The timeline for these tasks can vary greatly, typically ranging from several months to over a year, depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the estate, the clarity of the will, and whether or not the probate process is contested.
The Estate Settlement Timeline:
Here, we will provide an overview of each stage involved in settling an estate in New Jersey and provide a general idea of how long the entire process might take:
- Submitting the Will: In New Jersey, the executor is required to submit the will to probate court as soon as reasonably possible after the death of the testator (the person who made the will). While there is no specific deadline for this in New Jersey law, it is generally best to do so within a month to prevent unnecessary delays in the probate process.
- Inventorying the Estate: Once the will has been submitted, the executor must compile a comprehensive inventory of the deceased's assets, including real estate, personal belongings, bank accounts, investments, and any other assets of value. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, this process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. In New Jersey, the executor is typically given 90 days from the date of their appointment to submit this inventory to the court.
- Communicating with Creditors: After the inventory has been completed, the executor is then responsible for notifying all known creditors of the deceased's passing. In New Jersey, creditors are given a window of nine months from the date of death to make claims against the estate for any debts owed.
- Paying Debts and Taxes: Once creditors have been notified, the executor must then pay off any valid claims from the estate's assets. This also includes settling any final income taxes or estate taxes owed. This process can take a few months to over a year, depending on the number of claims and the state of the deceased's financial affairs.
- Distributing the Remaining Assets: The final step in the estate settlement process is distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will. This can only be done once all debts and taxes have been paid. If there are no disputes among the beneficiaries, this step can be completed relatively quickly, often within a few weeks.
Remember, these timelines are just estimates and can vary significantly based on individual circumstances. For instance, if a will is contested, the probate process can be delayed by several months or even years. Also, if the estate is particularly large or complex, it may take longer to inventory and distribute the assets. While the duties of an executor require them to settle the estate as efficiently as possible, the process often requires a great deal of patience and diligence.
How Do You Know When an Estate is Settled:
An estate is considered settled when all of the following tasks have been completed: the will has been submitted to probate court, the estate has been thoroughly inventoried, all creditors have been notified and paid, any taxes owed have been settled, and the remaining assets have been distributed according to the will. Beneficiaries should receive a final accounting, which is a document provided by the executor. This document details all of the financial transactions made on behalf of the estate.
In New Jersey, after this final accounting is reviewed and approved by the probate court, the executor can file a “petition for discharge”, which officially releases them from their duties. Upon approval of this petition by the court, the estate is officially considered settled. This is the final confirmation that beneficiaries should expect to receive, certifying the completion of the estate settlement process.
What to Do If You Think The Executor Is Taking Too Long:
While settling an estate can be a lengthy process, there are instances when an executor may not be fulfilling their duties in a timely or efficient manner. If you, as a beneficiary, believe this to be the case, there are steps you can take. Start by communicating openly with the executor. They may be able to provide a reasonable explanation for the delays. If communication doesn't resolve the issue, you can request an accounting of the estate. This is a report detailing the financial actions taken by the executor on behalf of the estate.
If you're still unsatisfied after these steps, New Jersey law allows beneficiaries to petition the probate court for the removal and replacement of an executor who is not adequately performing their duties. This should be considered a last resort, as it can further complicate and delay the estate settlement process. It is always recommended to consult with an estate planning attorney before taking this action.