Probate Lawyer Bergen County NJ
If you have questions about the probate process, please connect with an experienced probate lawyer Bergen County, NJ residents trust and please do so any time that additional questions arise. Estate planning can be a confusing process, but if you want to secure assets or would like to prepare your plans for your estate, then it may be worth considering. We know how difficult and time-consuming estate planning can be. Thinking about your future and how your loved ones will be taken care of after you are gone can be an uncomfortable thought, but it is important that you put the right preparations in place. Our firm takes great pride in assisting fellow New Jersey residents with their estate planning, estate administration, and probate needs. It would be our honor to learn about your needs and to provide you with personalized guidance at any time.
Many clients begin inquiring about estate plans after going through major life events. It is worth noting that most of our clients raise probate-related concerns with our team when one of two significant life events occurs. First, clients ask questions about probate as they are creating and/or updating personal estate plans. Addressing concerns at this stage can help to prevent a contentious, stressful, or otherwise complicated probate process when their loved ones are administering their estate down the road. Second, clients ask probate-related questions when the issue of estate administration becomes urgent business as the result of a loved one’s death. Probate concerns must be addressed immediately to avoid further complications, and when it is taken care of properly it allows a decedent’s heirs to access their inheritance right away. Otherwise, if probate is necessary, the process could be made more complicated. If you have recently gone through one of these significant life events, you may want to discuss your matter with a skilled probate lawyer.
Because estate planning is typically a complex process that involves a large amount of legal information with many steps, you likely have many questions about how to best approach it. Navigating the laws and going through the motions of administering an estate is often not straightforward. Whenever you are working on an estate plan, you want to be thorough and not make any mistakes that could result in unnecessary delays in the future. Whether you’re creating an estate plan, updating an existing plan, or are navigating the process of a loved one’s estate administration, our Bergen, NJ probate lawyer team at the Law Offices of Joshua Kaplan is here to help.
An Introduction to the New Jersey Probate Process
Unlike in many other states, New Jersey doesn’t simply employ the probate process when an individual dies without a will in place or when an estate-related dispute or concern arises. In New Jersey, everyone’s will is subjected to the probate process after they pass away. Generally speaking, probate is the court-supervised process of legally proving a will. Meaning, probate allows the court and the public to be generally satisfied that someone’s will is authentic, enforceable and ultimately honored. Because New Jersey law requires that everyone will be subjected to probate, it is that much more imperative that all New Jersey adults have a well-constructed, legally enforceable will in place at all times. Making sure that your will is detailed, carefully thought out, and includes the beneficiaries and heirs that you wish to pass your assets down to will help you avoid running into problems during the probate proceedings. Whenever you are making updates to a will, keep track of the changes you are making. The language in your will must be clear to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding. Otherwise, your wishes could be misinterpreted or dismissed because your will wasn’t provable under the scrutiny of the probate process.
It is worth noting that preventing a lengthy, complex, and stressful probate process by ensuring that your estate plan is clear, up-to-date, and enforceable is a worthy gift to extend to your loved ones. Most people don’t think too much about how challenging it will be for their loved ones to navigate probate successfully in the wake of their death. However unpleasant it is to address this reality, it is a valuable use of your time. Working on your estate plan and making sure to address probate can reduce the burden on your loved ones. Discuss your plans with them so you can be transparent about your goals, and they will be able to more efficiently navigate the probate process.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process by which, after you die, your assets are distributed to your heirs. The probate court in the county of your legal residence oversees this process. If you made a last will and testament prior to your death, the court validates, i.e., proves your will. If you had no will, the court oversees asset distributions according to your state’s intestacy laws. Since the court will not necessarily follow your wishes if you do not have a will, it is strongly recommended that you create a will and include your directions for how you want your assets and property to be managed after your passing.
In some cases, your loved ones may not have to go through probate, such as if you have a living trust as part of your estate plan. If you are not sure if your assets will go through probate or if you want to know how you can avoid probate, talk to a probate lawyer and they can provide you with detailed information.
Your Probate Estate
Not all of your assets go through probate. The court only has jurisdiction over those things in your probate estate, such as the following:
- Assets you owned solely in your own name
- Untitled personal property, including clothing, furniture, appliances, household goods, etc. not mentioned in your will
- Property you owned as tenants in common with someone else
- Assets you willed to someone who is no longer alive
If you need assistance reviewing your assets and are not sure which ones will be subject to probate, contact a probate lawyer for assistance and they will be able to help you.
Your Probate-exempt Estate
The rest of your property and assets are exempt from probate. They include the following:
- Any assets for which you named a beneficiary, such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, etc.
- Any assets, usually real property, that you owned in joint tenancy with someone else who has the right of survivorship
- Any assets on which you placed a payable on death or transfer on death designation
- Any assets in a trust you established
Depending on the value of your probate estate, it may be exempt from the full probate process. The laws of virtually all states include a small estate provision that simplifies the probate process for probate estates valued under a certain amount or entirely eliminates the need for probate. Each state sets its own cap for which probate estates qualify. In California, for example, your probate estate qualifies if it has a value of $30,000 or less.
The whole purpose of probate is to ensure that all of your outstanding bills and taxes get paid and that your remaining assets pass to the proper heirs in a legal manner. One of the most important duties your estate administrator, sometimes called your personal representative, has is to notify all your creditors and potential heirs of your death. Your creditors then have a specified time in which to file claims against your probate estate for payment. Your potential heirs likewise have a specified time in which to challenge the validity of your will, assuming you had one.
Probate usually takes less than a year. However, if your heirs choose to go to court to fight over who receives what, the probate process can take years to conclude. Obtaining the advice and counsel of an experienced estate planning lawyer can prevent such contentious and costly disputes.
What Are Trusts and How Do They Work?
A Bergen County, NJ probate lawyer knows that one way to avoid having all of your assets go through the probate process is by utilizing trusts in your estate plan. A trust is a legal arrangement through which a designated person, known as the trustee, holds legal ownership of certain assets in trust for another person, who is the beneficiary of the trust. Individuals often use trusts as a way for their children or grandchildren to receive their inheritance in a way that helps avoid significant taxes and lengthy, expensive probate proceedings. A trust is also a way to place conditions on the beneficiaries who will receive the trust funds, such as keeping the funds in trust until a beneficiary reaches a certain age.
Living Trust Versus a Will: Making Things Easier After Death
Family conversations about end-of-life plans are never easy but are necessary to ensure that your assets are secure and properly distributed to your wishes. In most cases, probate court in New Jersey is necessary for persons who have a written will. The courts must authenticate a will before distribution of assets. Probate can be a lengthy process, especially if the beneficiaries do not agree with the division of valuables and file a lawsuit to contest. One way to ensure that you can make life easier when you are no longer here is by drafting a living trust as part of your estate planning. Hiring an experienced attorney at the Kaplan Law Practice, a probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ can help put your mind at peace.
Many people believe that a will is required to put their affairs in order ahead of time. While there is some truth to this belief, here are four myths about living wills you should understand for estate planning.
A Will Is Private
In the state of NJ, a will must become a public record when it is probated. On the other hand, a living trust is never opened to the public, nor does it require approval from the court. Your family and beneficiaries will appreciate this added layer of security during their time of grief. If you would like to draft a living trust, contact a probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ.
A Will Gives Protection While You Are Living
The contents of a revocable trust protects your finances if you are mentally unable to take care of yourself. Your assets are protected by the trust, which gives you control and protection while living and after death. A will does not provide this level of security.
A Will Protects Beneficiaries From Creditors
Creditors can sue a living trust and a will, but the process is much more difficult when your assets are protected in a living trust. The distribution of your assets can happen much more quickly because the likelihood of needing probate is lessened. Also, a living trust makes it more difficult for creditors to locate your valuables once distributed to the beneficiaries.
Probate Court Is an Easy Process
It is difficult to know how family members respond when a person dies. If one of the beneficiaries of your estate hires a lawyer to contest the will, then probate court can take several months, even years, depending on the circumstances. Your estate may be held up, leaving other beneficiaries in the loom and vulnerable to extended wait times. Contact an experienced attorney at the Kaplan Law Practice, a probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ to help avoid such pitfalls.
Responsibilities of a Trustee
Being named as the trustee of a trust is a big responsibility that you should take very seriously. A trustee has a fiduciary relationship with the beneficiaries of the trust. This means that the trustee has a duty to maintain the value of the trust assets for the beneficiaries, in terms of ensuring that the funds are invested appropriately. In other words, the trustee has a duty to refrain from taking big risks with the trust assets or causing them to lose significant value. For trusts containing assets of significant value, an individual establishing a trust may choose the trust department of a major bank or financial institution to act as trustee for the trust. Your A Bergen County, NJ probate lawyer can help you decide who is the best party for your situation.
Status of Beneficiaries
Beneficiaries can be current or future beneficiaries, depending on the terms of the trust. For instance, the trust document might provide that the owner of the assets placed in the trust is entitled to any income that the trust funds generate during his or her lifetime. This is an example of a current beneficiary, i.e., the original owner of the trust assets. On the other hand, a future beneficiary is a person who will receive the assets or income from the assets at a certain point in the future, which usually comes after the settlor or the person who has created and funded the trust, has passed away.
In order for a trust to be truly effective, the settlor must ensure that the trust is properly funded. Property such as real estate and bank accounts must be titled in the name of the trust, not the name of the original owner of the property. If a settlor fails to transfer property or funds into the trust, and then unexpectedly passes away, the trust may be useless, as the remaining property potentially would have to go through probate. This is why it is critical to have a seasoned A Bergen County, NJ probate lawyer create any trust in your estate plan.
Having the Right Lawyer on Your Side
Having the right lawyer on your side is something critical to smoothing over the probate process. Without an experienced and skilled lawyer, probate could take much longer to maneuver and overall be a much more stressful process than is needed. A probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ can offer their knowledge and experience to you in these stressful and confusing times. There are some instances where probate may even be able to be significantly shorter than expected, which is why it is important to have good legal counsel on your behalf.
Administrators & Executors
If a person dies without a will, then the state of New Jersey may name an administrator to take charge of the processes that will need to be completed following someone’s death. This is usually appointed to a spouse, but could also go to a family member. An executor is someone who is named to take care of the processes following that person’s death and is usually appointed to do so in a will. This person will then be tasked with certain duties like sending out notices to heirs to let them know about their inheritances, as well as various other tasks. A probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ from Kaplan Law Practice, LLC can go over in more detail about all of the different tasks that an executor or administrator will need to fulfill. The person who fulfills this role is also entitled to a commission, which will depend upon the size of the inheritance. When you speak with your lawyer they will let you know all of the details concerning the specifics for this commission. Carrying out this important duty is something that is understood to be sometimes difficult, which is why this commission is in place.
Taxes & Debts
Navigating through your loved ones’ finances and trying to understand all of the different things that are taxable can be difficult. When someone dies who is in debt, or is unable to pay off their bills, things can get even trickier. State law is what comes into play here and having the right lawyer on your side to guide you through could save you ample time, energy, and money. Another thing to consider is the New Jersey inheritance tax. Under this statute, which is somewhat unique to New Jersey, it is important to know that the actual inheritance is taxable to the individual receiving it. This means that the inheritor will be taxed a certain percentage based on their relationship with the deceased. A close family member will have a lower tax burden than someone not related.
Potential disputes are one of the main reasons why it’s important to have a Bergen County, NJ probate lawyer on your side. Lawyers who specialize in probate and estate planning understand the different nuances and complexities that go along with familial and financial disputes as a result of someone’s will. Our lawyers from Kaplan Law Practice, LLC are skilled and experienced in handling will contests and other disputes that have arisen from these matters. We know how to establish a plan and get the results that our clients desire. Contact us today to assist you with probate and the different issues that arise.
3 Reasons To Hire a Probate Lawyer
When a loved one dies, figuring out how to handle their property and final wishes can be an emotional and time-consuming issue. You are probably grieving, so fighting legal battles is the last thing you want to worry about. A will needs to be legally verified, usually by the court, to ensure it is authentic and executed properly. The estate of the deceased person will then be distributed to their heirs. This process is called probate. There are many reasons you may want to hire a probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ, in this situation.
1. Faster Proceedings
In many states, like New Jersey, all wills go through probate. This is to ensure any outstanding debts and obligations of the deceased person are met. Probate law can be complex, and simple errors can lead to longer court proceedings. None of the assets will be distributed to the beneficiaries until the probate process is complete, so most people want to make the process as short as possible. Hiring a probate lawyer is one way to move the case along more quickly. They understand the laws, procedures, and common pitfalls of probate cases. An experienced probate lawyer can help you navigate the system and answer any of your questions that may arise.
2. Resolving Conflict
At a time when emotions are already high, conflict can easily arise among family members or beneficiaries. Some heirs may contest the validity of the will. They could also contest who gets what asset. When this happens, the probate process can become extremely lengthy, often taking years to resolve in court. A probate lawyer with experience in the court can help smooth the process. They may facilitate mediation among disputing parties to reach a resolution outside of the courts. A probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ, can also play a role in defending contested wills in court. Kaplan Law Practice attorneys have experience with probate law and can help take the stress out of high-conflict cases.
3. Paying Debts
As mentioned, one of the purposes of probate is to resolve any debts or financial obligations leftover by a deceased person. These can range from outstanding medical bills to a loan like a mortgage. Additionally, other charges like funeral costs and income tax should also be resolved through the estate before distributing assets to beneficiaries. A lawyer like those at Kaplan Law Practice is able to counsel about debt payments to help you save time and money.
FAQs on Handling a Probate Case
How Expensive Is a Probate?
If you’re worried that settling an estate will take years, Kaplan Law Practice can put your mind at ease — generally, probate cases don’t even require a proceeding, and those that do only account for around 5% of the estate’s value.
If There Was No Will, Does the State Get Everything?
Every state has different laws for settling an estate if there is no will. When this happens, assets are divided between the next of kin, starting with any living spouses. If there isn’t one, a probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ, will move on to living children. The state can only take assets from the estate if no living relatives can be found.
Is the Oldest Child in the Family Always Chosen As the Executor?
Sibling age and seniority have very little to do with settling an estate. If the parent named an executor, the oldest child can’t contest. Without a named executor, the state will approach the next of kin for the job, starting with a living spouse. If no spouse is present, a probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ, will then approach living children. The children can choose to designate an executor amongst themselves or become co-executors.
Does It Really Take Years to Settle Estates?
Depending on certain factors, the time it takes to settle an estate can vary. In most cases, a probate lawyer in Bergen County, NJ, can handle the situation in a few months or a year. Things may take longer if the deceased has a particularly large estate or has ongoing income even after they’ve passed; frequent family arguments can also slow the process down.
Can I Choose Not to Leave My Spouse Anything?
Even though you’re married, you have no legal obligations to leave your spouse any assets, and couples may choose to do so for any number of reasons. As long as both parties are continuously in agreement, this is fine; if one spouse passes and the survivor changes their mind, they may contest the agreement and attempt to take the elective share of the state.
Does a Last Will Need to Be Notarized?
Individual states have different laws, but some don’t require the last will to be notarized. Some places only require the will to be signed by the testator and two accompanying witnesses; if you’re not sure what your state’s requirements are, the professionals at Kaplan Law Practice can help you find out.
Legal Assistance Is Available
Estate planning doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can depend on a skilled estate planning lawyer so that you have the support you need as you navigate the process and determine what to include in your plan. If you have yet to make an estate plan, need to update an existing estate plan, or you have probate-related questions due to the passing of a loved one, the knowledgeable legal team at Kaplan Law Practice, LLC is here to help. Please schedule a confidential, risk-free consultation with our team today so that we can provide you with personalized guidance. Our Bergen, NJ probate lawyer team looks forward to speaking with you.