Opening the Estate
New Jersey courts will not accept a will for probate until 10 days have passed since the decedent’s death. The executor can present the will for probate before this time, but the probate court clerk will not officially open probate until the 10 days have expired. The court then reviews the will for validity, as well as the executor’s application to accept the position. This might take a few more weeks. Once she’s officially sworn in, the executor must then send notice to all heirs and beneficiaries that she’s opened probate and has been appointed as executor. She might do this immediately, but under New Jersey law, she has two months to see to this task.
One of an executor’s first duties in New Jersey is to “marshal” the decedent’s assets. This means locating them and securing them in a safe place. Items of significant value, such as real estate or collectibles, usually require appraisals. The executor must ascertain their value, both for estate tax purposes and to make sure beneficiaries get their rightful share of the estate. Appraisals for real estate can take as long as six weeks to complete.
New Jersey estates cannot settle any sooner than six months from the date a will enters probate. The decedent’s creditors have this long to make claims against the estate for payment. To safeguard herself against any liability to creditors she did not notify of the death, most executors apply to the court for an “order limiting creditors.” This order obligates the creditors to submit claims for their money within six months. The executor sends this order to those creditors she knows about, and the court will also publish notice of the deadline in a local newspaper. The executor can approve and pay these debts as soon as the creditors make their claims, but she’s not obligated to do so. She has three more months after the six-month deadline expires to decide if the claims are valid. If she denies any of them, the creditor can file a petition with the court to overrule her decision. The court will schedule a hearing, and this may take several more months.
If the executor begins the process of paying creditors nine months after the court issues the order limiting them, and if the estate is not large enough to owe any estate taxes, the executor can begin settling the estate as soon as the creditors are satisfied. However, if taxes are due, this might delay the probate process a little more. The executor has nine months from the day the decedent died to file a New Jersey estate tax return, and nine months to file a federal estate return. She must then wait for clearance from the IRS and the state, indicating that the returns were properly prepared and that she’s paid all taxes due, before she can close the estate. This sometimes takes months, so if she waits to file the returns at their deadlines, it could take a year for the estate to settle.