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Estate Administration and Litigation
Once you have been appointed as an executor, administrator, or personal representative of the estate of a loved one, you will be required to administer the estate in accordance with the decedent’s will and the laws of the state of New Jersey. It is therefore important for you to have a clear understanding of your rights as well as your personal obligation in managing the estate. At Heymann & Fletcher, Esqs. we offer the knowledge and expertise you need to handle your estate administration responsibilities with the personal service and attention of a small law office.
We will handle all matters necessary to assist you through the probate process, including:
- Having you appointed by the Surrogate as the executor or administrator
- Notifying all beneficiaries and next of kin that the estate has been probated
- Marshalling the assets of the estate
- Assisting with payment of administration expenses
- Preparing an accounting of the debts and assets of the estate
- Securing property or other asset valuations
- Distribution of the estate in accordance with the terms of the will or, if there is no will, the laws of intestacy
- Preparing estate and inheritance tax returns
- Preparing final income tax returns for the decedent
- Assisting with the sale or transfer of property owned by the decedent
Probate and Administration of Testate Estates
If you are the personal representative appointed in the Will of the decedent, then you will be appointed by the Surrogate as the Executor of the estate. As Executor, you will be required to administer the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will, including the distribution of the residual estate to the beneficiaries designated in the Will.
Probate and Administration of Intestate Estates
If a loved one dies without a Will, then the laws of intestacy will govern the manner in which the estate is administered and distributed to the decedent’s next of kin. In this instance, the personal representative appointed by the Surrogate is called the Administrator of the estate, and has the same role as an Executor.
Estate Administration and Will Contest Disputes
Having a will or an estate plan does not guarantee disputes will not arise once the estate is probated. Beneficiaries of the estate, or other interested parties, may disagree about the terms of the Will or the administration of the estate and choose to bring legal action. At Heymann & Fletcher, Esqs., our experienced attorneys are equipped to handle all types of controversies related to or involving estates, including:
- Undue influence or fraud: A presumed beneficiary may be surprised to find that the decedent changed his or her will. In that case, concerns may be raised that the testator may have done so under pressure of another individual, or that the will itself is fraudulent. Legal action may therefore be necessary to contest the will.
- Misappropriated assets or contested accounting: Disputes may arise with respect to the personal representative’s management of estate assets, valuation of property or whether an estate has been properly administered in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Judicial intervention may be necessary to protect a beneficiary’s interests or remove the personal representative from his or her role as executive or administrator.
- Testamentary capacity: Questions may arise as to whether a testator had the mental capacity to create or alter a will, which may require beneficiaries or interest parties to contest the administration of the estate in accordance with the terms of the will.
Wills, Living Wills, and Power of Attorney
It is important, especially for individuals with minor children or assets, to prepare for the future. At Heymann & Fletcher, Esqs., we can help with planning for the unknown by preparing any or all of three important documents for you. A Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone to act on your behalf in the event you are unable to handle certain tasks for yourself. Your designated Agent or Attorney-in-fact will have authority to make legal decisions about your finances and take actions on your behalf such as paying your bills. This Agent or Attorney-in-fact will have a fiduciary responsibility to act in your interest. A Power of Attorney can be designated to take effect immediately, or upon your becoming disabled at a later time.
Additionally, Heymann & Fletcher, Esqs. can draft an Advanced Medical Directive, also known as a Living Will. This document allows you to instruct medical professionals regarding what care you do or do not want should certain conditions come to pass. You are also able to designate a Health Care Representative who can make decisions on your behalf that are not otherwise covered by your instructions. This document is binding on health care professionals in New Jersey.
Finally, a Will allows you to designate what you want to happen after your death. It can include identifying guardians for minor children, instructions regarding funeral arrangements, and the distribution of your property. You can be as specific as listing individual items you would like to go to certain people, or more general, simply listing the individuals you would like to receive shares of your estate. A Will is a specialized instrument that provides your opportunity to be heard after your death, so it is important to give yourself time to think about what you would like it to contain. If you decide you wish to supplement your Will later, it is sometimes possible for that to be done with a document known as a Codicil, rather than replacing a prior Will.
All of these documents have specific legal requirements in New Jersey, so it is important to have knowledgeable counsel to assist you in preparing for your future needs.