By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Estate Administration & Probate Attorney
A Decedent died with a last will but her estate was virtually insolvent with minimal, (almost no), assets. The Will nominated an Executor and two successors, all three of whom renounced their appointments. The nominated Executor filed the decedent’s Will, death certificate, all the renunciations and with a request that the Surrogate appoint a fiduciary to administer the estate. The Will leaves some general bequests to friends and the residuary to charity; the whole of the decedent’s assets barely covers probate expenses let alone any of these bequests.
Are the nominated Executors under any further obligation to commence an action in the Superior Court asking the probate judge to appoint an Administrator CTA prior to renunciation? Or by virtue of their renunciations and filing the Will with the Surrogate for the record have they satisfied their obligations with respect to offering the Will for probate? Are they obligated to contact any beneficiaries or next of kin (if any) to ascertain their willingness to serve?
My expectation is that since Title 3B mandates the priority of debts to be paid – (1) funeral expenses, (2) administration expenses, etc. – the specific bequests and residuary beneficiaries will get nothing. Under New Jersey probate law, there is a procedure for the administration of a small estate ($20,000 or less) without probate. The designated executors, who all named, have fulfilled their obligations and avoided a misdemeanor under Title 2A by filing the will with the Surrogate.
IF they wish to assist the court, they can give notice to the named beneficiaries to see if one wishes to apply to be the substitute executor of the estate as they will have priority over an attorney appointed by the court.
In my opinion the solution is fairly simple. New Jersey has a statute which I call the “Small Estate Law”. When the value of the Estate is minimal a surviving spouse can file an affidavit with the county Surrogate if the estate has a value less than $20,000 (NJSA 3B:10-3). Same for an estate with a value of less than $10,000 a heir can file an affidavit that the Estate value is less than $10,000 and probate is avoided all together.
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