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Why Does Estate Administration Take So Long? (Part 2)

In my post last week I addressed a common question concerning the process of administering the estate of someone who has died.  Why does it take so long?

On average it can take 9 to 12 months for most estates to be completed although I did explain last week that easier estates can take less time.  Such cases are where there is a will, few assets to administer and one heir (who is also the executor or administrator).

Having an original validly executed will  does expedite the process.  That’s because the New Jersey probate process is very easy if you have the original will and it complies with the State’s document execution requirements.  No judicial court order is necessary.  Submitting an application with the original will and certified copy of the death certificate allows the county Surrogate to issue the appointment, usually within a week or so.

If, however, you don’t have the original will or it lacks any of the execution requirements per state law, the will can still be accepted as the “official” last will, but that determination must be made by a judge by way of an order to show cause.  Copies of this court filing must be provided to all heirs and next of kin.  The court sets the matter down for a hearing when it will decide whether to grant the requested relief, giving all interested parties an opportunity to oppose the application.  

This process can take 45 to 60 days to complete.  Because of the  increase in the number of cases since Covid, a shortage of judges, and other unexpected court delays, sometimes the original date set for the hearing gets adjourned or pushed back.  

If anyone does oppose the application then one hearing can easily turn into multiple hearings depending on what evidence is presented to the judge.  That’s because the law presumes that a failure to produce the original will means the decedent intentionally destroyed it.  The burden to establish that it wasn’t destroyed but instead just misplaced is on the person presenting the court with a copy. When there is no will the process tends to take even longer.  That’s because there is no document choosing an administrator and heirs.  There also isn’t an easy centralized way to identify next of kin.  That’s where the intestacy laws come into play.  When there is no will, this set of laws establishes who has the right to be administrator and how the estate is to be divided and which persons have an interest in the estate.  We’ll cover that next week.