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Why Does Estate Administration Take So Long? Part 3

In this week’s post explaining why estate administration takes so long, I cover the scenario when there is no will.  New Jersey law establishes who has the first right to serve as administrator and who inherits the estate.  Often, however, identifying the correct individuals is not easy.

An administrator is tasked with the job of gathering together the assets, paying the debts and taxes if any and distributing the balance to the correct heirs.  The law establishes that a spouse has the first right to serve as administrator if he or she wishes.  After that, the next in line are the remaining heirs or some of them if any will accept. 

That’s where it has the potential to get complicated.  For example, if the heirs are three children, each has equal right to serve.  Each child must either apply to serve or decline to serve by signing a renunciation.  Locating and arranging for the necessary paperwork to be signed can take time depending on how cooperative each person is.

If any of the heirs refuse to cooperate by indicating one way or the other what they want to do, then an application must be made by way of order to show cause before a judge, on notice to all interested parties, to determine who should serve.  This can take in the best scenario 45 to 60 days and longer if there is opposition filed by any interested party.

Additionally, when there is no will, a bond will be required.  A bond works similar to an insurance policy to protect creditors and heirs so that they receive what they are entitled to.  If the appointed administrator can’t obtain a bond because a background check reveals bankruptcy, or other concerns, then it might be necessary to return to court to choose another administrator.

Once appointed, the administrator then needs to identify the rightful heirs.  That may or may not be so easy either.  I’ll cover that next week.