How to get through probate in New Jersey without draining your bank account!

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The process of receiving an inheritance can be complicated and expensive, but in this blog we’re going to present clear steps for getting through probate in New Jersey. We’ll cover what it is, specific aspects of NJ estate planning law to consider, and how to go about doing it yourself without costing a heap of cash!

Are you excited?


But before we get into it… We are financial advisors in Morristown, NJ, providing financial advice for New Jersey residents as well as folks across the country. Before we get started, you may want to check out these financial planning blogs we’ve written:

What is an estate plan?

Filing your tax return: traps to avoid

Retirement Account Contribution Amounts – 2024 changes!

Am I saving enough?

Do I have to pay taxes on an inherited annuity?

Let’s go!

What is probate?

Let’s start with the basics before we take a deep dive. What exactly is probate?

Probate is the legal process by which a court decides who gets your assets, in accordance with what it says in your will, and the petitions of any party who has a legal claim to them (the IRS, debt collectors, ex-spouse, etc.)

During the probate process, various parties can plead their case for having a claim on your assets. If parties contest the will, probate usually takes a long time and can be quite expensive. The cost of probate is paid by your estate.

Probate in New Jersey may be avoided!

As you read this, you may be wondering, “So if someone who intends to pass assets to me were to pass away, would their assets go through probate? Does that mean I won’t be able to inherit?”

Not necessarily! If the decedent lives in New Jersey, their will may avoid probate court if:

  • The decedent is survived by a spouse and the assets are valued below a certain amount
  • Assets have clearly designated beneficiaries
  • Assets are held in a revocable trust
  • Assets are held as joint tenants
  • Real estate is designated as transfer-on-death in the deed

What if I want to DIY my way through it?

Now, let’s say that the will gets snagged.

Somehow, the above conditions ended up not applying, and the will gets put through probate. Is this a death sentence whereby you, as an heir, will have to drain your entire bank account in legal fees to get the inheritance?

New Jersey probate law can be pretty agreeable to DIYers. The good news is that you can go it alone without too much financial burden, if certain conditions apply.

Here are some instructions if you want to DIY your way through probate in New Jersey and not hire a lawyer:

  • Think about if other people are going to contest the will. Was the will straightforward? Are the beneficiaries clearly named? Are there creditors? Estranged relatives with a bone to pick? Old business partner who feels he didn’t get his share? All of this can drag out the process and/or introduce complexity which may foil your plan to DIY probate in New Jersey.
  • You will need the death certificate to claim your inheritance on anything that does not have a beneficiary. This may possibly include:
    • Retirement accounts
    • Real estate
    • Life insurance
    • Trusts

It’s helpful to get a few copies of the death certificate. These days, you are being charged for death certificates, but the good news is that you won’t need an original for everything. For example, you can often close investment accounts using a photocopy. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to get a few copies of the original death certificate.

  • Get an original copy of the will.
  • Find the Surrogate Court in your county in New Jersey and petition to them. Note, this would be the county in New Jersey where the decendent lived, not where you live. There are over 20 counties in New Jersey, and each one has a Surrogate Court. Here is a list of New Jersey Surrogate Courts by county from Trust & Will.
  • Meet with the Court official. Usually this is a clerk, not a judge.
  • If the will becomes verified, you will become the Executor (assuming you were named). You’ll then have to carry out the instructions in the will, including but not limited to:
    • Paying off any liabilities owed by the decedent from their assets.
    • Closing the estate.
    • Getting in touch with anyone who is receiving an inheritance and distributing it to them.
    • Paying any court fees. Note that in New Jersey, the cost of probate is based on the number of pages in the will, according to Bratton Law Group, as opposed to the value of the assets contained therein.

Are there any shortcuts?

Yes! If the value of the assets is less than $50,000 and you are their spouse, or if the value of the assets is less than $20,000 and you are a non-spousal family member, you can go through simplified probate.

You won’t have to go to court; usually you just have to file an affidavit.

What if you still aren’t sure?

It’s best to consult with your estate attorney to resolve any questions about how to probate a will in New Jersey. We at Glassner Carlton are not lawyers – we are financial advisors. We are often called on to help coordinate between executors, estate attorneys, beneficiaries, investment and insurance companies. This is all general guidance that can not be interpreted as legal advice specific to any one individual. If you require recommendations for your specific situation, talk to your attorney.

How are you going to invest the inheritance?

We are financial advisors in Morristown, NJ serving the local community and beyond. If you have questions about how to invest or manage an inheritance you are receiving in New Jersey or elsewhere, or (like us) are just plain old Bruce Springsteen fans, reach out and send us a message.

And by the way – we are writing a series on estate planning and its impact on retirement. If this is of interest, please subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when new blogs are published.


Bratton Estate & Elder Care Attorneys. How Long Does Probate Take in New Jersey?

Gauthier, Alex. (2022, November 4). Clear Estate. DIY Probate: How to Probate a Will Without a Lawyer.

Hicks, Patrick. New Jersey Surrogate Court by County.

Randolph, Mary and Burtka, Jeff. Nolo. New Jersey Probate: An Overview.

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