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How far back do Surrogate's Court records go?

Our records date back to the 1800’s.

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How do I check for possible estate records?

To request a search for the existence of an estate or Will:

 

  1. Send a written search request, Attention: Surrogate's Court Vault, containing the decedent’s name, date of death and last address (if known).
  2. There is a $10.00 search fee perInclude a check or money order made payable to the order of the “Essex County Surrogate.”
  3. Upon receipt of your written request and the fee, a search will be done.
  4. If the search does not reveal an estate record, you will be notified.
  5. It the search reveals an estate record, you will receive a letter containing the docket number, the name of the attorney of record (if any), the name and address of the executor/administrator, the number of pages the file contains, and the cost to provide the documents to you ($3.00 per page).
  6. If you decide to order the records, the letter will direct you as to the next steps.

Please note that each name will be considered a separate search. Also note that even if you have the estate docket number, your request will be considered a search request. If you do not wish to pay for a search, you may come to the Surrogate's vault and do a search, free of charge. Per page copy costs will still apply.

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How do I obtain a certified copy of a death certificate?

Certified copies of death certificates are available from local Registrars for the municipality where the death occurred. Click here for listing of municipalities in Essex County.

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is also responsible for the state filing of birth, marriage and death certificates (also known as vital statistics).  Click here for steps to obtain certified copies of death certificates from the State of New Jersey.

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What do I bring to the Surrogate's Court to Probate a Will?

The named executor must bring the following to the Surrogate's Court:

  1. The original Will
  2. Death certificate with raised seal
  3. Executor's photo identification
  4. Information that can be completed on the Pre-Visit Worksheet -This includes the names and addresses of closest next of kin. This would include any of the children of the decedent's deceased children. This also would include the children of the decedent's deceased brothers or sisters, if the decedent had no surviving spouse or children.
  5. Personal check or cash for filing fees and costs.  Generally, filing fees and costs are approximately $150-$200. This varies based upon the length of the Will and complexities of the estate. The filing fee for the Will is $100.00 dollars for the first two pages and $5.00 for each additional page. The cost of Surrogate's Certificates is $5.00 per certificate.

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What are the Surrogate's Certificates used for? 

They will show evidence of the authority of the personal representative to act. They are necessary to accomplish certain tasks such as transferring real estate, stock accessing or closing bank accounts, etc. 

How many Surrogate's Certificates will I need?

You will generally need a Surrogate's Certificate for each asset to be transferred out of the decedent's name. A list of the estate assets should be prepared to show the number of transfers that will need to take place. It is a good idea to use the Surrogate's Pre-Visit Worksheet to record and organize the information. Should you discover additional assets, additional certificates can always be requested from the Surrogate's Vault.

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When is an estate considered closed? 
An estate is considered closed upon the executor, administrator or appointed next-of-kin filing the following in the Surrogate's Court:
1.         Accounting (where formal court proceedings require filing an accounting)
2.         Refunding Bond and Release forms from each beneficiary

            and
3.         Tax waiver from the State of New Jersey

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Who has the right to be appointed when an individual dies without a Will? 

The surviving spouse or domestic partner has the first right. However, any heir may be appointed assuming they obtain the appropriate renunciations from any other heir who has an equal or prior right to be appointed. 

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What is the procedure in a small estate without a Will and no surviving spouse or domestic partner? 

If a person dies without a Will and no surviving spouse or domestic partner, but does leave heirs and the total value of the real and personal property does not exceed $10,000.00, one of the heirs with consent of the others may obtain an Affidavit of Next of Kin in lieu of filing a formal Administration.

What is the procedure in a small estate without a Will when there is a surviving spouse or domestic partner? 

If a person dies without a Will and is survived by a spouse or domestic partner, and the total value of the real and personal property does not exceed $20,000.00, the spouse or domestic partner may obtain an Affidavit of Surviving Spouse or Domestic Partner in lieu of filing a formal Administration.

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Do I need to file a formal accounting if I represent an estate?

The answer is no. Formal accountings may be required if the estate is settled as part of formal court proceedings or in litigated estates. However, most estates in New Jersey are settled without formal court proceedings. A representative may, however, file an informal accounting with the court or obtain a written agreement/consent form from all of the beneficiaries to the estate that dispenses with the accounting, approves the actions of the representative and provides for the method or manner of distribution. 

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How do I prove that a distribution or legacies were paid? 

Each beneficiary of the estate, including the Administrator/Executor will need to 

fill out and sign in front of a notary, a document called a Refunding Bond and Release. They are then filed in Surrogate's Court. If the decedent dies without a Will, the bond posted can only be cancelled when proof has been provided to the bonding agent that the refunding bonds and releases were filed for all of the beneficiaries.

 

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Is it necessary to send copies of the Will to the beneficiaries? 

The personal representative is required, within sixty days of probating the Will or taking out letters of administration, to notify the heirs at law, next of kin and beneficiaries in writing that the Will is probated, the date and place of the probate, the name and address of the personal representative and a statement that a copy of the Will shall be furnished upon request. A Proof of Mailing must be filed in the Surrogate's office evidencing the mailing. 

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How can I change my Will? 

A Will can be changed by either using a codicil, which is an addition or supplement made to change or add provisions to your Will, or by drafting and executing a new Will. The codicil will republish the Will in all other respects. Remember that handwritten changes and markings made can invalidate the Will. The Surrogate will be unable to admit the Will for probate or appoint the named executor. The person seeking to have the will admitted will then have to file for permission to probate in the Superior Court. 

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When listing the decedent's assets for an administration, how do I come up with a value for the decedent's real property?

 

You MUST have supporting documentation for any value you list for real property in decedent's estate. You should bring one of the following with you to Surrogate's Court:

 

An appraisal (done within the past 3 months),

A broker's price opinion (done within the past 30 days),

or

The municipal property tax assessment card/record (current year)

 

 

How do I find New Jersey property tax assessment records online?

 

You may obtain property tax assessment records online at the New Jersey Association of County Tax Boards website (www.njactb.org). To search assessment records, you will need the block and lot numbers as well as any qualifier for the property you want to search.

 

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Where Can I Get the "Annual Report of Guardian" Form?

The Annual Report of Guardian must be filed yearly on the anniversary date of a guardian's appointment, unless the judge specified otherwise on the date of appointment.  File the original with the Surrogate and send a copy to the attorney that served as court-appointed counsel.  The filing fee for this report is $5.00 per page.  Click on Annual Report of Guardian to access the most current form.

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Guardianship of Minors:

 

Why must a parent who is not in the minor’s life have to sign a renunciation when funds are being placed with Surrogate's Court?

As parental rights have not been legally terminated, both parents have equal rights to be the guardian of their minor child's funds that are going to be held by the Surrogate's Court until the minor turns 18 years of age. In this instance, both parents cannot serve; therefore one parent must sign a renunciation in favor of the other parent being appointed as guardian.

 

Why must I renounce? I am active in my child's life and it sounds as if I am giving up my parental rights. 

The renunciation is permission given from one parent to the other to be decision making party and contact for the minor child's funds that are going to be held by the Surrogate's Court until the minor turns 18 years of age. The renunciation is only with respect to the matters and/or funds in the Surrogate's Court. Moreover, any requests that a guardian makes for a withdrawal from the funds must be approved by a Superior Court judge.