Collecting debts after an inheritance

Ask NJMoneyHelp

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Q. Is the beneficiary of a will required to pay judgments against the deceased from proceeds of an inheritance? My ex’s mother recently passed away and he owes me a child support judgment and another judgment. His sister is the executor of the will and I would like to contact her about the judgments.
— Ex-wife

A. You should absolutely contact your former sister-in-law about the money you’re owed.

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23b, if your ex-husband’s inheritance from his mother’s estate exceeds $2,000 and he is the subject of an outstanding child support judgment, his sister, as executor, must refrain from distributing your ex-husband’s inheritance to him until the child support judgment is satisfied to the extent made possible by the inheritance, said Shawna Brown, an attorney with Mandelbaum Salsburg in Roseland.

Your ex-husband’s sister should be made aware of the child support judgment so she can ensure that it is satisfied to the extent possible, Brown said.

“However, even if you do not notify your ex-husband’s sister about the judgment, your ex-husband’s attorney or, if he has none, his sister or her attorney, are obligated to perform a search of child support judgments to determine if one exists against your ex-husband,” Brown said. “Your ex-husband’s sister is also obligated to contact the Probation Division of the New Jersey Superior Court to arrange for the child support judgment to be satisfied in whole or in part, depending on the amount of the inheritance.”

If she fails to perform these steps and distributes your ex-husband’s inheritance to him, she can be held personally liable for the child support obligations, Brown said.

The child support judgment has priority over any other claims against your ex-husband’s inheritance, unless a court has directed otherwise or the claim is for unpaid New Jersey income tax, Brown said. Therefore, if the amount of the child support judgment equals or exceeds the amount of your ex-husband’s inheritance, it is unlikely that you will be able to collect on your second judgment.

If the inheritance is sufficient to satisfy both the child support judgment and all or part of your judgment, you may act to collect, Brown said, noting that N.J.S.A. 2A:14-5 allows you to file an action to collect on the judgment if it was entered in the last 20 years.

This type of action is filed in the Special Civil Part of the New Jersey Superior Court.

“You may ask the court to collect the judgment from your ex-husband’s inheritance and include both him and his sister, in her capacity as executor of their mother’s estate, as parties so that she cannot withhold the amount owed pursuant to the judgment,” she said. “If the judgment was entered over 20 years ago, you can file an action to `revive’ the judgment and collect on it.”

If you are successful, the court will issue a document called a writ of execution that empowers a court officer to collect the amount of the judgment from your ex-husband or from his mother’s estate, depending on where the funds are then being held, Brown said.

She recommends you speak with an attorney who is experienced in estate administration to fully evaluate your legal rights as a creditor of the estate.

Email your questions to moc.p1544826536leHye1544826536noMJN1544826536@ksA1544826536.