How long does it take to settle an estate?


Q. How long does probate usually take for an uncomplicated estate? The only assets are a house and a 401(k) that are being left to grown children. There is no surviving spouse.
— Planning ahead

A. In New Jersey, it’s not very complex to take care of most estates – especially one like you’ve described.

The first steps – getting the will admitted as the last will of the decedent and having the executor be appointed by the surrogate – is relatively easy.

It does not require an appearance before a judge as long as the original will is submitted and there is no dispute such as a will contest, said Yale Hauptman, an estate planning attorney with Hauptman and Hauptman in Livingston.

He said in most counties, the proposed executor visits the county surrogate’s office – Essex County does everything by mail – and the surrogate’s office prepares the necessary paperwork. “Letters Testamentary,” which are the official surrogate papers, are usually ready within a week.

A 401(k), if the children are named as beneficiaries, is not subject to probate so the heirs can contact the financial institution directly to complete the necessary paperwork, Hauptman said.

If the house is to be sold, then either the executor can sell it and disburse the proceeds or the home can be titled to the children and then they can sell it, he said. If the executor sells, how long that takes will determine how long the probate process lasts.

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