My dad died. Do I have to manage his estate?


Q. I’m currently working on my father’s estate. Despite no savings or pension, plenty of debt and only owning his home, him having no will, the three or four lawyers I called said it would cost between $3,000 and $6,000. And that we would need a bond for the house. My dad’s current debt and Medicaid estate recovery bill far exceed the value of his house. I have not submitted the paperwork to be administrator of his estate and I’m thinking of just abandoning the whole thing. Can the state take any legal action against me or force me to be the administrator?
— Unhappy son

A. We’re sorry to hear about your dad.

Taking on the job as administrator or executor of an estate can be a big job.

But no, no one can force you to serve, said Tom Szieber, a trusts and estates attorney at Avelino Law in Summit.

In short, no. N.J.S.A. 3B:10-2 sets forth the basic rules governing the issuance of letters of administration in connection with an intestate estate, that is, an estate of a decedent with no will, he said.

“That statute states that a surviving spouse or domestic partner will have first right to serve, but that if none is able and willing to serve, then the `remaining heirs of the intestate, or some of them, if they or any of them will accept the administration, and, if none of them will accept the administration, then . . . any other person as will accept the administration’ may serve,” Szieber said.

The language contemplates a scenario where some or all eligible potential administrators will not wish to serve, and provides for the administration of the estate in such a situation, he said.

The statute further states that if the decedent leaves no heirs “justly entitled to the administration of his estate, or if his heirs shall not claim the administration within 40 days after the death of the intestate, the Superior Court or surrogate’s court may grant letters of administration to any fit person applying therefore,” he said.

“If a person entitled to serve wants to decline to do so, he or she should execute a document known as a `renunciation,’ which confirms his or her desire to step aside and permit the appointment of someone else,” Szieber said.

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This story was originally published on May 1, 2023. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.