From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My husband died a resident of Atlantic County without a will. All his assets were owned joint accounts with me. This week, I received a form letter in the mail saying they had issued a statement and a proof of claim against my husband’s estate. They’re also requesting immediate payment in full. The letter is addressed to his estate, but came in the mail to me. What should I do?
When someone dies without a will and all their assets are held jointly with a spouse, there is no need to file a will as the assets pass to the surviving spouse because of joint ownership. That being said, avoiding probate by using a joint ownership does not mean that he avoided his creditors.
If you are not responsible for your husband’s debt yourself, then his creditors cannot pursue you for payment as his wife. However, they can ask that the payment be made from his share of any joint accounts. To enforce this claim, though, they will have to retain a probate attorney to open the estate as an unpaid creditor and then pursue the joint asset. This is an expensive process. So, unless the debt is large, they will likely not pursue the claim. However, if the creditors pursued the claim and were successful, those funds would likely come out of the joint account and the creditors will also likely seek attorney’s fees for having to pursue their claim.
If you have questions about Probate in Atlantic County, contact our New Jersey Probate attorney’s for a free consultation.