From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My father died a resident of Burlington County, New Jersey. I live in California. His only asset was his bank account, and I am his only child, but the bank will not give me the account. They say I need to get a certified certificate from the Surrogate. Why is this?
When someone dies a resident of New Jersey, their assets pass to other persons or entities either under their will or, if they have no will, by the New Jersey rules of intestacy.
The bank has no idea who should get those funds in his account, as your father could have a will giving them to anyone (you don’t have to give money to your children), or he could have creditors (creditors must be paid before you inherit) or he could have a spouse (his spouse would have a right to claim at least some of that account) or he could have more than one child (each child would get a share under the intestacy rules).
Because banks don’t know the facts, they are obligated to turn over the account to whomever can prove they represent the estate. Under New Jersey rules, the Surrogate of the county in which your father was a resident determines who that is. In this case, it would be the Burlington County Surrogate.
If your dad had no will, if he was not married, and if you are the only child he ever had, then you could be named the Administrator of his estate. If you wish, we can assist you with the Petition and even help arrange for you to be sworn in as Administrator in California. But even after being named Administrator, you would have to address his creditors and taxes before you could use the money yourself, so if you know he has more creditors than what is in that account, you need to consider if it is even worth opening his estate. If you would like to talk through the options, feel free to set up a phone conference.
If you have any other questions about New Jersey Probate, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.