From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My husband died a resident of Gloucester County without a will. All his assets were owned jointly with me. This week, I received a form letter in the mail from a creditor saying they had issued a statement and proof of claim against my husband’s estate. Also, they requested immediate payment in full. It 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 the 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 the debt yourself, then they cannot pursue you for payment as his wife. However, they can ask that the payment be made from his share of the joint accounts. To enforce this claim, though, the creditor 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, it is unlikely they will pursue the claim. However, if they are successful, those funds would likely come out of the joint account and they will likely seek attorney’s fees for having to pursue their claim.
If you have questions about probate in Gloucester County, contact our New Jersey probate attorneys for a free consultation.