Who Has Priority to be Appointed Administrator of the Estate of a Deceased Adult, a Parent or the Decedent’s Ex-Spouse or Their Minor Child?

Estate Administration ProbateAn adult parent dies.  It’s tragic.  Now his or her estate needs to be probated and administered.  The person was divorced at the time of his/her death.  Who is legally eligible to handle the estate?

The appointment statute gives first priority to the “surviving spouse or domestic partner” and if there is no surviving spouse” then to the remaining heirs of the intestate, or some of them, if they or any of them will accept the administration.”  N.J.S.A. 3B:10-2.  Based on the intestacy statute N.J.S.A. 3B:5-4, a minor child (under age 18) inherits the entire estate.  Therefore, it would follow that he or she would have the highest priority of appointment.  But if he or she is a minor, neither is going to be appointed administrator.  So we have a situation where the “deceased adult’s estate leaves no heirs entitled to the administration of his estate.”  In that situation, “the Superior Court or surrogate’s court may grant letters of administration to any fit person applying therefor.”  N.J.S.A. 3B:10-2.  Based on that, both an ex-wife and/or the parents of the deceased adult child have the same claim to administer the estate.

The way the Surrogate would likely handle this situation is if the ex-spouse wants to administer the estate, she would have to get the parents to renounce, as the parents are closer in kin and would get the entire estate if something were to happen to the child.  If the parents refused, she would have to go to court to get appointed.  Either way, to protect the inheritance rights of the minor child, an interested person (grandparent or ex-spouse) should go to court asking for permission to set up a trust for the child and to have either the ex-spouse or grandparents be the administrator/trustee.  If the parents are suspicious of the ex-spouse, then one of them could serve as a co-trustee of the trust.

Contact me personally today to discuss your New Jersey estate administration matter.  I am easy to talk to, very approachable and can offer you practical, legal ways to handle your concerns.  You can reach me toll free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail me at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County NJ Estate Administration Attorney

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