New Jersey Surrogate and Probate Courts
In New Jersey, probate matters are handled by two courts, namely, the Surrogate’s Court and the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Probate Part.
Most probate matters are handled by the Surrogate’s Court, which is a court of limited jurisdiction. Each of New Jersey’s twenty-one counties has an elected Surrogate. Probate in the Surrogate’s Court is initiated by one party, without any formal appearance required. The Surrogate’s Courts jurisdiction is restricted to specific uncontested applications, i.e., admitting an original will to probate, appointing an administrator to handle an estate if there is no will, appointing an administrator ad prosequendum to pursue a wrongful death action, and appointing minors’ guardians.
Surrogate’s Courts handle only uncontested matters, that is, matters where no objection, dispute or controversy arises. For example, the probate of a Last Will and Testament may be handled in the Surrogate’s Court only when the original will is lodged, no doubt or difficulty arises on the face of the will, and no caveat, dispute or opposition is present. Otherwise, probate must be handled in the Superior Court’s Probate Part.
The Superior Court, Chancery Division, Probate Part, is a court of general jurisdiction. It handles all contested probate matters and certain uncontested matters, with its statutory authority to supervise and resolve any dispute arising in a decedent’s estate, trust, guardianship, conservatorship, or other probate matter. The Probate Part handles matters in open court with notice given to all interested parties. It has general oversight of Surrogate’s Court proceedings.
The supervision by the Probate Part of estates (decedent, guardianship, conservatorship, trust, etc.) is only as to matters that are brought to the court for its determination or resolution by an interested party.
Some estates are administered with no court supervision whatever. The estate is opened as an uncontested application in the Surrogate’s Court and may be closed by filing release and refunding bonds with the Surrogate. Other estates will have multiple contested issues adjudicated by a Probate Part judge during the life of the estate, with the personal representative performing all other administrative business with no court direction or involvement.