Avoiding Administration of Small Estates
Except where a married couple has had careful estate planning, more often than not the death of the first spouse creates an unexpected estate administration problem. It’s very common for nearly all of the couple’s assets to be held jointly and transfer to the surviving spouse, but there is almost always one or two assets that are in the name of the decedent alone. The most common problem asset I encounter is the decedent’s automobile; most people title their vehicles in one name alone, and the surviving spouse may think that he or she must go through a full estate administration to obtain clear title to the decedent’s vehicle, even if no other Estate assets exist.
Prudently, New Jersey has made special provision for small intestate Estates, in N.J.S.A. 3B:10-3 and -4. Under these statutes, when the total value of an intestate Estate will not exceed $20,000.00, the surviving spouse may sign an affidavit and obtain all of the powers of a personal representative. The affidavit, which will be prepared by the Surrogate’s office, simply states the residence of the decedent and the natural of the decedent’s assets.
If there is no surviving spouse, surviving heirs may proceed similarly by affidavit, except that the estate cannot exceed $5,000.00.
Clearly, these rules are inapplicable to higher asset decedents and to couples who have done careful estate planning. But for a surviving spouse left with only a used car in the decedent’s name alone, the rules thoughtfully allow the cost of full Estate administration to be avoided.