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Probate and estate tax issues are complex

Probate cases are mostly handled by two courts in New Jersey. The Superior Court and the Surrogates' Courts are where heirs and others go to resolve probate issues within a court environment, with the majority of cases being handled in the county Surrogates' Courts.

There are 21 Surrogates' Courts -- one for each county in the state -- and where your probate matter is handled depends on factors such as where the deceased person resided. Because these are not courts of records, however, they don't handle all probate matters. Certain contested matters must be handled in other courts, and some estates may not end up in probate court at all.

Understanding where a probate issue will be handled is just one step in what might be a long process when dealing with estate administration. Even once documents are filed and probate decisions are made, heirs and others often have to deal with the issue of estate taxes.

By planning ahead, individuals can use gifting, trusts and other vehicles to reduce tax matters for their heirs. They can also decrease the burden of the entire probate process by ensuring that estate planning documents are in order and legally solid.

New Jersey does have an estate tax that impacts some estates, and large estates can exceed the threshold for the federal estate tax. In either case, estate taxes can take a sizeable chunk from assets that individuals really wanted to leave to heirs.

Whether you are planning your estate or are an heir dealing with complex probate and tax issues, keeping legal priorities straight can be important. Working with a third party who can help you through the process while keeping an eye on tax risks is one way to possibly mitigate the burdens of both probate court and estate taxes.

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