The Executor of an Estate (named under the Last Will and Testament) or Administrator of an Estate (appointed by the Court because there was no Will or the Executor couldn’t serve) has an obligation to take care of all of the bona fide creditors of the estate before distributing the rest and remainder to the beneficiaries or heirs according to what the Will specifies or the law requires. However, they also have a duty to pay a beneficiary’s share to probation if the beneficiary owes child support.
During the first six months or so after the beginning of the estate administration process, the bills are arriving and the Executor/Administrator is gathering the assets, selling property, and figuring how what is due. The process sometimes takes longer. But then there comes the point when it is apparent that all assets have been identified and accessed, all taxes have been paid, all outstanding debts of the deceased person have been paid, and the Executor/Administrator is ready to make the distribution that the beneficiaries are waiting for.
Since 2000, New Jersey law has required the Executor/Administrator to do a child support judgment search on every single person before distributing their inheritance. NJSA 2A:17-56.23b. The search can be limited to judgments and liens against the person that were entered in the State of New Jersey. See Strickland v. 212 Corp. of N.J.. Even if the Executor/Administrator is planning to do a partial distribution mid-stream, the search must be run.
The Executor/Administrator asks each beneficiary to certify their social security number, date of birth, complete name, and mailing address. The search is then ordered through an independent search firm. If there is a child support judgment, a call should be placed to the relevant agency to get a written statement of the amount of the lien. Then the Executor/Administrator must transmit the appropriate amount of dollars from the debtor/beneficiary’s share of the estate to the Probate Division of Superior Court, with notice to the beneficiary. If the payment fully satisfies the judgment, a Warrant of Satisfaction will be sent to the Executor/Administrator. After that, any remaining dollars can be distributed to the estate beneficiary.
The statute doesn’t specify that searches have to be done again after there has been a partial distribution. But if the final distribution is being made more than 30 days later (see Strickland, above), prudent practice dictates that another search be run.
This procedure is very important, because an Executor/Administrator can be held personally liable if they distribute an inheritance without making a search for the lien.
For legal advice and assistance on probate and estate administration, call us at 732-382-6070