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65 Park Avenue - PO Box 2900 - Flemington, NJ 08822-2900
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Hours: Monday - Friday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
908-788-1156 * Fax (908)788-1586

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Hunterdon County Surrogate Makes Available Guardianship Forms For Developmentally Disabled Individuals
CONTACT: Surrogate Susan J. Hoffman
(908) 788-1156

Hunterdon County Surrogate Susan J. Hoffman is offering updated forms for persons seeking guardianship over developmentally disabled individuals. The forms, developed by the Ad Hoc Working Group on Pro Se Materials, and endorsed by the Judiciary Surrogate Liaison Committee, will serve as a tool for self-represented litigants in cases where the alleged incapacitated person is receiving services from the Division of Developmental Disabilities.

Surrogate Hoffman, appointed by Judge Richard Williams to the committee, participated in shaping the forms and instructions to make a more smooth and complete process for pro-se litigants.

The forms details the court process and the forms involved in filing the papers in court. The instructions provided make the system accessible and outline the "how to's" on completing, filing, and representing oneself in court.

In 2001, Hunterdon County had 23 cases of guardianship regarding developmentally disabled persons.

To request a set of forms, please contact the Hunterdon County Surrogate's Court at (908) 788-1156, visit the Hunterdon County Surrogate's On-Line Forms Page, or on the NJ State Judiciary Website.




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Child Support Lien Law Impacts Distribution of Estates
CONTACT: Surrogate Susan J. Hoffman
(908) 788-1156

On August 14, 2000 Governor Whitman signed S-220 into law; this law is effective immediately. This law repeals the child support lien statute (N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.37 to 39) and replaces and expands the State's child support lien enforcement. It expands the scope of coverage by including inheritance. The statute specifically states that the lien shall stay the distribution of net proceeds to a prevailing party or beneficiary until the child support judgment is satisfied.

How does this impact an estate? If a beneficiary of an estate in NJ is an individual of legal age, and the net proceeds to that individual beneficiary exceeds $2,000, a child support judgment search must be ordered from a search company capable of certifying the results of that search. No proceeds of the estate may be distributed to that individual beneficiary until and unless the judgment search shows that the beneficiary is not a child support judgment debtor or if he/she is a child support judgment debtor, until the judgment is paid off and a warrant of satisfaction is in possession of the estate.

More complex issues include:

Complex estates: Many estates have multiple trusts and multiple beneficiaries per trust. The trustee of each trust must obtain child support judgment searches on all adult beneficiaries of each trust.

Certifications: Both the identification information and the search results must be certified to meet compliance.

Out of State: Because the Federal mandate to collect child support judgments across state lines, searches must be run on all adult beneficiaries, even if they are not NJ residents.






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People often wonder whether the time and expense required to have a will drafted is worth the effort when they do not have a complicated estate. If you find yourself asking similar questions the simple answer is yes. The time and expense you invest now will potentially save your loved ones much more of both once you have passed on.

The first thing you must realize is that in the State of New Jersey probating a will is neither time consuming nor expensive. Many people wrongly believe that if an estate has to pass through probate they will be taxed. Based on this misconception many will forego the making of a will in the belief that their estate will not have to pass through probate. This assumption is flawed on two counts.

First, your estate may pass through probate even if you die without a will which is termed "intestate". Secondly, New Jersey does not tax estates merely for their having passed through probate. Generally speaking, it is the persons to whom the estate passes that determines the amount of tax which may be due.

It is also important to realize that if you fail to prepare a will the State of New Jersey will decide to whom your assets will go to upon your death and who will be the representative of your estate. If you die without heirs your estate may escheat to the State if you have not taken the time to prepare a will. In addition, if you have minor children you can imagine the litigation that may ensue when family members attempt to become the guardian of the children. Only with a will can you designate to whom you wish your estate to pass and who will be the guardian of your minor children.

It is also important to remember that as a single person, your parents, if living, would have the first right to administer your estate and inherit your estate. If your parents are divorced, this often becomes another point of litigation when each parent is determined to control the estate. By making a will and designating an executor, this is eliminated.

As you can see, the advantages of having a Will far outweigh the disadvantages. For a nominal fee and a few hours of your time you can make certain that your loved ones will not be burdened after your death by poor decision making.

If you would like additional information regarding wills and/or the Inheritance Tax Tables for the State of New Jersey, please feel free to contact the Surrogate' Court.






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Hunterdon County Surrogate Susan J. Hoffman is urging local residents who may be receiving solicitations by mail and telephone for "Living Trusts" to be careful before responding.

Surrogate Hoffman states that she recently received a telephone call from a resident of Franklin Township who responded to a mail solicitation for a Living Trust. An appointment was made to come to her home to discuss the preparations. Later she discovered that they had not given her the name of the company nor the name of the person who would be appearing at her home. Another Hunterdon County resident recently told the Surrogate they felt pressured into letting the person into their home to discuss a living trust when all she had wanted was information mailed to her regarding the advantages of preparing a living trust.

"My experience," Surrogate Hoffman said "indicates that many times these mail order companies scare senior citizens into believing that probating a will in New Jersey is an expensive, time consuming proposition, which is not true."

Any resident who feels that he or she needs a Living Trust should contact a local attorney or call the Hunterdon County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 908-735-2611.






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Just as important as deciding how you want your property distributed is deciding how you want to be treated should you suffer a painful illness with no hope of recovery. Do you want to be kept alive by machines? Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart fails? Since you may be unable to speak for yourself when the time comes, it is important to put your wishes in writing by means of a living will.

Take, for example, the case of Harriet, who believed her estate would provide for the education of her grandchildren. When she suffered a debilitating stroke with no hope of recovery, her two children argued about her care. Her son wanted to remove all life-support systems and let her die as quickly and peacefully as possible. Her daughter, however, thought otherwise and arranged for Harriet to have around-the-clock nursing care. Harriet never regained consciousness, but by the time she died several months later, there was not enough money left in her estate even to pay her funeral costs.

All 50 states have laws that allow living wills or the appointment of a health-care agent. For a copy of the form for your state, contact Choice in Dying, Inc., 200 Varwick Street, NY, NY 10014-4810 (800-989-WILL - A fee of $3.50 is requested.)


Spring is the time for change, whether it be an old habit, a time change to daylight savings, a change to lighter clothes or a change in your will. Many people use the spring as a time to put those changes into action.

Perhaps you have thought about making changes to your will and wonder if it is necessary. This Spring edition of UPDATE is dedicated to change: reasons for making a change to your will and then how to make those changes.

Following are some examples of reasons to change your will:

  • CHILDREN - It's not unusual for a child or children born after your original will was drawn, to be not included in it, especially if the will lists your offspring by name. This will not invalidate your will, but it may be a change you want to consider.
  • MOVING - Laws change from state to state so once the last piece of furniture is in place in your new home, you should inquire as to the laws in your new state. Your old will may be worthless under another state's rules.
  • FINANCIAL IMPROVEMENT - As you prosper in life, you acquire more possessions. Perhaps you want to designate who should get the gold, the silverware, or diamonds. An increase in the size of your estate may require a different plan to minimize the increased taxes on it.
  • INHERITANCE - A favorite relative dies leaving you the family heirlooms. You want to insure that these are kept within the family. It's possible that your spouse could marry after your death and these heirlooms would then pass into another family. Maybe it is best to designate which of your children should get what.
  • GROWN CHILDREN - The years pass all too quickly. Marriage, education and profession may put children in varying circumstances. You may want to change your will to help a child with the greatest need.
  • GRANDCHILDREN - During your lifetime you may have every intention of helping your daughter send her children to college and you may have told her so. But once you die, those good intentions die too as the other heirs take their fair share possibly excluding the grandchildren. To ensure your good intentions, state them in writing by putting them in your will.
  • REMARRIAGE - Now your estate involves not only all your assets but those of your new spouse as well. Both spouses children need to be considered in this changed situation.
  • SPECIAL INTEREST- Becoming involved in a community organization that needs contributions may have convinced you to support it more generously than when you were young and struggling. There are many ways to help those institutions and in some instances, will even benefit you and your heirs through advantageous tax situations.
  • LIFE INSURANCE - That protection you needed for a growing family may no longer be needed. You might change your beneficiary to include your favorite charity, a special niece, a forgotten friend.
  • NEW TAX LAWS - State and federal laws are subject to frequent changes which might necessitate a change in your will.
  • OUTDATED - If your will is not self-proven, and the whereabouts of at least one of the witnesses to the will is unknown, it would be wise to have the will updated and made self-proven even though you don't want any of the contents of the will changed.
  • Locating witnesses to a will can be costly and time consuming.


The most common way of making a change to the will is by executing a codicil. A codicil is a published statement regarding a portion of the original will. The codicil will usually only revoke and/or add one or two paragraphs. It will be specific as to the changes and it will be placed for safekeeping with the will. It is signed by at least two witnesses and the signatures of the testator and witnesses are then notarized; this makes the codicil self-proven.

If there are many changes to make, the will should be revoked by preparing a new will to take it's place.

REMEMBER: Erasures, obliterations, strike-outs, or additions written on the face of the document may invalidate the will and cause probate to be denied.






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On February 24, 1997, Governor Whitman signed into law Assembly Bill A-1673. This law amends N.J.S. 3B:3-28 giving Surrogates equal jurisdiction with the Superior Court on probating non-resident decedent's wills when there are assets located within this state.

Although the bill was challenged by the State Bar Association in its early stage, the bill met with no opposition at the hearing and had full support of the 21 surrogates in the State of New Jersey.

"As President of the County Officers Association of New Jersey I was delighted to see this amendment signed by the governor. This is another example where the Surrogates can help lessen the load of the Superior Court Probate Judges by admitting the will of a non-resident to probate without the need for a full court hearing. I would hope the bar associations take advantage of this new amendment," stated Hunterdon County Surrogate Susan J. Hoffman.






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Recently, I found an article called THE THIRTEEN COMMANDMENTS F0R GUARDIANS written by Barry L. Janoff, Ed. S., LUTCF. The commandments consists of the following 6 rules and 7 standards and have been adopted by the National Guardianship Association. I thought they were worthy of being repeated:

Rule 1: A guardian shall exercise extreme care and diligence when making decisions on behalf of a ward.

Rule 2: The guardian shall exhibit the highest degree of trust, loyalty and fidelity in relation to the ward.

Rule 3: The guardian shall assume legal custody of the ward and shall ensure the ward resides in the least restrictive environment available.

Rule 4: The guardian shall assume responsibility to provide informed consent on behalf of the ward for the provision of care, treatment and services, and shall ensure that such care, treatment and services represents the least restrictive form of intervention available.

Rule 5: The guardian of the estate shall provide competent management of the property and income of the estate. In the discharge of this duty, the guardian shall exercise, intelligence, prudence and diligence and avoid any self-interest.

Rule 6: The guardian has an affirmative obligation to seek termination or limitation of the guardianship whenever indicated.

Standard 1: The guardian shall at all times maintain the confidential nature of the ward's affairs.

Standard 2: A guardian shall avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest or impropriety when dealing with the needs of the ward.

Standard 3: Substituted judgment shall be the standard that guides the decision making of the guardian.

Standard 4: A guardian who is responsible for the person of the Ward shall involve the ward, to the extent of the ward's ability, in making decisions about the ward's housing, which shall be in the least restrictive environment consistent with the ward's safety. The guardian shall attempt to maximize the self-reliance, autonomy and independence of the Ward.

Standard 5: The guardian shall develop and monitor a written plan setting forth long-term and short-term goals for the ward.

Standard 6: The guardian has a duty to promote and monitor the ward's health and well being.

Standard 7: The guardian of an incapacitated person shall provide competent management of the property and shall supervise all income and disbursements of the estate in compliance with the statutes.

As a member of a local focus group that is organizing a core of volunteers who can be appointed guardian of an incapacitated person when there is no willing family member to appoint we saw a need to train potential guardians and/or volunteers.


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