Sunday, October 1, 2023

Marie Says ‘Get a Will, Please’

Marie Says ‘Get a Will, Please’

By E. Marie Hayes

Cape May County Surrogate E. Marie Hayes
Cape May County Surrogate E. Marie Hayes

Please allow me to introduce myself. As of July 7, I became the new surrogate overseeing the office and filling the unexpired term of the Honorable Dean Marcolongo.

Many of our clients are facing extremely emotional times, having lost a loved one or witnessing the decline of a parent or grandparent. In contrast, some of our clients will be experiencing heartwarming moments with the adoption of a child. Whatever situation brings a client to our office, they are usually highly emotional and in a vulnerable state. To best assist everyone who comes to our office, we will assist you in a kind and caring way.

Although death is not an easy subject to talk about, it is one that we all must think about and decide how our matters will be taken care of in the event of our death. The Surrogate’s Office is responsible with the processing of wills, among many other duties. When a person passes away, it is common to visit the Surrogate’s Court for the appointment of someone to handle the estate of the deceased.

If you have prepared a will, the Surrogate’s Office will assist with the probate of the will. Your will should specify an executor – the person who you appoint to oversee your wishes. This should be a person you trust.

There are many considerations that must be taken into account, such as creation of trusts and inheritance and estate taxes. The executor is an extremely important position and can be a time-consuming job, depending on the complexities of your estate, so choose wisely. When you have a will that is done properly, the execution and distribution of your estate will be done by the person you chose in the manner you wanted.

If you should die without a will, family and friends can request to become the administrator of your estate and will make the choices of how your estate will be handled. Some of the actions that can negate a will is the crossing out of words or paragraphs from the original will. Writing of any type on the original will and improper or lack of proper signatures could also negate the will. The person(s) witnessing the will must be 18 years of age or older and must be competent.

In our lifetime, we strive to work hard to make our life better. In doing this, we acquire material and financial worth. We may be unwilling to consider the consequences and impact it will have on our loved ones in the event of our death. When we are no longer able to give good counsel, advice, and guidance to them regarding what our wishes will be, this can turn into family turbulence, arguments, and altercations.

There are many questions and matters that must be taken into consideration when preparing a will. If you need competent legal, financial, or commercial assistance, we encourage you to call upon those in the field that are trained and have experience to answer your questions.

Regarding legal matters, we suggest you meet with an attorney who can advise you on preparing a will. South Jersey Legal Services offers a free service to eligible senior clients to assist them in the preparing of wills and other related matters. You can call them at 609-465-3001.

An additional resource is Lawyer Referral Services – 609-463-0313. We advise you to see your broker on investment matters, your bank on financial and trust matters, your insurance agents, and an accountant for fiscal guidance.

In the Surrogate’s Office, we have several pamphlets to help answer many of your questions. When it comes to probating a will, we are here to help you in a kind and caring way. We realize this is a most difficult time for you and your family.

We do not require an appointment to come to our office. We will accept walk-ins from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. If you have questions, please feel free to email our office at or call 609-463-6666.

In addition, please visit Cape May County’s website and enter “Surrogate” in the search bar. The website contains information regarding our office fees and the necessary forms you will need to fill out before coming to the office. We are here to help.

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