What is Probate and Administration?
Probate is a court process where a person who wants to become the personal representative of an estate submits an application to the court, and if approved, takes an oath. Administration is the process that happens after the personal representative is "installed." During the administration of an estate, the personal representative will gather all estate assets, pay all the deceased persons debts, file any required tax forms, and distribute the assets to the deceased person's heirs by following the terms of the Will, or according to state law.
Both the application for probate and the administration of an estate are extremely technical. There are a lot of laws and statutes, both from the state and from the federal government, that impact every aspect of the administration. For the most part, the court - through the Surrogate in NJ or the Register in PA, stays out of the administration process and it is left to the personal representative to handle the affairs of the estate.
What's a personal representative??
A personal representative is a catch-all term for executors and administrators.
An executor is a person who is nominated in a Last Will and Testament. The executor might need to be bonded before the Surrogate (NJ) or the Register (PA) will allow the personal representative to take the oath. Some Wills include a clause that states that no bond is required. This clause is often limited to personal representatives who are nominated by the person who signed the Will.
An administrator is a person who is allowed by statute to administer an estate. An administrator will almost always need to have a bond. Some state statutes will except certain people, but those exceptions usually apply only to professional administrators.
How do I become a personal representative?
If you are nominated as an executor in a will, you will need to contact you local Surrogate or Registers office to schedule an appointment to take the oath. Many of these offices have their applications available on their websites. (We've linked to some of those documents here.) Unfortunately, the Surrogate and Register cannot answer any questions you might have with completing the application.
You will need to gather the information requested in the application, and bring those documents together with your application to the appointment that you scheduled. Once you arrive, the clerk will examine the application and determine if you've met the requirements to take the oath of the personal representative. It's important to remember that this is a "sufficiency" standard. The clerk is merely saying you've been the requirements for the position, they are not saying that there are no issues with the estate.