Surrogates - In the news, but what do they do?

In Morris County right now we have an election race for the Morris County Surrogate.  The Surrogate is an office that I deal with frequently, but many people do not know much about.  

I must first say that Surrogate John Pecoraro does a wonderful job.  My clients interact with his office usually due to the death of a family member and his office and staff are warm, caring and efficient so that the executor can leave their office feeling empowered rather than scared and confused (disclaimer - this endorsement is not upon request or even knowledge of his office, but because I feel Surrogate Pecoraro has excelled in the position).

The Surrogate is an elected judicial role.  The Surrogate has jurisdiction in limited areas:

  1. When a person dies, the Surrogate reviews the will and if all is in order, formally empowers the Executor to act on behalf of the estate
  2. When a person dies without a Will, the Surrogate formally empowers the Administrator (who is named to act based on relationship to the decedent) to act on behalf of the estate, as well as ensure that the estate administrate is completed
  3. If a person is incompetent (due to mental disability or being a minor) the Surrogate is involved with the process of the naming of the Guardian.
  4. The Surrogate facilitates adoptions.
  5. The Surrogate managed funds paid to minors (inheritances left to a person under age 18, or personal injury awards).  The Minors' Intermingled Trust Fund for Morris County minors manages approximately $25 million.

As an aside, you can now search for probated estates online to see if a will was probated or an estate administration opened in Morris County.  

The Surrogate's role is quiet, but important.  They facilitate moving families through times of grief and joy.  Having dealt with many other Surrogates, it is pleasure to represent cases in Morris County.

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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Adam Herbst - October 27, 2009 12:15 PM

Do you think that the surrogate should be an elected position or non-elected position? Is there the chance that a competent surrogate loses his or her position because of an election sweep by a given party? Shouldn't this position be like the chief of police in a town rather than the county sheriff?

Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss, Esq. - October 27, 2009 12:48 PM

I think that your concern is real - an excellent Surrogate could be the victim of politics that are totally unrelated to how they are doing at their job. I don't know why the position is elected instead of hired, because I don't see it as political in any way whatsoever.

Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss, Esq. - October 28, 2009 10:20 AM

As a nod to the fact that blog entries have a wide audience, Surrogate Pecoraro called me to offer his thoughts on the Surrogate being an elected v. an appointed position. Surrogate Pecoraro's take is that he is actually *empowered* as an elected official because he is beholden to all of the citizens of Morris County, instead of 1 or 2 other elected officials, whose office are subject to being the victim of politics instead of a reflection on what the person themselves accomplished in the position. I find it refreshing for an elected official to feel they are our representative and find it an honor to live up to that charge and to have that question of "am I doing good job for you" be put before the voters each year.

As an aside, Surrogate Pecoraro seemed surprised by the posting as he was totally unaware of it, but he felt Adam's question was important enough to respond to this audience. I love how social media can quickly and easily engage people in thoughtful discussions.

Alaina - December 22, 2009 12:01 PM

Can you suggest a first step/stop for a family dealing with a elder family member who needs increasing care for dementia and for whom the sale of assets (home) will not yield any financial relief...in fact, leaving a shortfall on the debt? Is a county home their only recourse? Where do they go for compassionate answers? Is an attorney the way to start?
Thank you.

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