The Surrogate's Court is a Department of County Government as well as a branch of the Superior Court of New Jersey, in the Chancery Division. The Surrogate is a Constitutional Officer who is elected to the position every five years. The Surrogate serves as Deputy Clerk of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Probate Part as well as Judge of the Surrogate's Court.
The word Surrogate means "one who takes the place of another." The Surrogate in each county is actually taking the place of the Governor, who, in 1710, received from the Archbishop of London the authority to probate wills, issue marriage licenses and perform those functions which at that time were in the province of the Church. That power eventually went to the governor of the crown colony of New Jersey. The Surrogates were recognized as a separate office in the 1844 Constitution of New Jersey and allowed to run for election in each county to hold office for a five year term. Through subsequent statutes and modification, the powers and duties of County Surrogates were changed to meet present needs.
The duties of the Surrogate are mostly administrative. These duties provide for the administration of an estate, whether it be the process of admitting a will to probate or grant letters of administration to an appropriate person to carry on the duties of the decedent. Letters of Guardianship are also granted to persons for minor children who are awarded funds through a court as well as guardians for mentally incompetent persons.
As Clerk of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Probate Part, the Surrogate's Court reviews and files adoptions, declaration of death actions, appointment of guardian for an incompetent person, trusteeships, conservatorships and accountings.
Hunterdon County Surrogate's Court is administering a program called the Guardianship Monitoring Program wherein volunteers are used to monitor the wards and the guardians for incompetent persons to see that their needs are met. These volunteers also audit the annual accountings filed by the guardians.
Permanent records of all wills and other estate administration papers are filed in the Surrogate's Court on microfilm making that court a great source of information for title searchers and genealogists. Original wills are then filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court in Trenton for further record preservation.
The Court collects certain filing fees, set by New Jersey Statute, which are turned over to the Board of Chosen Freeholders on a monthly basis. The Surrogate and staff are paid salaries set by the Board of Freeholders and receive no part of the fees collected.