In New Jersey, the Surrogate is a Constitutional Officer and the Judge of county's Surrogate's Court. Surrogates are elected by the voters of each county every five years. The Surrogate also serves as Deputy Clerk of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Probate Part.
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 the 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 Surrogate’s primary functions relate to the probate of wills, the appointment of administrators of estates and trustees named in wills, and the qualification of guardians of minors and incapacitated persons. The Surrogate's Court is also the custodian of a minor's funds, until the minor turns 18 years of age, when he/she: receives proceeds from a lawsuit; is named as a beneficiary of an insurance policy or in a Will (unless it is directed to go into a Trust); or receives money from an intestate estate.
As Deputy Clerk of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Probate Part, the Surrogate's Court reviews, files and processes: adoptions, declaration of death actions, appointments of conservators; applications to have persons declared incapacitated and to have guardians appointed; estate related litigation pleadings; and actions to compel accountings in estate and guardianship matters.
Essex County Surrogate's Court is administering a program called the Guardianship Monitoring Program wherein volunteers are used to assist in the monitoring and oversight of guardians of incapacitated persons.