This matter was commenced by order to show cause directing the Attorney General of New Jersey to demonstrate why administration upon the estate of Gertrude Aich, deceased, should not be granted by the Passaic County Surrogate.
The facts are undisputed. Gertrude Aich died intestate in the City of Clifton on March 27, 1978. Her death was discovered by the Clifton police who arranged for the removal of her remains by Harold R. Kent of the Kent Funeral Home. Kent conducted the funeral and burial.
Between March 27 and 31 the police conducted an inquiry to locate decedent's next-of-kin. The inquiry was fruitless, and this finding was reported to Kent on March 31. On April 25, 1978 Kent, through his attorney, filed a complaint for general administration in the Passaic County Surrogate's Court. Notice of the application was subsequently served on the Attorney General. On receipt of the notice the Attorney General began a kinship inquiry to determine whether the estate was properly subject to escheat and, if possible, to locate next-of-kin. To date the inquiry has been without result and is now being conducted into any collateral next-of-kin.
Since it appeared that there would be a surplus remaining in the estate after payment of just debts, which surplus would pass to the State by escheat, the Attorney General filed a caveat against the grant of general administration and determined to invoke jurisdiction of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:37-14, but has not yet done so "in deference to this Court."
On May 18, 1978 the surrogate, in his official capacity, filed a caveat against granting administration in the Chancery
Division. On the same date the surrogate sought, and was granted, an order to show cause why administration on the subject estate should not be granted by him.
As of the return date of the order to show cause no complaint or petition for general administration had been filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court in Trenton. The only pleadings filed with this court are the caveat of the surrogate, the motion for order to show cause and the order to show cause itself.
The Attorney General contends that the surrogate lacks standing to commence the present action or to otherwise challenge the actions of the Attorney General relative to the subject estate. I agree with the position of the Attorney General.
The surrogate is a judicial officer and holds a court in our existing judicial system. In re Conda , 72 N.J. 229, 233 (1977). His jurisdiction, however, is quite limited.
The surrogate's court is one of limited and special jurisdiction. Its jurisdiction is purely statutory, extending to the probate of wills, the granting of letters of administration, and to certain other statutory functions. Mellor v. Kaighn , 39 N.J.L. 543 (E & A 1916); 7 N.J. Practice (Clapp, Wills and Administration), § 1910. The surrogate lacks even the power to determine questions arising within the sphere of his responsibility. [ In re Estate of Schumann , 125 N.J. Super. 56, 62 (App. Div. 1973), certif. den. 63 N.J. 569 (1973)]
The jurisdiction of the surrogate or the surrogate's court is limited to matters which are not in dispute or in doubt (N.J.S.A. 3A:2-5, 3A:2-3); and when a doubt or dispute does exist with regard to any matter before the surrogate, he loses jurisdiction and the issues are determined by ...