Navigating New York's surrogate's court

There are many steps which must be undertaken by executors going through the NY probate process. Get familiar with the process to improve your chances of a successful probate.

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by Belle Wong, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

If you're an executor of an estate in New York, the state probate process might appear daunting. In order to properly administer the estate that's in your charge, it's a good idea to become familiar with the New York Surrogate's Court and the probate process involved.

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Wills and probate in New York state

The probate court in New York, known as the Surrogate's Court, is where you need to begin the probate process. During the probate process, the court assesses the validity of the will and, on determining that the will is valid, issues an order known as a Decree Granting Probate, which grants permission for the instructions in the will to be carried out. Letters testamentary are also issued, which gives the executor the authority to administer the estate.

The probate process that occurs depends on whether or not the deceased has left a will. When no will is left—a situation known as an intestacy—an administration proceeding takes place. The process is begun by the deceased's closest heir, who files a Petition for Letters of Administration. When the deceased has left a will, the process below is followed.

Probate process with an existing will

If you're the executor of an estate in New York and there is a will to be submitted for probate, the following steps provide a loose guideline to help you navigate the probate process in the Surrogate's Court:

  1. The executor files the will in the county where the deceased lived, along with the Petition for Probate and the death certificate.
  2. The court assesses the will and makes a determination as to the will's validity.
  3. On determining that the will is valid, the court issues a decree granting probate, as well as letters testamentary, which gives the executor the authority to administer the estate.
  4. Objections to probate may be raised by a beneficiary. Note, however, that if a beneficiary signs a Waiver of Process: Consent to Probate (Form P-4, found in the above-mentioned Petition for Probate), they waive their right to contest the will.
  5. The executor gathers together the estate's assets, determines the value of these assets, and fills out the Inventory of Assets form, which must be filed with the court within six months of the executor's appointment.
  6. Because creditors have seven months from when probate is granted to file claims on the estate, it's prudent for executors to wait to distribute assets until the seven months have passed. However, during this time, the estate's bill payments can be made.
  7. An accounting should be prepared for beneficiaries to approve.
  8. Before the final distribution can be made, a petition must be submitted to court to close probate. The court then issues an order to close probate and permit the distribution of assets to beneficiaries.

Final accounting for probate in New York

Before a final distribution can be made, the executor must prepare a final accounting, which is then reviewed by the beneficiaries. An informal accounting takes place if the beneficiaries approve of the accounting and sign Receipt and Release forms. When these forms are filed, the court issues a decree of approval of the final accounting.

In some cases, however, a beneficiary might not accept the accounting. If this happens, the accounting must be filed with the court, which then hears objections from any interested parties. On resolution of these objections, the court then issues a decree to settle the final account.

There are many steps that must be undertaken by executors going through the New York probate process. Becoming familiar with the process is a helpful first step toward successful probate, but if you would like assistance, consider using an online service provider to guide you through the process.

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Belle Wong, J.D.

About the Author

Belle Wong, J.D.

Belle Wong, is a freelance writer specializing in small business, personal finance, banking, and tech/SAAS. She spends h… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.