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The New York Probate Process

Published November 18, 2020

For many, creating a will is the first step in the estate planning process. However, many people are surprised to learn that, even with a will, the distribution of estate property is not always straightforward. In large part, this is due to the New York probate process.

A will is a legal document in which a person outlines how they want their property distributed after their death. When someone who has a will dies, the estate must go through the probate process before the court distributes any estate assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. Probate refers to the formal process by which the court recognizes a person’s death, validates their will, and then administers their estate according to the terms contained in the will.


The first step in the probate process is “proving” the will. This requires the person who is named as executor to file the will, along with the death certificate and other necessary court documents, with the Surrogate’s Court. This must occur in the county where the deceased maintained their primary residence. Once appointed, the executor must provide the court with a list of all “distributes,” or heirs. Each distributee must be served with notice that the executor is seeking to administer the deceased’s estate. When properly served, this notice provides the Surrogate’s Court with jurisdiction over the distributees, or the power to issue a binding ruling pertaining to their rights. If a distributee disagrees with the executor being allowed to administer the estate, they can appear to contest the executor’s appointment. Otherwise, a distributee can sign a waiver, consenting to the executor’s appointment. Beneficiaries who stand to inherit anything in the will (regardless of familial relation) must also be notified of the probate proceeding.

After the named executor fulfills the notice requirements, the Surrogate (another name for the judge in Surrogate’s Court) will review the provided document, ensuring that it is the last will and testament of the deceased. Once the Surrogate determines this to be the case, the court will formally appoint the executor of the estate.

From there, the executor’s duties include the following:

  • Locating and taking inventory of all estate property and transferring it to the estate;
  • Paying the estate’s bills and taxes;
  • Collecting any debts that are owed to the estate;
  • Managing estate assets during the probate proceeding; and
  • Distributing estate property to those named in the will.

In some cases, especially those involving the situation in which an heir disputes an executor’s appointment, the probate process can be arduous. Executors or beneficiaries seeking assistance with this process are encouraged to reach out to a dedicated New York estate planning attorney for assistance.

Discuss Your Situation With a Dedicated Estate Planning Lawyer

At the New York estate planning law firm, Littman Krooks, LLP, we have over 30 years of experience helping families effectively plan for their future. In this capacity, we help families ensure that all necessary documents are in place to ensure a smooth transition, even in the event of the unexpected. We pride ourselves in providing an exceptional level of service to individuals of varying net worth. To learn more about how our dedicated team of attorneys can assist your family with its unique needs, call 914-684-2100 to schedule a no-obligation consultation today or click here.

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