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What is Probate? A Step-by-Step Explanation

Probate is a court proceeding with the final goal of distributing a deceased person’s inheritance to his heirs. Here is a step-by-step explanation of what probate is in New York and how to conduct a probate proceeding:

1. Start the proceeding file the probate petition and supporting documents with the court.
2. Officially notify interested parties there are different types of notices, such as Citations, Notices of Probate and Publications.
3. Set a court hearing the clerks of the court will review the petition and the supporting documents and will either approve the packet and set a court date or will return the packet with a correction sheet instructing to make changes or provide additional documents or information.
4. Appear before the court for the hearing the purpose of the hearing is to make sure that there is an actual person filing a proceeding and to see whether someone objects to the probate of the will. If no one objects to the probate of the will, the proceeding will go to the next step. If someone does appear and expresses their desire to object to the will, then the probate proceeding will go on the litigation track, and it will be a while until it gets to the next step, if it ever will at all.
5. Receive letters of administration if all goes well, the court will issue letters of administration, which is a document that gives the executor the authority to collect the estate’s assets, pay estate debts and distribute inheritance to the heirs.
6. Find the decedent’s assets look through the decedent’s residence, perform an asset search with your attorney or private investigator, ask around.
7. Transfer the decedent’s assets to the estate if needed you may need to open an estate bank account, or transfer real estate to the estate, but some assets can be distributed without that preliminary step.
8. Pay or decline alleged debts paying debts is part of probate, and the executor who fails to pay debts can be sued for those debts personally.
9. Get releases from the heirs (and tax authorities if applicable) distributing assets without releases would subject the executor to possible future litigation.
10. Distribute assets in accordance with the will or pursuant to New York intestacy laws
11. Get discharged as executor (if needed) some estates stay open indefinitely in case there are more assets or because it’s cheaper, some get closed down so that the executor’s liability is cut off.

An executor nominated by the will does not have the authority to act on behalf of an estate until he is appointed by the court as an executor. Think of being appointed as an executor by the will as a “pre-approval.” To actually be allowed to serve as an executor, a person has to be approved and appointed by the court.

In New York, estates under $30,000 are called a “small estate” and have a simplified short-form proceeding that most people can fill out without the help of an attorney.

You’re asking “what is probate,” not “what is estate administration”. Technically, only a proceeding where the decedent left a will can be called “probate.” A an estate proceeding without a will is usually called “estate administration.”

If you need legal representation in a probate proceeding, call New York estate lawyer Albert Goodwin, Esq. at (212) 233-1233.