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FAQ on Starting an Estate in New York

How Do I Start an Estate in New York? Estates in New York are opened through the Surrogate’s Court.

Where is the Surrogate’s Court in New York? Each County has its own Surrogate’s Court. They can all be found online. Here are the Surrogate’s Courts for the five boroughs of New York City, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester.

What documents do I file to start an estate? All estates require the filing of at least a Petition and an original death certificate. Many other documents are required depending on the circumstances, including a copy of the funeral bill (almost all cases), affidavit of comparison of a will, affidavit of heirship, affidavit of family tree, Citations, Notices and various other affidavits and certifications.

My loved one died, does their property become an inheritance? Yes, but you will still need to file documents in court (through your attorney) in order to obtain the authority to act on behalf of the estate of the person who died.

Do I have to go to Court? If you have an attorney, they will go to court for you. If not, you would have to go yourself.

What do I bring to the Surrogate’s Court? You should bring the documents we’ve listed above – the death certificate and funeral bill. It’s helpful to bring a list of property and names addresses of everyone who is in any way related to the estate. This includes the people benefitting from the will or excluded by the will. If someone is a minor, have the contact information for their parents or legal guardians.

What do I bring to my appointment with my estate attorney? When you meet with your estate attorney, bring the documents listed above – death certificate, funeral bill, names and addresses of everyone related in any way to the estate, whether inheriting from the will or by law or being excluded by the will. It’s nice to have their phone numbers, if available. Bring your ID. When it comes to meeting with your estate attorney, you can always bring whatever is missing to them later, and email them any missing information at a later time.

If I am named as the Executor in the Will, am I now in charge of the estate or is there anything else that I need to do? When you are named as the executor of the will, you are nominated (suggested) by the testator (person who made the will). In order for you to actually become the Executor, you will need to be appointed by the Surrogate’s Court. Only the Surrogate’s Court has the authority to issue Letters of Testamentary.  Financial institutions and government agencies will ask for Letters Testamentary in order to transfer property from the decedent’s name to the estate or its beneficiaries.

If I am already named as the Executor in the Will, why do I have to go to court? Because you were just nominated, not appointed. Not yet.

Does the oldest child or first-born receive any kind of preference? Being a first-born or the oldest child does not convey any preference in receiving inheritance. It is whatever the law requires or the Will set forth.

One of us is only a half-brother or half-sister, do they get half of what they are entitled to? A child of a person who died is treated as their full child, because you cannot be someone’s “half child.” Even if they are only a half-sibling to you.

Do I need to notify the other people involved? It’s always a good idea to communicate with everyone involved from the get-go, but it’s not technically a requirement. You will have to notify beneficiaries and distributes of the estate and possibly some creditors at some point of the probate process, either by notice or citation, and you would have to either notify them in an official way in accordance with the law or receive a waiver from them which is in a form authorized by New York State law.

My loved one had a trust, am I required to file anything in court or publish anything in a newspaper? In New York, unlike in many other states, trusts are completely private. In most cases, no notice is required, whether to creditors or beneficiaries. A general notice or publication in a newspaper is also not required.

Does the Executor get paid for taking care of the estate? Yes, the payment to the executor is called “Executor Commissions,” and you can use our executor commissions calculator to give you an idea of the amount.

I am an estate attorney but this page is not to be used as legal advise or as a guide to handle your estate on your own, unless the estate is very small. For any serious estate, do not try to save money, hire an attorney, it will be worth it in the amount of money you save in not making serious mistakes in the estate.

New York estates are complicated, and experience in the Surrogate’s Court practice is paramount when dealing with those issues. Call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233, New York estate, guardianship, wills, trust, medicaid and probate lawyer, and make an appointment to discuss spousal claims and rights to the estate.