What is probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process by which the court first determines whether a deceased person’s will is valid. The court then decides whether the person nominated in the will as executor is qualified to be appointed by the court. Thereafter, the court makes sure that debts are settled and assets are transferred in accordance with the decedent’s will. In New York, probate takes place in the Surrogate’s Court of the county where the decedent resided.
You may have heard others recommend avoiding probate through the use of trusts and other estate planning tools. In some situations, the proper use of trusts and other estate planning tools can allow an estate to bypass the probate process. With this said, probate in New York is generally a straightforward process, particularly if you have retained the services of a knowledgeable probate attorney. I am Joe Gruner, an experienced estate planning and estate administration lawyer. With more than four decades of legal experience, I have helped hundreds of people navigate the probate process.
Although New York law does not mandate the use of an attorney for the probate process, challenges can arise and the legal ramifications of mishandling the executor’s duties make hiring a lawyer an intelligent decision in most cases.
The Probate Process in New York
Probate is typically initiated by the person who has been nominated as the executor in the decedent’s will. If the Surrogate’s Court is satisfied that the will offered for probate meets all of the legal requirements mandated by law, and the person nominated in the will is legally qualified, it issues letters testamentary to that person, which validates the appointment and essentially authorizes the executor to act on behalf of the estate and its beneficiaries.
The probate process can be completed within weeks, or it may stretch out for months or years if the estate is complex or if someone contests the validity of the will or the qualifications of the nominated executor. If there is a dispute among family members or other beneficiaries, I work to resolve these differences as efficiently as possible.