When someone dies in New York, his or her executor presents the will to the Surrogate’s Court in the county where the person lived. In a process called probate, the court determines the validity of the will and supervises the administration of the deceased person’s affairs.
Understanding New York probate can help inform the estate planning process.
Probate vs. small estate proceeding
New York allows a small estate proceeding rather than probate for estates worth less than $30,000. Assets with named beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, do not count toward the probate threshold since they do not require probate. In either case, the executor will start the process by filing the will with the county court clerk along with a probate petition.
Some people strive to avoid probate with their estate plans. For example, they may name beneficiaries for bank and investment accounts or create trusts that allow certain assets to bypass probate.
Some of the actions conducted by the executor during probate include:
- Paying outstanding taxes and debts that the estate owes
- Making an inventory of property under estate ownership
- Obtaining professional valuation of estate assets
- Keeping the assets secure during the probate process
- Distributing the assets to the appropriate heirs according to the deceased person’s wishes
Sometimes, a deceased person’s surviving family member or another concerned individual may contest the will. The probate court will deal with these issues and investigate the actions of the executor if necessary.
Without challenges to the will, the probate process can take several months to about a year in New York.