Surrogate’s Court is a special type of court where proceedings are focused around the estate of a deceased individual. It is up to the Surrogate’s Court to ensure that the deceased’s creditors are paid and that the remainder of the individual’s estate is distributed either pursuant to the term of the deceased party’s Last Will and Testament or laws of intestacy.

Why is Surrogate’s Court Important?

Most states, including New York, have their own special rules and laws regarding probate. The Surrogate’s Court also allows for the distribution of an estate in the event that the deceased does not have a Will. Surrogate’s Court should not be considered as a replacement for a Will. A Last Will and Testament provides for the manner in which you would like your estate to be distributed and designates the persons whom you wish to receive a share of your estate. If you pass without a Will, the Surrogate’s Court will distribute your estate pursuant to the laws of intestacy which may result in your assets being distributed to persons you not approve.

Challenging a Will

If you are of the belief that the Will of someone else is not valid, you have the right to contest the Will in Surrogate’s Court. Ultimately, after due deliberation and discovery (fact gathering to including but not limited to medical records of the testator, testimony of the witnesses to the Will and Will draftsperson, etc.), the Surrogate’s Court will decide as to the Will’s validity.

In most states, a spouse is entitled to a certain portion of the estate, even if the Will makes no provision for surviving spouse. The surviving spouse will have to go through Surrogate’s Court in order to claim his or her share of the estate through marriage entitlement which is known as Spousal Right of Election in the State of New York.

Why a Will Is Needed

A Will provides the manner in which you want your estate to be distributed upon death and designates the person whom you wish to be appointed as Executor to manage the administration of your estate.

Avoiding Probate

The easiest way to avoid an administration or probate proceeding in Surrogate’s Court is to designate joint owners or beneficiaries of your assets. An estate proceeding is only necessary when an individual dies with assets titled solely in their individual name with no joint owner or named beneficiary.

Probate is rarely entirely avoided but by working with your estate planning lawyer, you can help your family mitigate the need for probate.

For more than 40 years, our firm has been assisting people like you with long term care and estate planning needs. We bring you the knowledge and resources to protect you and your family. Armstrong & Lamberti, PLLC does not provide tax, legal, medical or accounting advice by articles. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, tax, legal, medical, or accounting advice. Call 718.477.7700 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation with an estate planning attorney at Armstrong & Lamberti, PLLC. We proudly serve Staten Island, Brooklyn and the other boroughs of New York City.