Wills And Probate Law

What You Need to Know About Wills And Probate Law

Probate or proof of a Will is a procedure whereby the New York Surrogate's Court determines the validity of a writing as a person's Will.  The Court must be satisfied that the document offered for probate was properly executed according to New York statutes and rules and reflects the decedent's desires.  The statutes that provide the basic rules regarding estates are contained in the New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law and the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act.  Wills are probated in the Surrogate's Court.  These courts are located in each county in the state.  For example, there is a Bronx County Surrogate's Court and a New York (Manhattan) Surrogate's Court.  Each county court has its own set of judges.  Typically, the probate process requires the filing of a petition with the Court and notice to appropriate members of the decedent's family and also to those named in the Will.  The members of the family required to receive notice are those who are the decedent's next of kin or distributees.  While most decedent's are survived by close family members such as a spouse, children or brothers and sisters, sometimes the closest relative is much more distant such as first or second cousins.  In these cousin cases it may be difficult to trace back a family tree and the Court may require kinship proof to determine the identity of these persons. Wills and probate law can be complex.  Improperly prepared or unclear documents, Will contests and searches for missing heirs can result in delay and immense cost.  After the Court is satisfied with a Will's validity, a document called Letters Testamentary are issued by the Court to the Executor of the Will.  The Executor then has the authority to administer the decedent's estate.  The Executor is required to collect the decedent's assets, pay the estate liabilities and expenses and then distribute the remaining estate funds to beneficiaries according to the terms of the Will.  The collection of estate assets may require the sale of items such as the decedent's home or other real estate.  All of the things and interests owned by the decedent at the time of death must be valued to determine whether the estate is required to file and pay New York or Federal estate taxes.  During the course of estate administration, the Executor may also need to pay income taxes for the estate.

Unfortunately, just having a Will won't automatically prevent a prolonged and painful probate process. Wills are challenged all the time. To be sure your Will is protected as much as possible against challenges, especially if your estate is large, you should consult with a qualified attorney who is mindful of New York laws and procedures governing estates.  There are many issues that can be raised regarding the validity of a Will such as lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence and improper execution or signing of the Will.

I have 30 years of experience in both preparing Wills and estate plans for clients and representing clients in probate proceedings in the Surrogate's Courts throughout New York State.  I have successfully helped clients with the probate of Wills, litigating Will contests and with administering estates.

I graduated in the top 10% of my class at The New England School of Law in Boston and served on the “Law Review.”  My major accomplishments include my own law practice and serving on the staff of a NYC Councilperson and a NYS Assemblyman.  My practice prides itself on personal attention to client needs.

Please come in to my office for a free consultation and meet with me to discuss your options. To contact my office located in Manhattan call (212) 355-2575 or e-mail