Kings County Surrogate’s Court Guide
I often receive calls from family members or will beneficiaries seeking general information about the basic structure of the Kings County Surrogate’s Court. This short but concise guide may help you gather a better understanding of the common proceedings and terms of vocabulary if you have a pending matter or need to file an action within this particular Courthouse.
The Jurisdiction of the Surrogate’s Court
Every county in New York has it’s own respective Surrogate’s Court, i.e. Bronx Surrogate’s Court, New York County Surrogate’s Court (Manhattan), etc. Unlike civil court, the jurisdiction of Surrogate’s Court is limited. Matters such as personal injury actions, contract disputes, or landlord tenant cases cannot be entertained by the Surrogate. What you will find, however, are proceedings concerning adoption, guardianships, probate administration, and estate matters. The following are the type of proceedings New York estate attorneys bring and judges hear in this Court:
When someone dies without a will, they are termed to have died “instestate”. On the other hand, when a decedent dies leaving a will, they are deemed to have died “testate”. The Administration Department handles only those estates in which the decedent died intestate. To open an estate in the name of the decedent in order to liquidate assets, sell real estate or commence a wrongful death action, a fiduciary must first be appointed by the Court. Who gets appointed to serve as the estate representative depends on which party has priority and who files their petition. For example, if the surviving spouse and the decedent’s son both file separate petitions to become fiduciary, the spouse will have priority, assuming there are no disqualifying fitness concerns (felon, substance abuse etc). Once all paperwork is filed and complete, the judge will issue a decree or court order naming the administrator and thereby authorizing them to act on behalf of the decedent’s estate. At that point, Letters of Administration will issue to the individual, as a badge of authority. If the deceased died with assets, but without living family members or no one comes forward to act, a public administrator will be appointed by the Court.
Probate of a Will
While most people believe that all matters dealing with a decedent’s estate must pass through ” probate “, this is not true. In New York, only when a deceased dies leaving a last will and testament, must a will be probated. The will must pass through the verification process called probate for the judge to be satisfied that the will was validly executed, there are no objections, all parties of interest have been notified of the document and had their chance to be heard, the deceased was of sound mind and was not under any duress to make a will.
Typically, the badge of authority titled ” Letters Testamentary ” issue to the person named in the will as executor. When the nominated executor is deceased, or refuses or cannot act, the next person in line is the successor executor named in the will. When there is no successor or that person refuses or cannot act, a person with an interest in the estate can petition the court to serve.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important tasks pressed upon an executor or administrator is to faithfully collect assets, pay expenses, and distribute the funds to the beneficiaries in the will or to the heirs-at-law. Once an estate is fully administered by the fiduciary, most oftentimes, an informal accounting will be tendered to the parties itemizing all financial transactions. If the parties are satisfied with the accounting statement, they can move forward to the final stage of receiving their inheritance. When the parties are in dispute over the accounting or certain charges to the estate, or when a fiduciary refuses to furnish an account, a party of interest can compel a Judicial Accounting in the Accounting Department of the Kings Surrogate’s Court.
A voluntary administration proceeding is for small estates where the value of the assets do not exceed $30,000. This proceeding is designed to be simple and most can get it accomplished pro-se, without an estate lawyer.
When a guardian needs to be appointed for a minor or a mentally-challenged individual, the petition seeking an appointment must be filed with the Guardianship Department of the Surrogate’s Court.
General adoption matters are also handled through the Surrogate’s Court, whether the adoption is of a minor or an adult.
General Estate Matters
Matters such as removing an executor or trustee of a trust, compelling a sale of real estate, terminating a trust, contesting a will, compelling a distribution, and any other cases concerning an estate is handled by the Miscellaneous Department. Should you have a matter related to the Kings County Surrogate’s Court or in a Surrogate’s Court within the five boroughs, contact us at (646) 233-0826 with any questions.
You can also visit Kings County Surrogate’s Court online.
|Kings County (Brooklyn)|
|Hon. Margarita Lopez Torres
2 Johnson Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
|Doreen A. Quinn
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