Nassau County Probate Court
Probate court is a special court that primarily deals with the estates of deceased individuals. In New York, the probate court is called the Surrogate’s Court. There is a Surrogate’s Court in each county and they have jurisdiction over proceedings related to estate administration, probate of wills, and proceedings related to trusts. New York Surrogate’s Courts also handle cases related to guardianships and adoptions. If you are involved in a matter before the New York Surrogate’s Court, it is important that you are represented by an experienced Nassau County probate court lawyer who understands the specific rules and procedures related to cases in the New York Surrogate’s Court.Surrogate’s Court proceedings
- Probate. The Surrogate’s Court has jurisdiction over matters related to probating a will. When a decedent passes away with a will, the will must be presented to the Surrogate’s Court in the county of the decedent’s primary residence at the time of his (or her) death. The Surrogate’s Court judge will then review the will and admit it to probate if he or she concludes that it is valid. The executor named in the will and appointed by the Surrogate’s Court then has the job of settling the decedent’s estate and distributing assets based on the terms of the will. If any issues develop related to probating the will, they will be heard in the Surrogate’s Court. Common probate-related matters that are heard by the Surrogate’s Court in addition to petitions for probate include objections to admitting wills to probate, objections to the appointment of executors, and petitions to be appointed administrator. In re Probate of the Last Will & Testament of Baugher, 2010 NY Slip Op 20359 (N.Y. Surr. Ct., 2010), the decedent’s will was submitted to the Nassau County Surrogate’s Court along with a petition for probate. Based on the will being submitted for probate, other pleadings were filed related to questions about the will’s validity, construction of the in terrorem clause in the will, and a request to depose the successor executor.
- Estate administration. Administration is the process of settling a decedent’s estate. When there is will, the process is commonly referred to as probate or probate administration, while in the absence of a will the process is called estate administration. Whether there is or is not a will, the Surrogate’s Court has jurisdiction over the administration process. The process is managed by an executor if there is will or an estate administrator if there is not will. The purpose of the proceeding is to finalize the decedent’s affairs, pay the estate’s debts and distribute the remaining estate assets. Even though the executor (or administrator) has a significant amount of authority over the administration process, he (or she) must check in with the Surrogate’s Court along the way and get approval for certain actions. Along the way disputes may develop that the Surrogate’s Court must settle including claims related to breach of fiduciary duty, accounting irregularities, and construction of the terms of the will. As an experienced Nassau County probate court lawyer will explain, estate disputes often lead to delays in the administration process, delays in asset distribution, and increased expenses to the estate.
- Small estate administration. Voluntary administration, sometimes referred to as small estate administration, is a type of estate administration that is available if the personal assets of the decedent have a value of no more than $30,000 regardless of whether not the decedent left a will. There are very specific rules about how to determine the value of an estate for purposes of voluntary administration. For example, if the estate includes real property, voluntary administration is not available. To learn more about small estate administration, contact an experienced Nassau County probate court lawyer.
- Trusts. The Surrogate’s Court also handles matters related to trusts. For example, if there is a dispute related to a trust, the Surrogate’s Court would have jurisdiction over litigation related to settling such a dispute. Just as there are a variety of issues that may dev elope during the course of estate administration, there are a range of issues that can develop during the course of managing a trust. Such issues are handled by the Surrogate’s Court. Examples of types of issues that lead to trust litigation include disputes over validity of the trust. In order for a trust to be valid, the trustmaker (also referred to as the creator, grantor, or trustor) must have had the mental capacity to create it. The Nassau County Surrogates court faced an issue in the case of In re Estate of Grace Gold, 2016 NY Slip Op 32037(U) (N.Y. Surr. Ct., 2016). In this case the court noted that when someone creates a trust, there is a presumption that the person had the mental capacity to do so at the time the trust was created. The burden of proof is on the person seeking to invalidate the trust to show with hard evidence that the trustmaker was did not have the mental capacity to create the trust. In this case, the Surrogate’s Court found that Kenneth, the person opposing the validity of the trust, did not present any cogent evidence to raise a triable issue of fact that Grace lacked the capacity to execute the trust instrument nor that she was subject to undue influence. Other grounds for challenging the validity of a trust include improper execution, undue influence, fraud, and duress. The Surrogate’s Court will also decide matters related to breach of fiduciary duty, such as challenges to accountings, charges of waste or improper asset administration against the trustee, and allegations of fraud, misappropriation or self-dealing against the trustee.
- Guardianships. The Surrogate’s Courts has jurisdiction over some guardianships. For example, when a guardian is necessary for a child who is under the age of 18, the Surrogate’s Court would be responsible for appointing the guardian and overseeing relationship. Similarly, if a guardian is necessary to manage a minor’s property, the Surrogate’s Court has jurisdiction over the case. In addition, the Surrogate’s Court handles guardianship matters related to adults who have been certified by two doctors to be mentally incompetent. However, as a probate court attorney in Nassau County will explain, New York Family Court maintains concurrent jurisdiction in some proceedings related to guardianship or conservatorship.
- Adoptions. The Surrogate’s Court also has jurisdictions over adoptions. This would include infant adoptions, step parent adoptions, grandparent and other types of family adoptions, adult adoptions, and foreign adoptions. However, Family Court has concurrent jurisdictions. In the Matter of Adoption of Michael S. by Michael B., 607 N.Y.S.2d 214 (N.Y. Fam. Ct., 1993), there was a proceeding in the Nassau County Surrogate’s Court related to the termination of parental rights so that two siblings could be adopted. In this case the children’s biological father was in prison for attempted murder of the children’s mother. He signed away his parental rights. The mother was in a vegetative state from a severe head injury from the father’s attack. The Surrogate’s Court was involved in this specific aspect of the case because the mother’s legal guardian needed to consent to the adoption.
There are Surrogate’s Courts throughout the State of New York, in every county. In Nassau County the Surrogate’s Court is located at 262 Old Country Road, Mineola, New York 11501.Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates
If you are involved in a matter that is in the Surrogate’s Court it is important that you are represented by a probate court attorney serving Nassau County who has the experience, skill and resources to ensure that your legal rights are protected. When it comes to probate, will contests, estate litigation, trust litigation, guardianship matters, and adoption, experienced matters. For over 20 years the attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have successfully represented clients in matters before New York Surrogate’s Court with compassion and skill. We are here to help. Contact us at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW (1-800-696-9529) to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Nassau County, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, Long Island, Manhattan, Suffolk County, and Westchester County.