and Your Family
Westchester County Probate Court
When someone passes away, it is the jurisdiction of the probate court to settle the decedent’s estate and ensure that his (or her) bills are paid and that his property goes to the right people. In New York the probate court is called the Surrogate’s Court and there is a location in each county. The Surrogate’s Court also monitors guardianship cases involving adults who are mentally incompetent or minors whose parents are unable to care for them. If you have concerns related to a Surrogate’s Court matter, it is important that you contact an experienced Westchester County probate court lawyer who understands the procedures related to the Surrogate’s Court and who will ensure that your legal rights are protected.Types of Surrogate’s Court cases
- Estate administration. A significant part of the caseload of the Surrogate’s Court involves probating estates. Probate involves the orderly transfer of property and wealth from one person to another person, from one generation to the next generation. If the decedent left a will, then his or her estate is transferred based on the terms of the will. In other words, with a will you can direct how you want your possessions to be transferred. The less desirable situation is where the decedent did not leave a will. In such cases the decedent’s property is transferred to your heirs based on New York’s laws related to intestate succession. If the estate is small—assets with a value of $30,000 or less—the estate must still go through an administration process. However, the estate can petition to Surrogate’s Court to go through a simplified process called Voluntary Administration.
- Estates avoiding the probate court. Because administration of an estate under the Surrogate’s Court takes at least 7 months, there is an advantage to avoid it, if possible. As long as there is property in your probate estate, your estate will have to go through probate whether or not you have a will. Probate property includes any property that you owned alone or your interest in property that you owned as a tenant in common. Property that would not be part of your probate estate includes property that you owned with others in joint tenancy with survivorship rights, property in an inter vivos, trust, or property that has a designated beneficiary. Such property will go to the beneficiaries outside of the Surrogate’s Court jurisdiction. As a Westchester Country probate court lawyer will explain, while it may be difficult to avoid the Surrogate’s Court estate administration process completely, you can minimize the impact that it will have on your estate by retitling or transferring property out of your probate estate.
- Trusts. While inter vivos trusts do not have to go through probate, the resolutions of disputes or other issues related to both inter vivos trusts and testamentary trust is handled by the Surrogate’s Court. For example, if there is an accusation by a trust beneficiary that the trustee mismanaged trust funds, a Surrogate’s Court judge would preside over litigation related to that dispute.
- Guardianships. A guardianship occurs when someone has the legal right to care for another person. This is referred to as a guardianship of the person. If the guardianship is over the person’s property, it is referred to a guardianship of the property. As a probate court attorney in Westchester County will explain, the Surrogate’s Court, along with the Family Court, have jurisdiction over cases involving guardianship of minors (and their property) and guardianship of adults (and their property) who are mentally incompetent.
- Adoptions. Another area where the Surrogate’s Court shares jurisdiction with the Family Court is adoption.
Probate, estate administration, guardianship, and adoption can all be complicated processes. If you are involved in any legal procedure involving the Surrogate’s Court, to ensure that your legal rights are protected, contact an experienced probate court attorney serving Westchester County. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have years of experience successfully representing clients in complex matters before the New York Surrogate’s Court. We are here to help. Contact us at 800-696-9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Westchester County, Suffolk County, Nassau County, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, Long Island, and Manhattan.