When a person dies in New York State the Surrogate’s Court becomes the venue which will decide on the proper supervision of the decedent’s assets and property. Typically, this process will begin by establishing the validity of the decedent’s will. Generally, a will is a written document in which a person creates an inventory of one’s possessions and indicates how one wants the distributed upon one’s death.

Wills are often used by the benefactor, the person creating the will, to identify a trusted individual to oversee the transfer of bank accounts, stocks and bonds, rental and vacation properties, etc.; those trusted individuals are known as executors of the decedent’s estate. An executor also has the power to allocate or distribute furniture and items of clothing which formally belonged to the decedent.

Sometimes relatives of the decedent may not agree with the executor’s determinations as to which beneficiaries should receive certain assets and properties according to the language of the will. In those cases, probate litigation is used to interpret the validity of the will as well as the benefactor’s intentions when forming the will.

Even more difficult, is when an individual dies without having first created a will. Under New York State law, a decedent without a will is considered “intestate.” In most cases involving intestate decedents, the Surrogate’s Court will often consider arguments from the decedent’s relatives regarding the distribution of his or her assets and property.

Having an experienced probate litigation attorney throughout that process can prove extremely helpful in remaining true to what the decedent would have likely wanted. Retaining legal assistance can also help speed the distribution of the decedent’s estate under most circumstances.

Source: New York State Unified Court System, “New York City Surrogate Courts – Frequently Asked Questions” Nov. 03, 2014