Syracuse & Central New York Probate & Estate Administration Attorney

Probate is the legal process that distributes a person’s property after he or she dies. New York probate courts, called Surrogate’s Courts, govern the distribution of a person’s estate after his or her death. When a decedent creates a Will, the Surrogate’s Court will enforce the Will. When a person dies without a Will, the Surrogate’s Court will distribute the estate according to New York’s probate laws.

Going through the probate process can be intimidating and overwhelming, especially for those coping with a loved one’s death. At CDH Law PLLC, our Syracuse probate lawyers focus on assisting family members through the process. Our probate lawyers understand how complex the probate process can become in New York. We fight hard to represent the best interests of our clients in all areas of probate law. Contact our Syracuse probate lawyers today to schedule your initial consultation and learn how we can help you. 

Which Assets Are Part of New York’s Probate Process?

Probate assets include any asset that doesn’t pass automatically to another person. Probate assets include real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, and personal property owned solely by the decedent. The following assets are not part of the probate process because they pass automatically to someone else at the decedent’s death:

  • Jointly held savings accounts
  • Jointly held checking accounts
  • Jointly held real property
  • Bank accounts with a named beneficiary
  • Life insurance policies with a named beneficiary
  • Assets held in a trust

The New York Probate Process With a Will

In New York, going through the probate process is only necessary when a person dies and leaves behind assets in his or her estate. Understanding the following probate terms will help in understanding New York’s probate process:

  • The decedent is the deceased individual
  • An estate includes all of the personal property and real estate owned by the decedent
  • Beneficiaries are the people or organizations who will benefit from the estate per the Will

When the decedent died with a valid Will in place, he or she died testate. After filing the Will, certain interested persons have the opportunity to contest the Will. When the Surrogate’s Court determines that the Will is legally valid, it will grant authority to an executor to manage the testator’s estate. In many cases, the decedent will have named an executor in his or her Will. When the testator does not name an executor, the Surrogate’s Court will appoint one. 

The executor, also called the petitioner, has a fiduciary duty to distribute the decedent’s assets according to the terms of the Will. The petitioner must file the Will with the Surrogate’s Court and notify the decedent’s next of kin of the probate proceeding. The petitioner must also notify all of the beneficiaries who stand to benefit from the decedent’s Will. After the Will is validated, the executor will pay any debts owed by the estate. The executor will distribute the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the Will.

The New York Probate Process Without a Will

When a person dies without a Will, he or she dies intestate. When a decedent does not have a Will, the Surrogate’s Court distributes the estate property according to the laws of New York. The Surrogate’s Court divides up the decedent’s estate according to a set of statutes that dictate which relatives receive property first. The Surrogate’s Court will also appoint a fiduciary called an administrator who will administer the estate.

For example, when the decedent had a spouse and no children, the spouse inherits the entire estate. When the decedent had children but not a spouse, the children will inherit the whole estate. The division of property becomes more complicated when the decedent dies with a spouse and children. In that scenario, the spouse will inherit the first $50,000 plus half of the remaining assets. The children inherit the remaining portion of the estate, divided equally among themselves. 

Should the decedent die with no spouse or children, the decedent’s parents will inherit the entire estate. When the decedent’s parents are deceased, and the decedent did not have a spouse or children, his or her siblings will inherit the estate. What happens when a decedent’s child dies before the decedent? In this scenario, any grandchildren would step into the place of the decedent’s child and inherit what the child would have inherited. 

You Need a Syracuse Estate Planning Lawyer On Your Side 

As you can see, the intestate probate process can become incredibly complicated. Many different legal issues can arise during this process. In some cases, the testator creates an invalid Will that excludes spouses and children who would inherit the estate under New York’s intestacy laws. In other cases, family members discover that the testator created multiple Wills and need to determine which Will is valid. 

While a probate lawyer is not required by law, working with one will serve your interests tremendously.  If you’ve been appointed as an executor or administrator, you owe the estate a legal, fiduciary duty. Should you breach that duty, even unintentionally, you could face negative consequences. The process requires people to complete court paperwork, give proper notice, and distribute the decedent’s property correctly. At CDH Law PLLC, we have extensive experience representing estate administrators and executors through the probate process.

Contact Our Experienced Syracuse Estate Planning Attorney Today

Should you plan on contesting the decedent’s Will during the probate process, you will significantly benefit from legal representation.  At CDH Law PLLC, we have successfully represented clients in many different types of probate litigation, including Will contests. Whether you need our legal team to guide you through the probate process, or you need us to fight on your behalf in a probate challenge, we can help. Contact CDH Law PLLC today to schedule your initial consultation.