What to Expect in the Probate of a Will in New York

The role of a personal representative, also known as an executor, is a pivotal one in the administration of a deceased person’s estate in New York. This responsibility encompasses a series of steps designed to ensure that the decedent’s wishes, as expressed in their will, are honored, and that the estate is settled in accordance with New York probate law. 

The purpose of the probate process is not only to carry out the intent of the decedent but also to protect the rights of the decedents’ heirs. If you have been named the executor of someone’s will, these are the essential stages of the probate case that you must follow:

  • Filing the will and petition in Surrogate’s Court — The original will and a petition for probate must be filed in the Surrogate’s Court in the county where the decedent resided. This often can be done electronically using the New York State Courts Electronic Filing system (NYSCEF). The petition requests the court to validate the will and to appoint you as the executor of the estate. 
  • Obtaining letters testamentary — Once the will is validated, the court issues letters testamentary, which are documents empowering you to act in behalf of the estate. These letters are necessary for you to access the decedent’s assets, settle debts and manage the estate’s affairs.
  • Notifying Heirs — As executor, you are required to notify all potential heirs and beneficiaries, as outlined in the will, about the probate proceeding. This ensures that interested parties are informed and have the opportunity to contest the will if they believe it does not reflect the decedent’s intentions.
  • Organizing the estate — You must identify and take inventory of the estate’s assets. This includes everything from real estate and personal property to bank accounts and investments. The estate must be organized in a manner that prepares it for eventual distribution.
  • Paying debts and taxes — Before distributing the assets, you are responsible for settling any outstanding debts and taxes owed by the estate. The executor must ensure that all financial obligations are met to protect the estate from liabilities.
  • Distributing the assets — After all debts and taxes have been paid, you must distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as dictated by the will. This step must be carried out with precision to adhere to the decedent’s wishes and the law.
  • Closing the estate — The final step involves preparing a final accounting and report for the court, detailing all transactions and distributions made by the estate. Once the court approves, you can officially close the estate.

If the will is contested by any interested party, the Surrogate’s Court will hear evidence from the challenger and from you as the will’s proponent before ruling on its validity. The contesting of a will can significantly extend the probate process. While uncontested estates may be settled within a few months to a year, contested proceedings can take several years.

As you can see from the foregoing, the responsibilities of a personal representative in New York are extensive, requiring careful attention to the legal processes and to dutifully following the decedent’s wishes. The executor can benefit from an experienced probate attorney in ensuring the estate is settled according to the law.

At the Law Office Maurice Verrillo, P.C. in Rochester, we can advise and guide you through all steps in the New York probate process. You can set up a free consultation by calling our office at 585-563-1134 or contacting us online.


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