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How Surrogate Court handles probate

You may believe that probate is a complicated, onerous, difficult process for an executor to manage and, in general, a procedure to avoid. While issues can arise, settling an uncontested estate is usually a fairly straightforward task.

If, after you pass away, your estate is not contested, an attorney will assist in the administration of probate by taking your last will and testament to the Surrogate Court.

Probate fundamentals

Probate is the method by which the court settles your estate. Your last will and testament will be verified under this process and the executor you named will carry out the provisions. Once the will is brought to the Office of the Surrogate, the probate process will begin, but no sooner than the 11th day after your death.

Assets that pass outside of probate

Common assets that pass outside of probate include joint tenancy assets, such as your home, which will pass to the surviving joint tenant; retirement accounts, life insurance policies and bank or brokerage accounts that have named beneficiaries. If you have a living trust, that will also pass outside of probate with certain stipulations. In fact, the main purpose of having a living trust is to avoid probate.

Duties of your executor

Prior to the start of probate, the executor has access to your original will and to certain other documents, such as the deed to your cemetery plot and your life insurance policies. Once the process is under way, the executor will be responsible for safeguarding the assets of your estate, paying debts and final taxes, and finally distributing the assets to the beneficiaries you named in your will. Legal questions may arise, and it is important for the executor to settle your estate without making unintentional errors. It is, therefore, a good idea for him or her to seek guidance from an attorney experienced with probate administration.


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