As a New York resident, understanding the probate process is an important part of estate planning. This overview will walk you through the steps of probate in New York from start to finish. We'll discuss the documents you need to begin the process, how assets are distributed, the timeline for completing probate, and the costs involved. You'll learn key probate terminology, the role of the Surrogate's Court, and what to expect at each stage. Whether you are an executor navigating probate yourself or simply planning ahead, this guide aims to demystify the probate procedure in New York. With the right information, you can feel confident about how your estate will be handled.

What Is Probate in New York?

The Probate Process

Probate in New York refers to the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased individual who had a written Last Will and Testament.  The New York Surrogate's Court will review the validity of the decedent's will and oversee the distribution of the estate's assets to beneficiaries. If the decedent died intestate or without a will, the Surrogate's Court will appoint an administrator to distribute assets according to New York's laws of intestacy.


The executor named in the will is appointed by the court after the Probate Petition is filed and all of the legal requirements are met.  The Executor is responsible for managing the probate process. Their duties include notifying beneficiaries, creditors, and interested parties; handling the decedent's remaining financial obligations; and distributing assets to beneficiaries. The executor or administrator must file a petition to open probate in the surrogate's court in the county where the decedent lived.

Timeframe for Probate

The probate process in New York typically takes between 9 to 18 months. However, estates that are complex due to disputes, litigation, or tax issues may take several years to fully administer. The probate court will oversee the process to ensure that the estate is distributed correctly according to the decedent's will and New York law. Once all obligations have been satisfied and assets properly distributed, the court will issue an order to close the estate.

The probate process in New York aims to honor the final wishes of the decedent and protect the interests of beneficiaries and creditors. While it can be a lengthy legal process, probate allows for the orderly distribution of the estate under the supervision of the probate court. Following the proper procedures and with the guidance of an attorney, executors and administrators can navigate the probate process to successfully administer the estate.

When Is Probate Necessary in New York?

Probate, the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person who died with a will, is required in New York when an individual passes away owning assets titled solely in their name without designated beneficiaries. 

Assets such as real estate, vehicles, financial accounts, and personal belongings that are solely owned by the decedent require the probate process to determine rightful ownership and facilitate distribution. If the decedent named beneficiaries on accounts like retirement funds, life insurance policies, or jointly owned assets with rights of survivorship, those assets can pass directly to beneficiaries outside of probate.

Initiating the Probate Process

To begin probate in New York, an executor named in the will files a petition in the Surrogate's Court in the county where the decedent lived. The petition establishes the executor's authority over the estate. Once approved by the court, the executor must notify creditors, collect and inventory assets, pay any debts or taxes owed, and ultimately distribute remaining assets to the decedent's heirs or beneficiaries named in the will.

The probate process in New York typically concludes within 9 to 18 months for an uncomplicated estate. However, contested wills, complex assets, estate tax issues or creditor claims can prolong the process. While probate aims to settle the financial affairs of the decedent and provide closure for loved ones, proactively establishing estate plans with properly designated beneficiaries can help avoid the need for probate altogether. With careful planning, individuals can craft an estate plan that distributes assets efficiently while reducing headaches for family members, and avoiding the probate process in its entirety.  For more on the pitfalls of probate, watch a few of our videos.

Initiating the Probate Process: Filing the Petition

Gathering Relevant Documentation

To initiate the probate process in New York, the executor or administrator must first gather all relevant documentation, including the original will, death certificate, and information on the decedent’s assets and debts. The executor should make multiple certified copies of the death certificate, as these will be needed during the probate process to claim assets and close accounts.  Other helpful information will include the addresses of those that must be notified of the petition - this includes beneficiaries named in the will and those who would have been beneficiaries of the estate if the decedent did not have a will (intestate distributees).  

Filing the Petition in Surrogate's Court

The executor must file a petition to probate the will in the Surrogate's Court of the county where the decedent lived. The petition includes details about the executor, beneficiaries, witnesses, and the will. Notice of the petition must be given to all beneficiaries named in the will.

Appointing the Executor 

At the first court hearing, the Surrogate will review the petition and determine whether the will is valid under New York law. If approved, the Surrogate will appoint the executor named in the will. If there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator, typically a close relative. The executor or administrator must sign a bond to ensure proper performance of duties, unless the requirements of filing a bond are specifically waived in the will.

Creditors and Claiming Assets

Creditors have 7 months to file claims against the estate. The executor must also file certified copies of the death certificate to claim assets like bank accounts, investment accounts, life insurance policies, vehicles, and property. Claims against the estate must be resolved before final distribution.

Filing the Accounting and Closing the Estate

Within 18 months, the executor must file an accounting of all financial transactions, assets, debts, income, expenses, and distributions made. After the accounting is approved, the executor can proceed to close the estate by distributing remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the will. The entire probate process typically takes between 9 months to 2 years to complete in New York.

Inventory of the Estate Assets

Preparing an inventory of the estate assets is one of the first steps in the New York probate process. As the executor, you are responsible for locating and itemizing all of the decedent’s assets to determine the total value of the estate. This includes financial accounts, real estate, vehicles, personal belongings, and any debts owed to the decedent.

Financial Accounts

Make a list of all bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and insurance policies belonging to the decedent. Contact each institution to obtain current statements listing balances and account details. Add the total value of each account to determine the aggregate amount of liquid assets in the estate.

Real Estate

If the decedent owned any real property, you must obtain the property details including addresses, values, and existing mortgages or liens. Work with real estate professionals to appraise the fair market value of each property. Add the appraised values to the total estate valuation.

Personal Belongings

Create an inventory of the decedent’s personal belongings including vehicles, jewelry, collectibles, electronics, furniture, and any other valuable assets. You may need to hire an appraiser to determine fair values for certain high-value items. Add the total value of all personal belongings to the estate valuation.

Debts Owed to the Decedent

Make a list of any amounts owed to the decedent before their passing, such as loans, accounts receivable for a business, or unpaid wages. Attempt to collect on these debts by contacting debtors and negotiating repayment. Add any funds collected to the total estate valuation.

Completing a comprehensive inventory of the estate assets is crucial to determining if probate will be required under New York law. The final valuation will guide you in properly distributing the assets to beneficiaries and settling any existing debts. Be thorough and transparent in your inventory process to avoid complications later in the probate proceedings.

Paying Valid Claims Against the Estate

After the probate process has begun, the executor must identify and pay any valid claims against the estate. The executor should notify known creditors of the decedent's passing and provide instructions for submitting claims. 

Review and Verify Claims

As claims are submitted, the executor reviews each claim to verify it is valid and determines the correct amount owed. Valid claims typically include final medical bills, credit card balances, utility bills, and other unpaid debts incurred by the decedent. Claims that are disputed or lack sufficient evidence to verify may be rejected by the executor.

Pay Claims from Estate Assets

Once valid claims have been reviewed and amounts owed determined, the executor pays the claims using assets from the estate. Claims are paid based on a priority order determined by state law. Claims like funeral expenses, administrative expenses, and family allowance are often paid first. Unsecured creditor claims are paid last.

Insufficient Assets to Pay All Claims

If the estate lacks sufficient assets to pay all valid claims in full, claims will be paid on a pro rata basis. Each creditor will receive a proportional share of the available assets based on the total amount owed for all claims. Creditors whose claims remain unpaid after the probate process may no longer collect against the estate or the beneficiaries.

The process of identifying and paying claims against the estate helps provide closure for both the decedent's creditors and beneficiaries. With valid claims addressed, the executor can then focus on distributing the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries according to the will or state law. Properly managing claims helps ensure a smooth resolution of the probate process.

Distributing the Remaining Assets

Once the court issues the final accounting and discharges the executor, it's time to distribute the remaining assets. This typically includes any cash, securities, real estate, vehicles, valuables, or other property that was not used to pay off debts and expenses.

As the executor, you must distribute these assets according to the decedent's last will and testament. Carefully review the will to determine who is entitled to receive a share of the remaining assets and in what proportions. The beneficiaries may include family members, friends, charities, or other entities.

If real estate like a house is part of the remaining assets, the executor or administrator will transfer the deed and title to the beneficiaries. For financial accounts and investments, the executor or administrator will close the decedent's accounts and open new accounts in the names of beneficiaries, transferring the funds and assets accordingly. The executor or administrator should also re-register vehicles and transfer titles to beneficiaries as stipulated in the will.

For a fair and accurate distribution of assets, the executor must determine the market value of all remaining assets. This may require obtaining official appraisals for real estate, collectibles, valuables, and some financial accounts. The executor or administrator should then calculate the total value of all remaining assets and distribute them among beneficiaries in the proportions directed by the will.

Distributing the remaining assets and closing the estate can be a complicated process. As the executor or administrator, take care to follow the decedent's wishes precisely as stated in the last will and testament. Treat all beneficiaries with empathy, respect, and fairness throughout the distribution of assets to avoid potential disputes. If needed, don't hesitate to consult a legal professional to ensure assets are distributed properly according to the specifics of the will and New York laws.


As we have explored, the probate process in New York can seem complex and drawn out to those unfamiliar with the legal system. However, by understanding each step, from filing the petition to the final decree of distribution, you can gain clarity on what to expect. While a lengthy undertaking, the probate system aims to protect heirs and creditors by verifying the will, inventorying assets, and settling the estate judiciously. With sound legal counsel from a Brooklyn probate attorney and patience throughout the proceedings, you can ensure your loved one’s wishes are properly fulfilled. By learning the details, you gain confidence to navigate the probate process smoothly from start to finish.