The probate process in New York can appear daunting to persons unfamiliar with the statutes and procedures relating to such matters. In cases where a person dies and leaves a Last Will and Testament, the Will must be filed with the Surrogate’s Court in order to obtain the Court’s approval that the Will is valid. Once a Will is admitted to probate, its provisions regarding the disposition of a decedent’s estate control estate settlement. Where there is no Will, a person is deemed to have died intestate. Whether an executor or administrator is appointed depends upon the existence of a Will. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contains numerous articles concerning estate settlement, Will probate and intestate administration.
As part of the probate proceedings, the petition filed with the Surrogate’s Court must identify all of a decedent’s distributees (next of kin). These are the individuals who would have a right to receive an intestate share of a decedent’s estate if a Will did not exist. Distributees must be given notice of the probate case since they have a right to challenge or contest a Will. A Will Contest can be a very complicated endeavor. There are various steps which take place which afford a person who wants to contest a Will the opportunity to obtain information regarding the drafting and execution of the Will. Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 1404 entitled “Witnesses to be examined; proof required” allows distributees to obtain certain discovery information including the deposition testimony of the attorney who drafted a Will and the attesting witnesses who were present at the Will signing. In addition, various documents concerning a decedent, such as financial records and medical records, can be obtained and reviewed.
An important aspect of filing objections to a Will is that an objectant must have standing to do so. Not everyone can file objections. Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act 1410 entitled “Who may file objections to probate of an alleged will” requires that a person must have a financial interest which would be adversely affected by the Will in order to object. This is a significant requirement. A recent Suffolk County estate case decided by Suffolk County Surrogate Vincent J. Messina, Jr. on August 8, 2023 concerning the Estate of May Kelman a/k/a May R. Kelman, Deceased, reviewed this issue.