New York Probate Procedure Is Affected By Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage

The New York Probate Blog has discussed on many occasions the probate procedure in New York. Probate is the legal process by which a Will is validated by the Surrogate’s Court. The procedure to probate a Will encompasses many facets. Initially, a Probate Petition is prepared and filed with the Court.

The Probate Petition contains basic information regarding the petitioner who is usually the proposed Executor. The Petition is usually prepared with the guidance of an experienced New York Trusts and Estate attorney. Details regarding the decedent, the date of the purported Last Will, the names of the attesting witnesses to the Will and the estimated value of the probate estate are also included. An essential section of the petition requires that the names and addresses of the decedent’s distributees, or next of kin, be provided. The reason for requiring this data is because the distributees have a right to receive official notice of the probate proceeding since they have an interest in contesting the Will. In the event the decedent died without a Will or the purported Last Will is deemed to be invalid, the distributees would inherit the estate according to the laws of intestacy. Therefore, a proper kinship determination is essential to the probate process.

In a recent New York decision, H. Kenneth Ranftle v. Craig Leiby, the New York Appellate Division, First Department, decided on February 25, 2011, that a same-sex Canadian marriage between the decedent and his partner would be recognized by the New York Court. Thus, in this Manhattan Probate case, the decedent’s sole distributee was determined by the Court to be his same-sex “spouse”. The decedent’s siblings were found not to be distributees since the New York Statute, EPTL 4-1.1, gives priority to a spouse. The siblings were precluded from challenging the decedent’s Will.

I have helped many clients prepare probate petitions. Obtaining information regarding distributees and giving them the proper Court mandated notice is a paramount objective. The accurate completion of the probate petition greatly helps speed up a successful Will probate.

New York Probate and Estate Planning Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in estate settlement in New York including Nassau and Suffolk Counties throughout the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email:, for an initial consultation.

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