When a person dies, their estate will go through the probate process. The main point of probate in New York is to examine the person’s will or other document to determine if it is valid and legally binding. If it is, the process can be quite short. If it’s not, however, or if there’s a challenge to the will, the process can take much longer and be costly.
Does Every Will Go Through Probate?
In most cases, yes. However, if a person dies with an estate valued at less than $30,000 probate can typically be skipped. However, legal documents do have to be filed that shows this. If the will does need to go to probate, it goes through the Surrogate’s Court of the county where the person died. If the will never goes through the probate process, it isn’t considered valid, and the named executor has no legal authority to make any decisions regarding the estate.
What Does the Court Look For in a Valid Will?
The first thing the court will do is examine the will for the necessary legal requirements. The will must be signed by two witnesses, and the two must have watched each other sign the document. There should be no question that the individual was mentally competent at the time they wrote the will and that they were not being influenced or under any duress at the time.
Probate Without a Will
If there is no will or if the submitted will is determined to be invalid, the estate becomes an Intestate Estate. The court this must establish the appropriate next of kin. In some cases, this is fairly simple, such as when the deceased has children or living siblings. In other cases, this can take some time as second-cousins or other distant relatives are found. The court will need to determine that these individuals are the legal heirs to the estate by examining birth and marriage certificates and other documents.
If someone contests the will, the probate process becomes more of a legal case. The contesting party will be given the chance to examine all of the submitted documents as well as the testimony of the drafting attorney, the witnesses, and others. This process can take months or even years and is always best handled with legal assistance from a lawyer who understands New York probate law. If you find yourself in need of such a legal expert, the team at Michael F. Kanzer & Associates is here to help. Contact us today to arrange a consultation.