New York law authorizes a simplified court procedure for administration of small estates, thereby avoiding lengthier and costly formal probate proceedings. To qualify as a small estate, the gross value of the deceased's personal property must be $30,000 or less. Real property does not qualify for small estate administration. In certain circumstances, administration of a small estate does not require going to court at all.
Administration of a small estate begins when a qualified person files an affidavit with the Surrogate Court in the county where the deceased resided or, if no residence in New York, where the personal property is located. An official affidavit form is provided by the court and can be downloaded from the website of the New York State Unified Court System. If the deceased left a will, the affidavit should be filed by the executor named in the will. If no will was left, New York law specifies a list of qualified persons in order of priority in section 1303(a) of the Surrogate Court Procedure.
After filing the affidavit with the clerk of the Surrogate Court, no further court involvement is required. The administrator is responsible for collecting the deceased's personal property and distributing it according to the will or the laws of intestacy, if there is no will. The clerk of court is authorized to provide the administrator with a short form certificate evidencing the filing of the voluntary administration. Banks and other financial institutions often require the certificate as a condition of releasing any funds.
Administration without Court Proceedings
Under certain circumstances, the personal property of the deceased can be collected by the deceased's beneficiaries or creditors without any court involvement. For estates with personal property not exceeding $30,000, a surviving spouse can collect all the property anytime after the date of death by submitting an affidavit and copy of the death certificate to the custodian of the property, such as a bank. If the estate is $15,000 or less and more than 30 days have passed since the date of death, the same procedure can be used by the deceased's children, father or mother, brothers or sisters, nieces and nephews, or any person who paid the deceased's funeral expenses.
If the estate is $5,000 or less and more than six months have elapse since the date of death, grandparents, grandchildren and cousins, as well as funeral directors are qualified to use this procedure. The Office of the State Comptroller provides a form that can be used in any of these situations.
Surrogate Court Self-Help
To facilitate administration of small estates, the New York Surrogate Court provides an online Small Estate Affidavit Program that is free to use. The program guides the user through each section of the affidavit needed for filing with the court. The court's website also provides a checklist showing the information required for completing the affidavit, so that all necessary information can be gathered prior to starting the program (see Resources).
- New York State Legislature: Surrogate's Court Procedure -- Article 13 -- Settlement of Small Estates without Court Administration
- New York State Unified Court System: Surrogate's Court Forms -- Small Estate Forms
- New York State Unified Court System: Affidavit In Relation To Settlement Of Estate Under Article 13, SCPA
- Office of the State Comptroller: Small Estates Affidavit
Joe Stone is a freelance writer in California who has been writing professionally since 2005. His articles have been published on LIVESTRONG.COM, SFgate.com and Chron.com. He also has experience in background investigations and spent almost two decades in legal practice. Stone received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from California State University, Los Angeles.