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When Someone Dies

In New York State, the Surrogate's Court decides what happens to a person's property when that person dies.

The judge in Surrogate's Court is called the Surrogate.

The person who died is called the Decedent. That person's property is called the estate.

When a person dies and leaves a Will then they died testate. If the person died without leaving a Will, then they died intestate.

Estate Proceedings
There are three different kinds of cases, also called estate proceedings, in Surrogate's Court.

If the Decedent had... then file...
less than $30,000 of personal property* for small estate, also called a voluntary administration
had a Will, for probate
didn't have a Will, for administration
*Personal property are things that belong to a person not including real property. For example: cash, bank accounts, bonds, car, boat, and artwork are personal property. House and land are examples of real property.

Small Estate
This is also called a voluntary administration. If a person died with less than $30,000 worth of personal property, then a small estate can be filed. This is a simpler and less expensive way of dividing a Decedent's estate. It doesn't matter if there was a Will or not.

Probate
If a person dies with a Will, then the kind of proceeding filed is called probate and the property is divided according to the Will.

Administration
If a person dies without a Will, then the proceeding filed is called administration and the property is divided according to the law.

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