New York Court Help

Frequently Asked Questions
Surrogate's Court: Estates, Guardianship, Adoption

Q. What is a "surrogate"?

Q. How do I transfer personal property, such as bank account, nursing home account, or automobile that was in the name of a person who died?

Q. I am the executor of a will. How do I get the will admitted to probate?

Q. How do I find an estate file?

Q. How do I get a copy of the death certificate?

Q. How do I get guardianship (control) over a child and a child's property?

Q. How do I get guardianship over a mentally retarded or developmentally disabled person?

Q. How can I get information about an adoption?

Q. What is a "surrogate"?

A. A surrogate is someone who has permission to take care of someone else's business and personal things. The "Surrogate" who decides the cases in Surrogate's Court is the court's judge.

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Q. How do I transfer personal property, such as bank account, nursing home account, or automobile that was in the name of a person who died?

A. You will need authority from your county's Surrogate's Court to administer (handle) the person's estate. Talk to the Court Clerk. Procedures depend on whether there was a will and on the size of the estate, among other things.

If the person's estate was less than $30,000, you can use the free and easy DIY Forms Small Estate Affidavit program to let you keep or give away the property of a relative that passed away.

You may also want to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles about how to transfer a next of kin's automobile; there are special rules.

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Q. I am the executor of a will. How do I get the will admitted to probate?

A. You should know that in nearly all cases where the deceased left a will, the executor is represented by a lawyer. The original will needs to be filed in court with a probate petition and other papers. Then a variety of procedures come after that. Sometimes it's difficult. If you are going ahead without a lawyer, start by calling the Court Clerk.

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Q. How do I find an estate file?

A. Most Surrogate's Court records are public records. Call ahead to the court to learn whether the file exists and give them time to find them.

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Q. How do I get a copy of the death certificate?

A. You can buy certified copies of the death certificate through the funeral director. You can also get the death certificate from the vital statistics/death records department in the town or city where the person died.

Learn how to get a copy of a death certificate.

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Q. How do I get guardianship (control) over a child and a child's property?

A. The Surrogate's Court Guardianship Department can give forms and help on how to fill them out. You will need to show the child's birth certificate and other information. Then an investigation and other procedures usually happen. You can also ask for guardianship over a child in a Family Court.

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Q. How do I get guardianship over a mentally retarded or developmentally disabled person?

A. Surrogate's Court can appoint a parent or other relative the guardian of a mentally retarded or developmentally disabled person through an Article 17-A Guardianship proceeding. Article 17-A provides for legal guardianship of a person even after he or she reaches the age of 18.

You can use the free and easy DIY Forms Article 17-A Guardianship Petition program to fill out the forms you need to start the 17-A Guardianship proceeding.

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Q. How can I get information about an adoption?

A. Adoption records are not public. You have to get a court order to open them after they are sealed at the time of the adoption. Ask the Adoptions Clerk of the Surrogate's Court (or Family Court, if the adoption was approved there) in the county where you believe the adoption happened.

Please be aware that requesting the unsealing of an adoption record is a kind of case where the advice and other help of a lawyer may be needed for success.

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Last updated on May 22, 2012

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