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Contributor: Gabby Wasenius

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy, and the legal process that follows can be daunting, especially if your loved one passes away intestate, i.e., without a Last Will and Testament (Will).

In New York, when someone passes away without a will, their heirs must go to the Surrogate’s Court to petition for something called “Letters of Administration.” These Letters grant a person, usually a close family member, the power to collect and distribute the deceased person’s belongings.

  1. Before you can ask for Letters of Administration, you need to make sure there really is no Will.  To do this, check with the Surrogate’s Court to see if a Will was filed for safekeeping, look through the deceased person’s papers, and contact any lawyers they may have worked with. Once you are sure there is no will, you can petition the Court for Letters of Administration.
  2. Usually, the people who have the right to inherit the assets are the same people who can request to be the Administrator. The Administrator is the person who will be in charge of the estate and receive the Letters of Administration. However, not just any relative can become the Administrator. The Administrator has to be a close family member, an honest person who is not a convicted felon, bondable (someone who is insurable with decent credit), unlikely to face objections, and a U.S. citizen or a legal resident.
  3. The Court needs specific forms, details, and documents before they issue Letters of Administration. You will need an original death certificate, a paid funeral bill, and names and contact information for all potential distributees. A distributee is a person who will inherit without a Will. It is also important that you notify the Court of any special circumstances regarding the distributees (like if someone is in jail, a minor, or disabled) or if there are unknown distributees.
  4. All potential distributees must consent to the Letters of Administration and the potential Administrator or be officially notified. So, along with the petition, you must submit their agreement on a form called a Waiver. If they cannot or will not agree, you must provide a Citation for the court to issue. Additionally, any special circumstances of the distributees will require more forms and documentation and may require additional proceedings.
  5. Once the Court gives you Letters of Administration, you must collect the decedent’s assets and belongings, pay off debts and taxes, and only then can you distribute what remains to the distributees according to New York law.

While you can find the basic forms you need on the New York Office of Court Administration’s website, having an expert by your side is incredibly valuable as you deal with the complex world of New York’s Surrogate’s Court. Unexpected problems can cause delays in your request for Letters of Administration, and the points above are just the main points on the New York estate administration roadmap.

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