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Frequently asked questions about Surrogates Court

Authored By: New York State Unified Court System


What is a "surrogate"? +

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.

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? +

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. 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.

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

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.

How do I find an estate file? +

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

How do I obtain guardianship (control) over a child and a child's property? +

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.

How can I obtain information about an adoption? +

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 the type of case that may need the help of a lawyer.

Last Review and Update: Nov 30, 2006

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