Q. What are some common proceedings in Surrogate's Court?
Probate: The process by which a will is proved to the satisfaction of the Surrogate (Judge) to be the valid Last Will and Testament of the person who died (decedent).
Administration: A procedure for collecting and distributing assets of a person who died without a will (intestate).
Voluntary Administration (also referred to as small estate administration): A simple and inexpensive method of administering the estate of a deceased person whose personal assets in the decedent’s name alone do not exceed $50,000 (exclusive of certain types of property, the clerk of court can provide more information as to whether you qualify). Voluntary administration may not be used to administer real property.
Trusts: Surrogate’s Court handles the following types of trusts:
• Inter vivos trusts: Created during the settlor’s lifetime.
• Testamentary trusts: Arises upon the death of the testator, usually under his/her will.
Guardianship: The Surrogate’s Court handles the following types of guardianships:
• Guardianship over an infant’s (child under 18 years of age) “person,” and/or “property”: A guardian is usually a family member who is granted authority to care for and make certain decisions for a child (for the “person”). Whenever a child receives money (usually $10,000 or more), someone must be formally appointed by the Court to safeguard these funds until the child becomes 18. Usually, a parent (the child’s “natural guardian”) is the person appointed “legal guardian” over these funds.
• Guardianship over a mentally-retarded or a developmentally disabled individual’s person and/or property: An individual who is certified by at least two doctors (one of which must be a medical doctor; and one of which may be a licensed psychologist) as being unable to care for him/herself because of mental retardation or a developmental disability can have a guardian appointed by the Court to make decisions on his/her behalf.
Adoptions: Surrogate’s Court handles the following types of adoptions:
• Infant Adoptions: These are adoptions arranged directly between the parties or with the assistance of a private adoption agency.
• Step/Parent or Remarriage Adoptions: Where the new partner or spouse is adopting with the birth parent or prior adoptive parent (who adopted as a single parent).
• Family Adoptions: These usually refer to grandparent(s) adoptions.
• Adult Adoptions: These are adoptions where the person to be adopted is over the age of 18.
• Foreign Adoptions: All foreign countries are now finalizing adoptions prior to the new parents and child(ren) returning to the U.S. Although it is not mandatory to do a readoption here, adopting parents may wish to consider the benefit of having a U.S. birth certificate issued for their child.