New York State’s Surrogate’s Courts operate like probate courts in other states. They have jurisdiction over matters of decedents’ affairs, wills, trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, estates and they can also handle adoptions. Surrogate’s Courts deal with matters of probate. When someone dies without a will, it can complicate things. Therefore, the Surrogate’s Court steps in and makes sure that the deceased person’s creditors get paid and that all the remaining assets get appropriately distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries. In some cases, probate courts are called Chancery Court and even Orphan’s Court. Surrogate’s Courts work by applying intestate succession laws, which means following the hierarchy of “next of kin” when distributing assets for someone who had no will. In cases where there is a “last will and testament,” the Surrogate’s Court’s job is to validate the will and mediate any disputes between family members. Probate matters are highly sensitive and can be emotionally charged, which is why it is important for specialized courts to handle these issues.
The NYCourts.gov website has a section for Surrogate’s Courts that lists each county that has one. When users click the link, they are taken to a details page with a picture of the courthouse, the location with directions, phone number, along with the forms needed to file a case in Surrogate’s Court, FAQs, court assistance, and other resources. There is one Surrogate’s Court in each county and on the main court's website users will find a listing of fees, an e-filing option, a court locator for inside and outside New York City and other Surrogate’s Court resources. For the last year calculated, Surrogate’s Courts saw a total of 141,735 cases. On average, they see between 135,000-140,000 cases per year.