If you recently lost a parent or other loved one, you probably wonder what to do next. You know your family needs to do something with the estate, but you may not be sure what that is, exactly. Perhaps your loved one told you that he or she named you as executor in the will, and you need to know what that means. Here are a few steps to help you get started with a probate in Erie County:

  • Find the important documents. Did your loved one have a will or trust? Those documents will be important. The will might tell you if you are nominated as the executor. If so, you will have some responsibilities. You must file the will and death certificate with the Erie County Surrogate’s Court in Buffalo, assuming the decedent was a resident of Erie County. You also want to gather documents regarding all assets, including real estate records, stock and bond certificates, and bank account records. If the decedent did not have a will, the court will decide who to appoint as executor and how to distribute the assets according to New York law. 
  • Consider the assets. You should make a list of all the assets owned by the decedent at the time of death, and approximately how much they are worth, if you can tell. You may have trouble accessing some accounts until the court appoints you as executor. Do your best with recent statements. You should also list all debts of the decedent, but do not pay any bills right away. You will need professional guidance regarding estate expenses.
  • Determine if the asset is part of the probate. This step can be tricky, and you may need assistance. In general, assets titled only in the decedent’s name and assets that do not pass to a beneficiary automatically at death will go through probate. If the asset is held jointly with someone else, such as a joint bank account, or has a beneficiary attached to it, like many IRA’s, that asset can pass outside of probate in New York.
  • Size of the estate. New York law only requires a probate for estates that contain more than $30,000 in personal property or real estate. Otherwise, you may file a small estate, also called a voluntary administration. This process is much simpler and allows for immediate distribution of the assets.

The probate process can seem confusing at first, but now that you know the initial steps, you will be ready to file a petition with the court to open a probate.