After weeks of uncertainty regarding commencement of probate petitions and the admission of Wills to probate, the New York State (NYS) Surrogate’s Court system has taken steps toward reopening for both essential and non-essential matters. If your family needs to probate a will in New York, or begin or continue an administration proceeding for a New York estate, here’s what you need to know.  

Background. At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential NYS Court functions were generally postponed until further notice. As a result, commencing probate proceedings in NYS Surrogate’s Courts was temporarily on hold.  Each County instituted procedures over time which allowed certain filings to continue to be made (by mail or email), and pending matters to be reviewed and addressed with counsel on a case by case basis. 

Surrogate’s Courts begin accepting non-essential matters. As the latest measure to reopen the NYS Unified Court System during this pandemic, as of May 25, 2020, most Surrogate’s Courts in the downstate region of New York State began accepting new non-essential matters by e-filing through the NYS Courts Electronic Filing System (NYSCEF). According to the NYS Unified Court System website, four Surrogate’s Courts in New York City (New York, Kings, Bronx and Richmond) will accept e-filing through NYSCEF beginning a week later, on June 1, 2020.     

This most recent update comes after several other updates to the Surrogate’s Court system. For example, in an attempt to aid families that had lost loved ones as a result of Coronavirus-related conditions, as of May 18, 2020, probate proceedings involving such individuals have been deemed “essential” so as to be handled on an expedited basis.

Prior to that, in an effort to expand the “virtual” operations of the court system, on May 4, 2020, the NYS Unified Court System authorized the submission of documents in PDF format via e-mail to certain Courts, known as “The Electronic Document Delivery System” (EDDS).  EDDS allows for submissions in Surrogate’s Courts that do not already accept electronic filing.  Locally, Queens, Suffolk and Westchester County had previously authorized the use of NYSCEF -- and, as noted above, the remaining counties in New York City will allow e-filing via NYSCEF as of June 1, 2020.

Although new probate petitions and other matters can now be filed, NYS Surrogate’s Courts are not currently issuing citations (i.e., service of process with a hearing date) to interested parties in contested matters who do not initially consent to the relief requested.  We nevertheless encourage families with to file their contested matters now, as they will be processed in the order received, with hearing dates to be established when appropriate.   

If you have questions about the reopening of the New York Surrogate’s Courts, or about other estate planning matters, please contact Barbara Shiers, Linda Wank, Adam Osterweil or any other member of the Frankfurt Kurnit Estate Planning & Administration Group.