Basically, you can’t just bring a will to a bank and expect the bank to hand over a deceased person’s money just because you are named in the will. It doesn’t work that way.
Probate is the process by which a will is validated by the Surrogate’s Court before an Executor gains access to the decedent’s assets. A petition is submitted along with the original will, notice must be given to all necessary parties, and there is a filing fee. There are several stages in the probate process and the court may require additional documentation depending on the particular estate details. When an Executor receives letters Testamentary (certificates from the court), he/she will then collect the estate’s assets and begin the process of carrying out the instructions in the will.
If someone dies without a will, their estate is processed in Surrogates Court through the Administration department. A person with a connection to the deceased person, usually a family member, petitions the court to be appointed the Administrator of the estate. A similar process ensues, with numerous documents, notice, and fees required by the court. When an Administrator is appointed, he/she will collect the assets of the estate, pay just claims, and distribute the balance according to the intestacy statute. This statute provides the order of inheritance for persons who pass away without a will.
An experienced estate attorney can represent an Executor or proposed Administrator with Surrogates Court proceedings.