Listen to Lawrence – Small Estate DIY

April 8, 2020

Dear clients and friends,

I am really enjoying receiving your questions and sharing the answers with all of you. It is important that we stay connected during this upsetting time.

Pass this information to your family and friends and please keep sending me more questions!

Dear Lawrence,

My elderly aunt died of natural causes, before the Corona Virus. I was her POA and I am the executor of her will. She only had a $1700 checking account in her name only (not a joint account) with me as the check signer. The bank “seized”(?) the account once I gave them a death certificate. I would like to give that money to her children. What do I now do? I was told to go on line to fill out a form. But the surrogate office is closed, and on line documents are unavailable for me to fill out. I have her death certificate with the seal. Whom do I ask? What are all the things I should be doing? Now? And after the virus is over? Is there a list? Thank you.

First, with a case this small it makes no sense to hire a lawyer. We do these proceedings all the time for a modest fee, but for a bank account only containing $1700, it is worth doing yourself.

Luckily, since the estate is under $50,000 and there is a will, you, as the executor, can file the original will and a certified copy of the death certificate with a small estate affidavit petition and other supporting documents in the Surrogate’s Court in the county where the decedent had their primary residence. You can get the small estate affidavit online at NYCOURTS.GOV . You will then have to supply the following information:

Name of the decedent
Names and addresses of spouse, children and grandchildren, if any, and if none, then the decedent’s parents. If the parents are not living, then the siblings, if living, and if not, then all their children. If still none are living then move on to all aunts and uncles.
The original will and the names and addresses of everyone named
within it
If the decedent had assets, the value of each asset. You will need account numbers and serial numbers of assets. Assets may include the following: bank accounts (not joint accounts), investment accounts, insurance policies, and cars and boats.
The decedent’s unpaid creditors which may include the following: credit card bills, utility bills, and funeral expenses.

Of course in your case, you would list the names and addresses of the children and the $1700 bank account number as there are probably no creditors to mention.

I do not believe this information can be mailed to the surrogates court, instead it must be personally filed. Unfortunately for you and the children, the court is closed for such matters until the pandemic restrictions are lifted. You will just have to wait for all this to be over. I realize it is very frustrating but this is our world right now.

For estates with more money involved, we are hard at work, from home, collecting all the data we need so we are ready to file at the first available moment. Note that in certain emergency situations, the court is still allowing us to file probate matters, but these are rare and usually involve the immediate needs of vulnerable people.