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What is a Notice of Probate, and Why Did I Get It in the Mail?

{Read in 4 Minutes}  As a Trusts and Estates attorney, I frequently represent nominated Executors who offer Wills for probate in the Surrogate’s Court. As part of this proceeding, the nominated Executor (or perhaps more realistically, their attorney) needs to file several papers with the Court in addition to the Petition for Probate. The Notice of Probate is among them. Sometimes nominated Executors have questions about the form, and often, so do beneficiaries who receive it in the mail. So, I thought I would address the form in this article.

Notice of Probate is a form that the Surrogate’s Court requires parties seeking appointment as Executor to send to particular individuals. The people entitled to these notices include:

  • The Underlying Beneficiaries of the Estate

Anyone nominated as a beneficiary under the Will is entitled to receive this notice. If they are minors, their parents might accept it for them. If the Court has appointed a Guardian, the Guardian would receive it. 

Note that this includes contingent beneficiaries of a Testamentary Trust, who would inherit, if and only if, there are funds left in the Trust upon the death of the lifetime beneficiary. 

It also includes charitable organization beneficiaries and the Charities Bureau of The Office of the New York State Attorney General.

  • Nominated Successor Executors and Trustees

Anyone seeking immediate appointment from the Court has signed the Petition or supplemental papers and is already aware of the proceeding. However, a good Will nominates at least one successor Executor (and when the Will creates a Testamentary Trust, at least one successor Trustee). These people need to know that the Court is considering the probate proceeding so they understand that they are “on deck” should the Executor die or the Court remove the Executor for breach of fiduciary duty

When the beneficiary receives this form, it indicates the name and address of the person petitioning the Court (almost always the nominated Executor, but sometimes creditors or beneficiaries) and all the beneficiaries’ names and addresses. The form also comes with a copy of the Will, so the recipients can see their exact interest under the Will.

The form does not contain any information on the value of the Estate. So, for example, if a beneficiary receives a Notice of Probate that says that they’re getting 10% of the Estate, there’s no explanation or approximate value given. That information is likely contained in the Petition, which is not usually enclosed with the Notice of Probate, so the recipient should look at the Court records to see the approximate value of the Estate.

Note that the Notice of Probate often will leave the file number blank, as the Court only assigns one AFTER the person has filed the Notice of Probate. Beneficiaries may need to search for the deceased’s name instead of the file number.

There’s nothing for the beneficiary to do except wait for further information from the Executor about when they can expect information, including an Accounting, for those entitled to a percentage of the Estate. There is nothing for the recipient to sign in return. Interested parties are entitled to counsel if they wish, so feel free to contact an attorney if you’d like some advice.

For more information on this topic, please, contact me.