In New York, full probate is not required for "small" estates: an executor can instead request Voluntary Administration, saving considerable effort and cost.
In NY, an estate qualifies as "small" if the qualified gross value is <$50,000 (value assets as of the date of death; ignore debts).
Assets jointly owned with other people, assets with named beneficiaries (e.g., 401Ks, life insurance policies), and other standard probate exclusions should not be included in this valuation.
NY also provides a family exemption that may exclude up to almost $100,000 of personal property (see Family Exemption below).
Note that real property (i.e., real estate) cannot be handled via the small estate process, so if the estate contains real property owned solely by the decedent, you may need to go through probate regardless of overall estate value (see NY SCPA § 1302).
See NY SCPA § 1301.
If the estate qualifies as "small", you can bypass full probate and use voluntary administration to settle the estate:
You can find additional NY small estate forms online (not normally needed).
See NY SCPA Article 13.
You can generate an affidavit for voluntary administration online, or you can fill out the NY affidavit form directly. You will need to include:
File the affidavit with the local Surrogate's Court (see below), and attach:
You will need to get the affidavit notarized before submission.
Certain personal property is typically set aside for the family if the decedent left behind a surviving spouse or any children who were under 21 at the time of the decedent's death.
The following personal property should therefore be excluded when calculating estate value for the purposes of "small" estate qualification:
See NY CLS EPTL § 5-3.1.
An executor using voluntary administration is personally liable to estate creditors and heirs if he he or she acts incorrectly (such as distributing money to heirs and then being unable to pay all debts).
If estate solvency is uncertain, or there is a reasonable chance of a lawsuit of some kind, an executor should consider going through official probate for the increased executor protection it offers.
Many people ask about using a small estate affidavit without any court involvement, but NY does not support such an affidavit. You must use one of the above methods (or full probate) for handling small estates in NY.
See also General Probate.