Small Estate Administration in New York

The Chamberlain Law Firm

As New York probate attorneys, we know that the process of administering an estate can be stressful, time consuming, and potentially costly. Luckily, New York offers a streamlined process for small estate administration, providing an alternative to the standard probate procedure. This specialized approach is not only quicker and more cost-effective but also simpler, making it ideal for small estate settlements. It is particularly beneficial for surviving spouses, especially when the majority of the property is marital and not individually owned.

In this article, the experienced New York probate attorneys at The Chamberlain Law Firm will describe what constitutes as a “small estate,” the role of a voluntary administrator, and the small estate administration process

What is a Small Estate?

A “small estate” must meet a specific criteria. Generally, it refers to an estate where the total value of the property is $50,000 or less. While a formal proceeding is necessary to transfer title in real estate, an informal proceeding might work for the decedent’s personal property. 

Certain items are exempt from the estate’s total value calculation. These exemptions include musical instruments, jewelry, household furniture, and other items. Furthermore, other assets, like joint bank accounts, trusts, and Totten trusts, are not considered to be a part of the probate estate. 

It’s never a bad idea to consult with an attorney to accurately determine the total value of the estate. That way, you can be sure that the small estate administration process goes smoothly.

The Voluntary Administrator

A crucial role in the small estate administration process is that of the voluntary administrator. To be eligible for this role, the individual must be a competent adult. However, residency in New York is not a requirement. Notably, as the title suggests, a voluntary administrator does not receive any compensation for their services. 

When someone dies intestate (without a will) the voluntary administrator must be a distributee under New York’s intestate succession statute. However, it’s important to note that not every distributee is eligible to serve as a voluntary administrator. The Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) provides who may serve as voluntary administrator in cases on intestacy.

When the decedent died with a will, the person named as the executor in the will is given the first opportunity to act as the voluntary administrator. If they accept this role, they must file the will along with an affidavit to the Surrogate’s Court. The affidavit must be filed within 30 days of filing the will. Alternatively, if the named executor opts not to serve as the voluntary administrator, any adult who is entitled to petition for letters of administration under the SCPA can request the right to act as the voluntary administrator. This ensures that there is always a pathway for appointing a voluntary administrator.

The Small Estate Administration Process

The small estate administration process in New York, while mirroring the general procedure for estate administration, is notably simplified. One of the key advantages is the lower filing fees, coupled with a quicker process that bypasses the need for probate.

To collect assets, the voluntary administrator must present several documents to entities holding the decedent’s personal property, such as banks, debtors, or trust companies. These documents include a certificate of authority, evidence of the obligation, and the administrator’s receipt. This step is crucial for the legal and orderly transfer of assets.

The voluntary administrator is empowered to collect and liquidate the estate’s assets. An important part of their duties involves settling the debts of the estate. Additionally, they are authorized to pay for funeral expenses, which is often a priority in estate settlements.

After paying off debts and covering necessary expenses, the voluntary administrator is responsible for distributing the net estate. This involves a detailed accounting of all personal property received and distributed.


New York’s small estate administration process offers a practical and efficient avenue for estate management. This process simplifies the legal proceedings and reduces costs, making it an accessible option for many.

As always, consulting with a probate attorney can provide valuable guidance, ensuring compliance with legal requirements and a smooth administration process. If you think New York’s expedited process is a good fit for you, give The Chamberlain Law Firm a call today at (201) 273-9763. For more insight on the probate process, be sure to check out our other probate articles.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. In the event you would like to speak with a lawyer about the specifics of your case, please contact The Chamberlain Law Firm.

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