July 7, 2015
Surrogate's Court: Definitions
When trying to find the definition of a word or phrase used in a Surrogate's Court proceeding, it's always best to start on page 1. By far the most important statues/laws applicable to Surrogate's Court proceedings are the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, or "SCPA," and the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law, or "EPTL," both of which contain a definitions section in Article 1 of the statue/law.
While, especially in legal proceedings, it's always a good idea to look-up the definition of a word which you do not understand, some on the most commonly used words/phrases in Surrogate's Court proceedings, other than the words which we all know and understand, include:
1) Administrator - Any person to whom letters of administration have been issued (note that an Administrator is essentially the same as an Executor, except that an Administrator is the person who is in charge of a deceased persons estate when the deceased person did not have a Will).
2) Distributee - Any person entitled to take or share in the property of a decedent under the statues governing descent and distribution (or, in other words, any person who would be entitled to a deceased persons property if the deceased person died without leaving a Will). Persons typically thought of as being the "heirs" or "next of kin"of a decedent are, more often than not, distributees of the decedent's estate.
3) Estate - Depending upon the context, "estate" may mean . . . the aggregate of property which a person owns.
4) Executor - Any person to whom letters testamentary have been issued (person who is in charge of a deceased person's estate when the deceased person died leaving a Will).
5) Intestate - A person who dies without leaving a valid Will.
6) Issue - Unless a contrary intention is indicated: (1) Issue are the descendants in any degree from a common ancestor (typically: grandparents - parents - children - grandchildren - great grandchildren).
7) Person Interested - Any person entitled or allegedly entitled to share as beneficiary in the estate.
8) Petition - A verified application . . . requesting action upon a matter or relief provided for in the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPLT) or in the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act (SCPA). **Typical Petitions include a petition for the probate of a Will and a Petition seeking letters of Administration for the estate of a person who dies without a Will**
9) Process - Citation, order to show cause, subpoena and any other mandate of the Surrogate's Court by which jurisdiction is obtained over a party.
10) Respondent - Every party to a proceeding except a petitioner.
11) Testamentary Trust - A trust created by Will.