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Surrogate’s Court considered whether it had the authority to probate a Florida-made where there was estate property in Queens. Matter of Steiner 2023 NY Slip Op 51224(U)


When someone who lived elsewhere passes away but owns property in New York, a probate proceeding can be initiated in the Surrogate’s Court in the county where the property is located. SCPA § 206 [1], which grants the Surrogate’s Court jurisdiction over the estate of a non-domiciliary decedent who leaves property in the state. The statute ensures that the legal process unfolds in the county where the non-domiciliary decedent left property, streamlining the handling of assets and the distribution of the estate according to applicable laws.

In Matter of Steiner, 2023 NY Slip Op 51224(U), the decedent lived in Florida at the time of their death, but also had property in New York.

Background Facts
Gerard O. Steiner died a domiciliary of Volusia County, Florida. He executed a will dated January 14, 2021. Steiner left no property in Florida. As part of his estate plan, the decedent arranged that his assets would automatically transfer to others by operation of law. However, shortly before he died, he inherited a parcel of real property located in Queens County, New York. Thus, the Surrogate’s Court of Queens County, New York, had jurisdiction over a non-domiciliary’s probate proceeding.

Whether New York can probate a will made in Florida when the deceased left no assets there, but owned property in New York, satisfying the court’s jurisdiction.

The Surrogate’s Court focused on a specific rule, EPTL 3-5.1 [c] [3], which dictates that an out-of-state will is acceptable if it adheres to the signing regulations of the individual’s domicile.

The court also reviewed Florida law on the topic. Florida’s statutes (Section 732.502), outlined that a will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by at least two others. Upon review of he will, the court determined that it was executed in a manner consistent with Florida’s legal requirements.  Consequently, the court granted approval for the will, paving the way for the deceased individual’s intentions to be honored.

In New York, the general rule is that a decedent’s will must be submitted in the jurisdiction where they lived when they died. This rule is rooted in the idea that the local court, familiar with the laws and practices of the decedent’s residence, is best equipped to oversee the probate process. However, like many legal principles, there are exceptions.

One significant exception comes into play when the decedent owns property in a different jurisdiction. In such cases, the will may be submitted for probate in the jurisdiction where the property is located, even if it differs from the decedent’s primary residence. This exception recognizes the practical reality that individuals often own assets in multiple locations and aims to streamline the administration of the estate.

Now, circling back to the case at hand, where the decedent crafted a will in Florida but had property in New York, the court invoked EPTL 3-5.1 [c] [3]. This provision allows an out-of-state will to be deemed valid in New York if it complies with the signing requirements of the decedent’s domicile. In dissecting Florida’s statutes, specifically Sections 732.502 and 732.503, the court ensured that the will met the necessary criteria.

The court’s decision, aligning the out-of-state will with New York’s legal standards, illustrates the nuanced interplay between state-specific rules and the broader principle that a decedent’s testamentary intentions should be honored, even when spanning multiple jurisdictions. This legal dance ensures a harmonious resolution when New York and Florida legal frameworks intersect.

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