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Probate Record Pathfinder

Probate is the court process following a person's death that includes

  • proving the authenticity of the deceased person's will
  • appointing someone to handle the deceased person's affairs
  • identifying and inventorying the deceased person's property, in some cases
  • paying debts and taxes
  • identifying and notifying heirs
  • distributing the deceased person's property according to the will or, if there is no will, according to law

Probate records include wills, estate inventories, letters of administration, and other documents relating to the administration and settlement of deceased persons’ estates. These records contain information on the property of decedents, the identity and relationships of heirs, and legal actions taken to prove wills and settle estates.

This pathfinder will direct you to the best sources for probate records created in New York from the British colonial period to the present. Since 1787, wills and other papers relating to the estates of deceased persons have been filed in and retained by the Surrogate's Court in each county of the state. The New York State Archives holds probate records created or compiled by predecessor courts that had jurisdiction over probate matters. For that reason, this pathfinder is divided into two chronological sections: before 1787 and after 1787. Knowing approximately when the subject of your research died is the first step in locating records. For a list of resources that may assist you in determining death dates, visit the New York State Library’s “An Introduction to Genealogy at the State Library.” Also, see the State Archives’ guide to Genealogy Resources for a listing of colonial and state government records that may be helpful.

When was the will probated and filed...

...Before 1787 in New York colony and New York State? After 1787 in New York State?
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Before the establishment of the New York State Surrogate’s Court system in 1787, jurisdiction over probate matters was exercised by the colonial Prerogative Court and its successor, the State Court of Probates. These were centralized courts with jurisdiction in probate matters that extended to all of New York. The State Archives holds records of the Prerogative Court for the period 1665-1783. The Court of Probates was established in 1778, with jurisdiction over areas of the state not occupied by the British, and continued to function (with limited jurisdiction following establishment of the Surrogate’s Court System) until 1823. The State Archives holds records of the Court of Probates for the period 1778-1823. Most of these records are wills, but the State Archives also holds a limited quantity of other probate records.

Note: links below will take you to Excelsior, the online catalog shared by the State Archives and State Library. Use the back button on your browser to return to this pathfinder.

Wills in the State Archives

J0038-82 Probated Wills, 1671-1815. 10 cubic feet (11 microfilm rolls). Arranged alphabetically by testator, then numerically by file number. Most testators (makers of wills) resided north of Westchester County. Many of these original signed wills are recorded in J0043-92.

J0038-92 Probated Wills, 1665-1787. 24.5 cubic feet (6 microfilm rolls). Arranged by file number, with two separate numbering sequences for records prior to and after 1739. Most, but not all testators resided in New York City, Long Island, Staten Island, or Westchester County. Many of these original signed wills are recorded in J0043-92.

J0043-92 Record of Wills and Probates, 1665-1787. 38 volumes (14 microfilm rolls). Arranged chronologically by recording date. Testators resided in various parts of the colony and state. Corresponding original signed versions of many of these recorded wills are available in J0038-82 and J0038-92.

J0039-85 Exemplification of Wills and Letters of Administration, 1783-1801. 0.3 cubic feet (1 volume). Arranged chronologically. Volume contains official transcripts of wills; testators resided in various parts of the state.

There is no comprehensive online index to these series. If you are interested in searching for records in these series, please see Probate Research Assistance Provided by the State Archives

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Estate Inventories

J0043-92 Record of Wills and Probates, 1665-1708. Besides wills, series also contains some estate inventories and accounts of administrators from the period prior to 1708 only. Arranged chronologically by recording date. Decedents resided in various parts of the colony.

J0301-82 Inventories and Accounts, 1666-1822. 7 cubic feet (7 microfilm rolls). Arranged alphabetically within three separate chronological subseries: 1666-1699; 1700-1775; and 1776-1822. Most inventories and accounts relate to estates located north of Westchester County.

J1301-04 Estate Inventories, ca. 1730-1753. 1 microfilm roll. Arranged chronologically. Inventories relate to estates located in various parts of the colony.

J2301-04 Record of Estate Inventories, 1779-1786. 1 microfilm roll. Arranged chronologically. Inventories relate to estates located in various parts of the state.

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Administration Papers

J0043-92 Record of Wills and Probates, 1665-1743. Besides wills, series also contains some letters of administration from the period prior to 1743 only. Arranged chronologically by recording date. Decedents resided in various parts of the colony.

J0033-82 Administration Papers, ca. 1700-1823. 12.5 cubic feet (17 microfilm rolls). Arranged alphabetically by last name of decedent. Series contains letters of administration and other administration papers relating to estates in various parts of the colony and state, mostly outside of New York City and Long Island.

J1032-04 Letters of Administration, 1743-1783. 2 microfilm rolls. Arranged chronologically. Decedents resided in various parts of the colony and state.

J1033-04 Bonds of Administrators, 1753-1798. 1 microfilm roll. Administrators of estates were required to give bond for the good performance of their duties, including making an inventory of the personal property of deceased and to render and account to the court. These bonds relate to estates in various parts of the colony and state.

J0039-85 Exemplification of Wills and Letters of Administration, 1783-1801. 0.3 cubic feet (1 volume). Arranged chronologically. Volume contains official transcripts of letters of administration relating to estates in various parts of the state.

J0032 (-83, -85, and -04) Letters of Administration, 1778-1832. 1.4 cubic feet (4 volumes). Arranged chronologically. Volume 1, 1778-1797 available on microfilm only. Series contains letters of administration for estates of New York residents who died out-of-state, or non-residents who died in New York.

There is no comprehensive online index to these series. If you are interested in searching for records in these series, please see Probate Research Assistance Provided by the State Archives




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Since 1787, wills and other papers relating to the estates of deceased persons have been filed in and retained by the Surrogate's Court in each county of the state. To obtain information regarding an individual's estate, contact the Surrogate's Court in the county where the individual resided. To determine the county in which a municipality in New York State is located, you may link to the Geographical Names Information System provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. Enter the municipality in the “Feature Name” field and select New York from the “State or Territory” drop down menu. Search results will list county name.

The Surrogate’s Courts do not accept email requests for research assistance. The preferred method of inquiry is in writing via U.S. Mail. Frame such requests in succinct and specific terms, stating name of decedent and date of death. Applicable search, copying, and authentication fees may be charged. Researchers should keep in mind that in all time periods, many people died without wills, and there may have been no court-supervised distribution of their estates.

More recent records relating to the estates of persons who died without a will (intestate) are found in the Surrogate's Court. In such cases, the court appoints an administrator, whose duties are similar to those of an executor, and distribution of the property to heirs is made according to state law. In instances when an executor declines to assume responsibility, a “renunciation” is made, and the court appoints an administrator.

The State Archives holds a limited quantity of post-1787 probate records in very specific categories

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New York County Surrogate’s Court

The New York State Archives holds recorded and original wills from New York County (Manhattan) for selected time periods (including series J1043-92 Record of Wills and Probates, 1787-1879 and J1038-92 Probated Wills, 1787-1829). However, the Archives holds no letters of administration, petitions for probate, accountings, orders, decrees, or other documents that may relate to the administration of a decedent’s estate. Such documents, if they still exist, should be in custody of the New York County Surrogate's Court.

As with other probate research focusing on the post-1787 period, the Surrogate’s Court itself is the best source of information. If inquiries to the New York County Surrogates Court regarding wills filed from 1787-1879 are unsuccessful, please see Probate Research Assistance Provided by the State Archives.

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Wills Devising Real Estate

Between 1786 and 1829 the State Supreme Court and the county courts of common pleas shared with the Surrogate’s Courts the power to prove (authenticate) and record wills devising real estate (giving real property by will). Between 1801 and 1829, the Supreme Court had exclusive power to prove and record wills devising real property located in several counties. The State Archives holds three small series:

J0041-85 Record of Wills Proved at Albany, 1799-1829. 0.3 cubic feet (1 volume).

J2041-04 Record of Wills Proved at New York, 1787-1829. 1 microfilm roll.

J0020-82 Record of Wills Proved at Utica, 1818-1829. 0.2 cubic feet (1 volume).

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Records of Out-of-State Residents

Between 1830 and 1847, the Court of Chancery shared with the Surrogate’s Courts the power to prove wills when the testator or the witnesses resided out of state. See J0040 (-82 and -85) Record of Foreign and Out-of-State Wills Proved, 1830-1848 (3 volumes; 1 microfilm roll). Series contains wills and proceedings in proof of wills.

Between 1823 and 1966, in cases where an out-of-state resident owned property in New York, the Surrogate’s Courts were required to send a certified copy of the will or letters of administration to be filed in the Secretary of State’s Office. See B0081-92 Letters of Administration and Copies of Wills of Out-of-State Residents, 1823-1966 (51.2 cubic feet). Series includes copies of wills and letters of administration or letters testamentary.

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Article 10 Estate Tax

Estate tax appraisal and accounting records are normally found in the Surrogate's Court in the county where the probate proceeding occurred. In a few cases, where there is an ongoing requirement that the state supervise/monitor trusts set up by estates, the estate tax files are held by the State Dept. of Taxation and Finance. The department administers Articles 10, 10-C, and 26 of the State Tax Law regulating payment of taxes on the transfer of property from decedents' estates.

19802 (-78 and-97) Dept. of Taxation and Finance, Article 10 Estate Tax Files, 1885-1990 (89 cubic feet). Arranged by status (active, closed, or remainder) and therin alphabetically by name of decedent. These are files on estates of individuals (usually wealthy) who established life trusts to dispose of their estates. The bulk of the files pertain to individuals who lived in or near the greater metropolitan New York area.

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New York Probate Records Microfilmed and Digitized by FamilySearch

FamilySearch (formerly Genealogical Society of Utah) has microfilmed many probate records in the custody of the Surrogate’s Courts in numerous counties across New York State. Most of these records pre-date the early twentieth century. Available microfilm is listed in FamilySearch’s Family History Library Catalog. Complete listings of GSU microfilm copies of New York probate records are also available in Gordon L. Remington, New York State Probate Records: A Genealogist’s Guide to Testate and Intestate Records, 2d ed. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011).  

Microfilm may be examined at the FamilySearch Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and may also be accessed through a worldwide network of FamilySearch centers. For help in locating the FamilySearch center nearest you, visit the Family History Center webpage.

FamilySearch has also digitized most microfilmed New York probate records. Images may be searched or browsed by visiting the FamilySearch website.




Probating a Will Today

Probate forms are not available online. Contact the clerk's office of the Surrogate's Court in the county where you reside. These offices provide standard forms and instructions free of charge.

Inactive Bank Accounts/Unclaimed Funds

In certain cases, legal heirs may believe that they are entitled to unclaimed funds or inactive accounts belonging to decedents. Banks, insurance companies, utilities, investment companies and many other businesses are required by state law to surrender inactive accounts to the state. The State Comptroller serves as custodian of this money until it is claimed. The State of New York never takes ownership of the money, and if you can prove you are entitled to it, it will be returned to you without charge. To search the Office of State Comptroller’s online database for information about unclaimed funds, go to http://www.osc.state.ny.us and click on “Unclaimed Funds.”

For further information regarding probate records in New York State and a complete description of available records and indexes, see New York State Archives Information Leaflet # 3, Probate Records in the New York State Archives. A single copy of the leaflet is available at no charge via U.S. Mail. If you have specific questions, see Probate Research Assistance Provided by the New York State Archives.