[US][NY]State Surrogate Court Order Restricts Public Access to Records Included in Probate /Surrogate Court Files

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

The New York State Chief Surrogate Court Justice has issued an order restricting public access to records included in probate files. This includes documents and procedures under New York State Surrogates Court Procedure Act 17 and 17 a- involving guardians and custodians, guardians of mentally retarded and developmentally disabled persons [http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/SCP ], death certificates, tax returns,documents containing social security numbers, inventory of assets and firearms  inventory.  The order was signed on February 19, 2014.

The New York legal community was aware of a draft proposal in the fourth quarter of 2013.  While the legal community was aware of the proposal,evidently most if not all of the genealogy community was not aware of the proposal. Therefore, we did not submit any comments during the open comment time frame. In reading some of the statements submitted by different legal groups it is apparent that the impetus for this order was the concern of a significant misuse of personal identifying and financial information contained in the type of documents that the order involves.

At this time the order is not on the nycourts.gov website and in speaking with the chief surrogates court office they are not certain when this will happen.  As no attachments are permitted on JewishGen I am copying the wording of the order here as many genealogists use probate documents in their genealogical
work- whether as a professional or hobbyist.

A new section of the Uniform Civil Rules of the Surrogates Court is added:
Section 207.64

The following documents may be viewed only by persons interested in the estate of the decedent, as defined by SCPA section 103(39) or their counsel; the Public Administrator or counsel thereto; counsel for any Federal, State or local governmental agency; or court personnel; except upon written permission of the Surrogate or Chief Clerk of the Court, which shall not be unreasonably withheld:

(1)       All papers and documents in proceedings instituted pursuant to
Articles 17 or 17-A of the SCPA ( Surrogate Courts Procedures Act) ;
(2)       Death certificates
(3)       Tax returns;
(4)       Documents containing social security numbers;
(5)       Firearms Inventory; and
(6)       Inventory of Assets 

Signed A Gail Prudenti Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts Dated February 19, 2014

Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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