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Probate - Can emails be used in Probate court?

Ridge, NY |

I have a sister who told me in an email she does not want anything to do with Our Fathers Will but because she's spiteful she wont give her address (she only gets 1 dollar). Can we present the email in court to show she is purposely evading us? A search only turned up her email address BTW.


Just to add My sister is in california, and 3 paid searches did not turn her up because she leaches off people. And her email address has her unique name in it(no one else in the country has this name).

Attorney Answers 3


Both attorneys raise good points. In NY there are means of dealing with this issue. They all require petioning the Surrogate's Court for relief from the usual method of service. You can get an order of publication based on her last address. However, this can be costly depending on the county where the decedent's estate is being probated. Before this, I would do some more due diligence (looking for the person), tracking voter registration cards and state id (like license) are good starts, and ask the court for substituted service. My gut tells me the e-mail alone will not be enough to get an order of substituted service, but it highly depends on the county. You can also ask to scan a citation to her, using this e-mail address. Be wary that depending on how you handle this, the court may impose burdens on you that you do not expect, such as the appointment of a guardian, which all cost money to the estate. I agree that it is time to consult a lawyer.

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It is up to the Surrogate in the county where the will is being probated. If the judge is satisfied that the email and it's address are valid and that all other reasonable efforts to notify her have failed, it is possible that service of a citation can be approved by emailing it, perhaps also with publication of notice in a newspaper.
Joseph A. Bollhofer, Esq.
Joseph A. Bollhofer, P.C.
291 Lake Ave.
St. James, NY 11780

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If your sister resides in New York, then the requirement is ordinarily that she must either sign a waiver and consent form or be served personally. Before alternative means of service are attempted, the court must be satisfied that the person cannot be served through personal delivery. The e-mail may possibly be helpful as part of the effort in convincing the Surrogate's Court to permit a different method of service, but does not really establish much of anything, because there is no easy way of proving that the e-mail address belongs to your sister.

I imagine that you are not represented by an attorney -- because if you were, you would be posing these questions to your attorney. Perhaps it is now time to consider retaining an attorney.

One of the many advantages of hiring an attorney is that attorneys often have resources allowing them to locate a missing witness or person upon whom process is to be served.

If you need help, you may be free to contact me (or, of course, any of the many attorneys here in NY who are experienced in this area of the law).

Good luck to you.

Michael S. Haber is a New York attorney. As such, his responses to posted inquiries, such as the one above, are limited to his understanding of law in the jurisdiction in which he practices and not to any other jurisdiction. In addition, no response to any posted inquiry should be deemed to constitute legal advice, nor to constitute the existence of an attorney/client or other contractual or fiduciary relationship, inasmuch as legal advice can only be provided in circumstances in which the attorney is able to ask questions of the person seeking legal advice and to thus gather appropriate information. In addition, an attorney/client relationship is formed only by specific agreement.

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