Thanks to one sentence added to the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act a half century ago, the powers of the Surrogate's Court are broader than they might appear.
Limits of Jurisdiction
A court's powers are those that are said to be within its jurisdiction. But the Surrogate's Court (the court that handles probate and other estate-related matters) is a court of very broad jurisdiction.
A Powerful Sentence
Section 202 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act is a one-sentence provision that starkly broadens the jurisdiction of the Surrogate's Court. The section says that those proceedings that are specifically listed in Article 2 of the Act "shall not be deemed exclusive" and that the court's jurisdiction may be exercised even where those powers "may be exercised in or incidental to a different proceeding."
What It Means
This provision has been construed to mean, in part, that the Surrogate's Court can entertain any matter found within the court's subject matter jurisdiction regardless of the procedural form in which the matter may appear to the court. Thus, the jurisdiction of the Surrogate's Court may be rather expansive when an estate has a close relationship to a kind of issue that might seem foreign to the ordinary matters that are brought in Surrogate's Court.
The 50-year-old provision may be summarized as clarifying that the powers of the court are not limited to the specific proceedings that are in the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act.
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