Game Day in Surrogate’s Court: Knowing the Rules in Estate Litigation

If litigation were a sports game, the civil procedure would be the equivalent of a playbook. It provides each side with a set of rules (plays) to use to win the game. For offensive players, it sets out the plays to start a case and obtain discovery materials to run the ball down the field and score big. For defense players, it shows how to slow down the game, stop the other side from advancing the ball, and obtain an early victory.

So, what is the playbook in Surrogate’s Court? Well, using the sports analogy, image if sports rules were created by lawyers. What would they look like? Well, there would be multiple playbooks, with different books for each stadium. On top of that, there would also be rules interpreting the rules. Now, all of this would be scattered around in numerous sources and you would have to consult them all at the same time to figure anything out. The rules would also change from time to time.

As confusing as it sounds, this is exactly how lawyers created the playbook for civil procedure. In Surrogate’s Court, we start with the SCPA. From there, you should consult with the Uniform Rules for the Surrogate’s Court and see if the judge has any specific rules of his or her own. You will also find additional rules in the CPLR that may help you with your strategy. Of course, you will also need to familiarize yourself with the EPTL for more substantive based rules.

Practice Tip: The SCPA can be quite overwhelming for the beginner. To make it easier to navigate through, I recommend using the table of contents to find the rules applicable to your issue.


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