How Do I Get My Mother's Money Out of the Bank?

My mother passed away this past February. It was unexpected and the only will that she left was one from years ago when my sister and I were kids. It named my grandparents (both of whom died before my mother) as executors of the estate and said that, in the event that something were to happen to her, they would get custody of my sister and myself. That’s how old the will is (we’re both in our 40s now). To my (and my sister’s) knowledge, there is no more recent will.

My mother was not very rich, but she did have a bank account at a major bank. I don’t know how much was in her account, but I would be shocked if it were over $1000. For all I know, it could be $50. (It should be at least that much, since I have an uncashed birthday check from her).

I went into the bank the other day with a copy of my mother’s death certificate and my birth certificate (showing that I am her son). In short, I was told by the bank that there was nothing they could do for me. My mother did not name a beneficiary on the account. They told me that I would have to go to probate court to get the money. I asked them to at least let me know how much it is so that I could make a judgement call if it’s even worth going to probate court for such a small sum – and they refused.

So, what are my options now? The cost of a probate attorney would probably be more than the amount in the account (although they won’t tell me, so who knows?). Are there any other options here? Or is it simply lost, to sit in the bank’s accounts forever?

The state, if it matters, is New York.

Thank you in advance,

Zev Steinhardt

since this a real life legal question, let’s move it to IMHO.

samclem, moderator

My husband used this process when his mother passed away. No lawyer needed.

Do you not have access to her residence? Surely she has a bank statement lying around that will tell you her balance.

This looks like a very helpful link, Doreen.

Zev, if you click on the link on that page for “Small Estates” it gives a simplified procedure for probating estates under $30,000, including a do-it-yourself kit.

It also mentions that the filing fee for a small estate is all of $1.00.

I would check that out. It looks like your case fits there. (Not meant as legal advice, of course. I don’t know anything about NY probate.)

Canada here. My mother recently went through this with my uncle’s estate. He only left a hand written holographic will in my mother’s name with no witness signature to it. She had to hire a probate lawyer.

It cost her 4k$ and took about 3 months.

In my state the public trustee takes only a %. This preserves small amounts, for the case where the sum is small , they don’t generate a cost to the estate.

However, if its $4 M , then the % is rather a winfall for the public trustees office.

Didn’t someone set up the estate soon after your mother died? If it hasn’t happened yet then you and your siblings can go to the probate office and do it yourself.

I did this when my mother died, and while it was a bit of a pain, it wasn’t too difficult. Once you set up the estate then the bank should either put the estate on the account, or transfer the account to an estate account. You don’t really need a lawyer, I never used one, and the court should help you out.