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NYS Surrogates Courts limiting access to files

For real estate attorneys, title insurance companies and abstractors information found in Surrogates Court is an integral part of the research needed for such things as real estate purchases, mortgage refinances, and civil court disputes. Any road blocks to this information can cause major issues.
On February 19, 2014 rule number 207.64 -Public Access to Certain Files, was added to the Uniform Civil rules of the Surrogates Courts. The new rule is creating, not a complete road-block, but a slow-down in obtaining much needed information.
According to the New York States unified courts website http://www.nycourts.gov , 207.64 restricts the viewing of listed documents to “only persons interested in the estate of the decedent.” These papers include:
1. All Papers and documents in Proceedings instituted by a Guardianship
2. Death Certificates
3. Tax Returns
4. Documents containing Social Security numbers
5. Firearms inventory
6. Inventory of Assets
The purpose of the restriction is due to the sensitivity of information found in many surrogate’s files that can be used for fraud or identity theft. This is one of the reasons New York State Surrogate courts are not, at the moment, available online.
Each county’s Surrogates court appears to be interpreting the new rule on a per county basis. For example, Washington County Surrogates Court is implementing the new rule on a per situation basis. Warren County Surrogates Court is limiting copies from older files. All files already scanned into their public computer are viewable and printable. Older files, not on the computer, can still be viewed but copies from these files can only be obtained from a clerk, but not immediately. The file is handed to the clerk with a list of what copies are needed. The clerk will scan the copies into their computer system, and then print the copies. The copies will then be mailed to the person requesting the copies. A much slower process than before.
As more government offices go computerized, new issues on how to handle documents with sensitive information continues to arise. For Abstractors, Attorneys and others needing this information it’s becoming somewhat of a challenge. The new Surrogates Court rule is designed to protect sensitive information, but in doing so is slowing down a process that computerization was supposed to make easier.