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What Happens If You Die Without a Will in New York?

Posted on May 5, 2023


Many of the consequences of dying without a Will are emotional. Family members can tear each other apart arguing over who deserves what, and who should get what. You will need the help of a seasoned Long Island estate planning lawyer to deal with such matters.

Yet there are certainly other consequences, like completely losing control of the assets which you’ve spent a lifetime working for, and growing. Instead, you’ll die intestate, and the way your assets are distributed will be governed by the Estates Powers and Trusts Law.

Your property will be distributed as follows, in order:

  • If you have no children, your spouse inherits all property.
  • If you have children, your spouse inherits $50,000 plus half the remainder of the estate. The children inherit the rest, distributed equally.
  • If the descendant was not married and has no children, the parents will inherit the entire estate.
  • Siblings inherit next if there are no living parents.
  • Grandchildren inherit if their children are no longer alive.
  • If there are no relatives to inherit, all the money and property go to the state of New York!

If you have step-children these arrangements cut them out. If you don’t have a will, these arrangements could very well leave your spouse without enough money or assets to live on. If there is a friend or a charity you’d like to give some money to, you won’t be able to do this without a will. If you are taking care of your elderly parents they could be utterly stripped of the assets they need for their care, unless your children decide to take on the responsibility.

A Will is not the only instrument of estate planning. A Will is a part of a proper estate plan, but there are other vehicles as well. For example, a trust can pass assets directly to your chosen beneficiaries without the need to go through probate, which can be both expensive and open to challenges. In addition, probate can create delays that keep your family members from having access to the resources they need while the process is underway.

Property Distribution Order Inheritance Distribution
No children Spouse inherits all property
Children Spouse inherits $50,000 plus half the remainder of the estate; Children inherit the rest, distributed equally
No spouse, no children Parents inherit the entire estate
No spouse, children no longer alive Siblings inherit
No spouse, children, parents, or siblings Grandchildren inherit
No eligible relatives All assets go to the state of New York

Priority to Act as Administrator

The administrator of an estate refers to the individual responsible for collecting assets and paying debts. In addition, the administrator distributes the assets to beneficiaries. Similar to what happens in probate proceedings, the administrator of an estate acts as the executor. SCPA 1001 outlines the rules for who may serve as administrator of an estate. The court can grant letters to administration to multiple eligible distributees if there is more than one. The Surrogate’s Court may ask the administrator to buy a bond to help protect distributees depending on how large the estate is.

New York estate planning lawyers recommend that you prepare a will or living trust, in order to avoid the probate process, with its stringent rules regarding estate administration. A will allows you to choose your executors, avoid the need to impose a bond, and control who receives your assets. Clients often want their spouse to be the sole beneficiary of all the estate. This may not occur if there are children or probate assets exceeding $50,000, and you pass away without a will.  Most clients want to be able to choose who will manage the estate. Planning an estate starts with understanding what happens if a person passes away intestate (without a will).

Our estate planning services can help you put together a plan that meets the needs of everyone you leave behind. We take a thorough look at your entire financial situation to ensure that it will be possible to leave a legacy in accordance with your wishes.

Siblings’ Rights After Parents’ Death

When a parent passes away without a valid will, known as dying intestate, the distribution of their estate is determined by state inheritance laws. These laws prioritize certain beneficiaries, such as spouses and children, over siblings. In New York, for example, probate law designates the first $50,000 in assets and half of the remaining assets to the surviving spouse, with the rest divided among the children. In the absence of a surviving spouse, siblings inherit the entire estate.

State inheritance laws treat siblings equally, entitling them to an equal share of the estate assets. However, if siblings wish to distribute the assets differently, they must come to an agreement among themselves after the estate is settled.

In cases where a parent left a valid will, the rights and inheritance of siblings following their parents’ death are determined by the provisions of the will. The will specifies which sibling is responsible for managing the estate and outlines the entitlements of each sibling. To execute the will, it must go through the process of estate probate and receive verification from a judge. During this process, any objections to the will are considered, and creditors have the opportunity to make claims.

The siblings’ share of the estate is dictated by the parent’s will. If the will explicitly excludes a sibling or assigns them a lesser share than other beneficiaries, that sibling may potentially receive nothing from the estate. The provisions of the will take precedence over default distribution rules. In jurisdictions like New York, a parent can choose to distribute their estate among their children according to their own wishes, which could potentially disadvantage one or more siblings.

Contact Schlessel Law, PLLC today. While nobody wants to think about the end, doing so is one of the best gifts you can give your family.

Long Island estate planning lawyer

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