Intestate Laws In New York

Intestate Laws In New York

When someone creates a last will and testament, they make a legally binding document in which they clearly state how and to whom their assets will be distributed after their death. If a person dies without leaving a will, they are said to have died intestate, and New York’s laws of intestate succession will determine how the persons assets will be distributed.

New York intestate laws were enacted to prevent the conflict and chaos that would ensue when a person dies without a will. The purpose of the law is to apply the same orderly rules of inheritance in every intestate case. Whether there are millions of dollars in estate assets or items of only modest value, the law mandates that the  assets be distributed according to various survivors’ relationships with the respective decedent.

In choosing not to create a will, a person is guaranteeing that their estate will be distributed to relatives based solely on their relationship to the decedent either by blood or marriage. There is no preference for a family member who was very dear to the decedent, and no disadvantage to estranged family members. In other words, when a person dies without a will, the decedent’s wishes as to how and to whom their estate assets will be distributed become entirely irrelevant, and the intestacy statute will then decide these issues.

Who Gets a Decedent’s Assets if They Leave No Will in New York?

Family members who are entitled to receive shares of a decedent’s estate are referred to as “distributees.” Their claims to estate assets are prioritized according to their closeness in relationship to the decedent.

New York’s statute governing the order of intestate estate asset distribution is found in the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (E.P.T.L.), Article §4-1.1.

First, any just debts, reasonable expenses incurred to administer the estate, and funeral expenses must be provided for from the estate assets before any distributees receive a share.

The remaining assets are distributed as follows, depending on who the decedent’s survivors are:

  • If a spouse survives, then $50,000 plus half of the remaining estate assets shall go to the spouse, with the balance shared equally among surviving children of the decedent.
  • If a spouse survives without any children of the decedent, then the spouse takes the whole estate.
  • If the decedent’s children survive but no spouse does, then those children receive equal shares of the decedent’s entire estate.
  • If one or both of the decedent’s parents survive but there are no surviving children or spouse, then the parent(s) receive the entire estate asset distribution.
  • If only the decedent’s siblings (their parents’ issue) survive but there is no surviving spouse, children, or parent(s) of the decedent, then the decedent’s siblings will receive equal shares of the decedent’s entire estate.
  • The next survivors in line if those listed above do not survive, are the decedent’s grandparents, aunts and uncles, great-grandparents, and great aunts and uncles. The details of their distributions are a bit involved for this brief blog post, but the rules are clear and specific. If you have a loved one who has died intestate, you should consult an experienced probate estate lawyer in person. The probate attorneys at Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates have extensive knowledge and are well practiced in complex intestate succession issues.

Applying the Rules in Less Typical Cases

Intestate Laws In NY
If a person dies without a will and the state of the domicile is in question, the estate might not be probated in New York. The issue is one that is subject to the judgment of the Surrogate’s Court after an evidentiary hearing.

While the rules of intestate succession do not change from case to case, the composition of families in New York can vary widely. In some cases, family members may not fit neatly into simple categories and the intestate law accounts for these circumstances:

  • In any case involving someone who is related to the decedent by the half-blood, such as stepchildren and stepsiblings, they are treated under this law as though they are related by the full blood. They stand in the same shoes as do others in an equivalent relationship to the decedent.
  • Under NY intestate laws, children of the decedent who were born after the decedent’s death will be treated as though they were born during the decedent’s lifetime.
  • Adopted children do not enjoy a right to inherit from their natural birth parents once they are adopted by their adoptive parents. Nor do the natural parents have any right to inherit through the adopted child. There are exceptions regarding some children who are adopted within the family of the natural parent that may entitle them to inherit from and through the natural parent.

Complications of Dying Without a Will

With interstate travel so common, many longtime New York residents spend substantial time each year in other states, including New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania, among others. As we age, we often become less frequent travelers. Many people remain in their second home for years at a time.

Does this change their legal domicile? If a person dies without a will and the state of the domicile is in question, the estate might not be probated in New York. The issue is one that is subject to the judgment of the Surrogate’s Court after an evidentiary hearing. If another state is determined to be the decedent’s intended place of domicile, then that state’s intestate succession laws will determine the distributees’ respective shares of the estate.

Conclusion  – Consult with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

Dying without a last will and testament does not stop your assets from being distributed. It simply prevents you from having any control over how and to whom your assets go.

Planning for the distribution of your assets and preserving them as fully as the law allows require the skill and knowledge of an experienced estate planning attorney. A will is a fundamental part of a solid estate plan, as are other legal instruments and strategies that maximize the value of the assets your survivors receive.

Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates has helped thousands of individuals secure their loved ones’ legacy. The probate and elder law attorneys at E.J. Rosenzveig & Associates will assist you in considering the issues and contingencies that may best serve your goals.

Experienced New York Estate Planning and Probate Lawyers
Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates
Call +1 (914) 816-2900

Ariel S. Rosenzveig
Ariel Rosenzveig

Ariel S. Rosenzveig received his Juris Doctor from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in May, 2011, and has been practicing law with the firm since August, 2011. During his summers while in law school, Ariel interned with the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission in New York and with the Securities & Futures Commission in Hong Kong, China.

While in law school, Ariel served on the staff of the Cardozo Public Law, Policy & Ethics Journal, volunteered with the Cardozo Advocates for Battered Women, and participated in the National Institute for Trial Advocacy’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program. Prior to attending law school, Ariel worked as an arbitrage trader for a small proprietary trading firm on Wall Street. Ariel graduated summa cum laude from Yeshiva University in 2006.

Ariel is licensed to practice law in the states of New York and New Jersey, and is a member of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), NYSBA’s Elder Law section, and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). In June, 2015, Ariel successfully completed a certificate program in mediation through the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

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