If you have taken the time to execute a Last Will and Testament prior to your death then you are said to have died testate. If you die without executing a Last Will and Testament then you are said to have died intestate. The intestate succession laws of the State of New York will determine what happens to your estate assets if you die intestate.
Each individual state decides how property will be handled when a decedent dies intestate. Although intestate succession laws are often similar among the states, there are also important differences. Understanding the intestate succession laws of the state you live is important if you do not plan to leave behind a Will.
If you die intestate, your estate will need to go through probate to determine who the legal heirs of your estate are. Legal heirs are typically your spouse, children, parents and other more distant blood relatives. Once your legal heirs have been determined, the court will distribute your estate assets according to the New York State intestate succession laws. The most common distribution scenarios are as follows:
- Spouse and no children or other descendants – spouse inherits all of the estate
- Children but no spouse – children inherit all of the estate assets
- Spouse and children/descendants – spouse will inherit the first $50,000 out of your estate assets and is then entitled to one half of the remaining assets with descendants getting the remaining half.
- Parent with no spouse or descendants – parent(s) inherit all estate assets
- Siblings but no spouse, parents or descendants – siblings inherit all estate assets
In the event that you did not leave behind a spouse, children (or their descendants), parents, or siblings, the distribution of your estate assets get a bit more complicated. The law looks to grandparents and the descendants of your grandparents in that case to divide your estate property.
As you may have noticed, friends, co-workers, charities and more distant relatives are not among the list of people who will inherit from your intestate estate. This means if you have a special collection that you planned to give to your best friend, he or she will not be entitled to it when you die. Likewise, if giving to a charity that is close to your heart has been important during your lifetime, that charity will receiving nothing when you die from your estate.
In essence, you give up complete control over your estate assets by failing to create an estate plan prior to your death. Although the laws of the State of New York to cover intestate estates, the way those laws distribute your estate assets may not be the way you would have distributed them.
The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.