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What happens if someone dies without a will in New York?

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2024 | Estate Planning

Although people may have a general idea about their life expectancy based on their health and family history, no one knows when they might encounter a drunk driver or develop a serious illness. As such, many professionals recommend that people begin estate planning as soon as they turn 18, establish families or begin professional careers.

Many people don’t follow that advice. They tell themselves that they have years before they have to think about the possibility of dying. In some cases, they may die before they ever establish estate planning paperwork. What happens in scenarios where people die in New York without a will or other testamentary documents in place?

State law guides the probate process without a will

Adults of sound mind generally have the right to decide what should happen with their property when they die. They have the authority to leave assets for friends and charitable causes. They can decide who should receive which assets from their estates. When someone does not take the time to put their wishes in writing before their passing, New York state law controls the descent of their property. Intestate succession laws help ensure that the probate courts pass resources to someone’s closest family members when they die without a will.

Spouses and children have the strongest rights of inheritance under New York law. Spouses or children can potentially receive all of someone’s estate or may need to split it among themselves depending on how many surviving family members there are. Other family members, including parents and siblings, can inherit from an estate when someone is not married and has no children at the time of their death.

There are clear limits to intestate succession

People often have close relationships with individuals other than their immediate family members. Intestate succession laws do not provide any protection for unmarried romantic partners, close friends and extended family members. They also leave little opportunity for the support of charitable causes unless beneficiaries decide to make donations. Those who want to leave specific assets for particular people or who have unusual personal circumstances may find that intestate succession laws do very little to protect them and their loved ones.

Taking the time to create a will and other estate planning paperwork can give someone greater control over their legacy. Adults who understand New York’s rules for those who die without a will may see the value in drafting estate planning paperwork.