ProbateThis is the next post in my series on the need for New York residents to have a proper estate plan. My last article provided an overview of topics which this series will be addressing. It also stressed the need to contact an attorney to assist you with preparing for your affairs. It is important that you contact counsel, rather than putting matters off, as the need for a structured plan can arise at any time. In this article I will address an issue which, unfortunately, arises too often – what happens when one dies without a will in Long Island or elsewhere in New York. If you or a loved one are in need of assistance then contact my office today to speak with a lawyer.

When one passes away in New York without a valid will then they are considered to have died “intestate.” When this happens then the deceased’s estate will be divided in an order that is pre-determined under state law. It does not matter if this order is inconsistent with the deceased’s final wishes. It also does not matter if this order will result in individuals, whom the deceased wished to inherit, are “cut out” of the estate. Examples of how an individual’s assets will be divided include:

  • If one has children, but no spouse, then the assets will be equally divided amongst the children
  • If one has a spouse, and other descendants, then the spouse will inherit the first $50,000 worth of assets and one-half of any remaining assets. The remainder of the estate will be equally divided amongst the other descendants.
  • If one dies while having siblings, but no spouse and no other descendants, then all assets are distributed evenly amongst the siblings.

Again, the foregoing rules will be applied even if they are not what the deceased would have wanted. If, for example, one had a sister and a brother, and only wanted their entire estate to go to their brother, then the law would disregard these final wishes and divide the assets evenly amongst the siblings.

It is important to understand that not all of a person’s assets will be divided as explained above when there is no will. This is due to the fact that certain items will be transferred outside of the probate process. For example, any bank accounts of the deceased will be passed to whomever was named a beneficiary at the time the deceased signed up the accounts. Also, if real estate was owned in joint tenancy with another, then the joint tenant will automatically receive the real estate. How any particular asset will be handled, however, will always depend on the specifics of the situation.

One point that I cannot stress enough is that a great deal of infighting, and grief, can break out amongst the heirs of one who has died without a valid will. Some who are cut out may feel that they were entitled to an inheritance and there may be animosity towards those who do inherit. By having a proper estate plan, you can prevent such issues from arising.

If you need assistance with preparing for the future, then contact my office today to speak with a Long Island estate planning lawyer. I assist with the preparation of a final will, a living trust, and more. I pride myself on providing quality service and my office is ready to assist you. Contact us today to speak with an attorney. Our office also serves Kings County residents in Brooklyn, residents of Queens, those in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, as well as people in other New York areas.