dying without a will in New YorkIf you were to pass away without leaving a last will and testament, the state where you live essentially writes one for you. When a person dies without a will, this is legally known as dying intestate. His or her property is distributed to living relatives according to their relationship to the person who passed away.

Distribution of Property When Someone Dies Intestate in New York

New York State laws have created a framework for passing on property when someone dies intestate. Instead of a probate proceeding, the closest living relative of the decedent (the person who died) will have to file for estate administration. This generally falls to the spouse, children, parents, or siblings. 

If the closest relative does not want to administer the estate, he or she can sign a waiver allowing the next relative to take over the administration proceeding. This does not mean that they are waiving their share of the decedent's estate, just that they do not want to be the administrator.

In general, a decedent’s property will be given to his or her relations in the following order:

  • Spouses. If the decedent was married but had no children, the decedent’s spouse will inherit everything. In a family with a surviving spouse and children, the surviving husband or wife inherits the first $50,000 plus half of the remainder of the estate. The children inherit everything else.
  • Children. If the decedent has living children but no spouse, the children inherit everything. Under New York laws, there must be a legal parent-child relationship in order for a child to inherit. This may include adopted children, biological children, children born outside of marriage (if biological relationship is established), and children born after the decedent’s death. Stepchildren and foster children will not inherit any portion of the estate unless they were legally adopted before the decedent’s death.
  • Parents. If the decedent was unmarried and had no children at the time of death, the parents inherit the entire estate.
  • Siblings. If the decedent was unmarried, had no children, and had no living parents, the estate will be distributed to his or her brothers and sisters.
  • Grandchildren. Grandchildren will inherit only if their parent (the decedent's child) has predeceased the decedent.
  • The government. If the decedent has no living family members, his or her property will go to the State of New York.

Free guide to understanding the probate process in New York

If your loved one died without a will, you may need an experienced estate litigation attorney to protect your right to inherit. Contact our law firm today to tell us more about your legal dispute in your initial consultation.