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Dying Without a Will in New York: Intestate Succession Guide

Discover the intricacies of dying without a will in New York. Our guide on intestate succession helps you navigate estate distribution seamlessly.

Dying Without a Will in New York Intestate Succession Guide

Key Takeaways:

  • A significant number of Americans, about 2/3rds, don't have a will, leading to potential complexities in estate distribution.
  • In New York, dying without a will means the deceased has passed away intestate, and their property distribution is governed by the state's intestate succession laws.
  • The deceased's assets are distributed based on their marital status, children, and other surviving family members, with spouses and children often given priority.
  • The probate process in New York involves court intervention, asset valuation, debt settlements, and eventual distribution, often requiring the appointment of an administrator.
  • Handling an intestate estate can be intricate and emotionally taxing, making the expertise of estate professionals like those at ClearEstate invaluable.

It's a surprising but true statistic: approximately 2/3rds of Americans don't have a will in place.

When someone dies without a will in New York, they have been considered to pass away intestate. In this situation, no one has control over the deceased person's property, which can create complexities when settling the estate.

Fortunately, New York has a provision for such a situation governed by intestate succession laws.

The provisions ensure the deceased person's property goes to the closest living relatives, with the top priority being the spouse and children.

Let's take a closer look at what happens to a deceased persons estate when they pass away without a will in New York.

Intestate Succession Laws in New York

Intestate succession is the legal process that takes place when a person dies, and the deceased did not leave behind a will or an estate plan behind.

In New York, the role of determining who gets what is given to the court which is governed by the laws of intestacy in New York State (Chapter 17B-4-1.1).

The law states that if you die without a will, your assets will be distributed based on your marital status, children, and other surviving family members. The following table summarizes how the division of assets occurs:

Family Relationship Intestate Share
Spouse only (no children) All to the spouse
Children only (no spouse) All to the children and issue of any predeceased child
Spouse and children Spouse gets $50,000 plus half of the remaining estate; children share the other half
Parents only (no spouse, children) All to the surviving parent or parents
Siblings (no spouse, children, or parents) All to the siblings or children of any predeceased siblings
No spouse, children, parents, or siblings Half to paternal grandparents or if both are deceased, to their children (aunts and uncles) or children of predeceased aunts and uncles (first cousins). The other half goes to maternal relatives in the same manner. If there is no one surviving on either the paternal or maternal side, the entire estate goes to the other side
No spouse, children, parents, siblings, or grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins Half to the children of predeceased first cousins on the paternal side and half to children of predeceased first cousins on the maternal side. If there are no survivors on one side, the whole estate passes to the other side

For a better understanding, here is an illustration of intestate asset distribution.

Let's take a case wherein - Bob, who died intestate after a car accident. His entire estate was estimated to be $250,000. Bob was married to Mary and had three children: Alice, Ted, and Rita (Deceased).

As per New York intestate laws, Mary inherits the first $50,000. The remaining balance, $200,000, is then divided into two. Mary again receives half of the $200,000—which is $100,000. Lastly, Alice and Ted divide the remaining $100,000 because Rita died earlier and had no children to receive her portion.

Exceptions or Special Circumstances Addressed in the Law

In New York, cohabiting partners do not have the same standing as legally married couples. Unless the cohabiting partner is named in a will, they rarely inherit assets in intestate.

However, if you have children/minor children under special circumstances, the distribution will be as follows:

  • Non-marital children will be included when paternity is established
  • Adopted children receive assets similar to biological children
  • Children born after you die still inherit equally
  • Step and foster children will not receive anything unless you legally adopt them
  • Grandchildren only inherit if their parents are also deceased

The Probate Process for Intestate Estates

When a deceased person lacks a valid will, their assets require the intervention of the court for administration and distribution – this is known as the probate process. For intestate estates, the procedure involves:

  • Identifying and valuing the property
  • Paying debts and taxes
  • Distributing the assets

Without a will, the court needs to appoint an administrator. This individual might be a chosen family member or, as in New York, a County Public Administrator.

Distribution in intestate situations is based on the relationship the deceased had with their nearest living relatives.

Intestate Estate Timeline and Steps For Probate Process

Navigating an intestate estate's probate can span several months to years, influenced by the estate's intricacy, family disputes, and court schedules. The general steps include:

  1. Petitioning the court to open the estate and appoint an administrator, through an administration proceeding.
  2. The administrator's collection and appraisal of assets.
  3. Addressing outstanding expenses, debts, and tax issues.
  4. Asset distribution following, for example, New York's intestate succession laws, under court oversight.
  5. Closing the estate post satisfactory asset distribution.

Who Becomes the Administrator?

The administrator or personal representative is the person the court appoints to oversee and manage your estate if you do not leave a valid will that names an executor.

In New York, the intestate laws give clear guidelines on who and how the administrator will be appointed.

The following are the criteria used to appoint the administrator in order of priority:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Adult children
  • Adult grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Adult siblings
  • Creditors or interested parties
  • Public administrator

The main role of the administrator is to ensure the deceased person's property is well-administered to their loved ones. This individual should act in the best interest of the estate and the distributees by being honest and diligent. Other responsibilities and duties an administrator performs are:

  • Locate, identify, and collect all assets, including bank accounts, investments, real estate, and personal property.
  • Notify relevant parties with interest in the estate, such as creditors and potential claimants, to file claims with the courts where applicable.
  • Handling financial affairs such as paying expenses, debts, and taxes.
  • Keep precise records of the entire process and give periodic progress reports.
  • Distribute the remaining property as per New York's intestate succession laws.
  • Address any disputes arising from the administrative process.
  • Provide updates to the courts and interested parties until the estate closes.

How To File For Administration and Settle an Intestate Estate

Filing for administration requires you to file a petition with the Surrogate's court asking them to begin the probate process. After successful filing, you can request to be appointed as administrator. The steps you will take are as follows:

  1. Confirm you meet the eligibility criteria to serve as administrator.
  2. Gather the required documents you must present to proceed with the vetting. For example, the death certificate, Form PA-1 (petition for administration), and affidavits from witnesses confirming the absence of a will.
  3. File the petition for letters of administration in the relevant Surrogate Court court and pay the filing fee and any other additional charges. The following table gives you the fee you will be charged based on the value of the estate.
Estate ValueFiling Fee

Less than $10,000


10,000 but under 20,000


20,000 but under 50,000


50,000 but under 100,000


100,000 but under 250,000


250,000 but under 500,000


500,000 and over


4. Notify and serve notice to family members, potential creditors, and other relevant parties.

5. Attend the court hearing to argue your case and provide additional documents.

6. Receive the letter of administration if the court approves. If they do not, consider the judge's recommendations and implement the best option.

7. Manage the estate as discussed earlier.

Understanding Intestate Succession: The Final Thoughts

Understanding who gets what when you're grieving the loss of a loved one may be the last thing on your mind. But understanding the laws that govern settling your loved ones estate is crucial when it comes to handling the estate.

While this article provides a comprehensive overview, each situation is unique, and the guidance of an expert can be invaluable.

Ready for Expert Guidance? Let's Talk.

If you're facing the challenges of settling an intestate estate in New York, you don't have to do it alone.

At ClearEstate, our estate professionals are well-versed in New York's intestate laws and can provide the guidance and support you need.

Book a free consultation with us today and let us help you navigate this complex process with ease and confidence.

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