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When a person dies without a will

Some New York residents may wonder what happens when a relative dies without a will. If the decedent leaves more than $30,000 in assets, the estate goes through administration, which is similar to probate. The difference is that probate occurs when the decedent leaves a will directing the distribution of assets. Administration occurs when a person dies intestate, or without a will, and the distribution is made in accordance with the state law of intestacy.

To start administration, the state issues letters to any person who may be entitled to claim the assets. That person may open a case in Surrogate's Court by filing a petition. The petition lists the name and address of the decedent, the petitioner's name, and the petitioner's relationship to the decedent. If the petitioner is not a relative, it will be necessary to state the basis for asking to open the case. The petition also lists other individuals entitled to inherit under the law. Then, the petition gives the estimated value of the assets and a description of any real estate.

One reason that it is so important for a person to have a will or trust created during life is that the state's list of relatives who inherit is not based on personal relationships. When there is no will, assets could be distributed to a distant, practically unknown relative rather than a close friend. Or assets might be split equally among relatives, without regard to whether the decedent had a closer relationship with one relative than the others.

An estate planning and administration attorney may be able to help create a will that ensures assets will be distributed to the intended beneficiaries. It may also be possible for the attorney to help probate the will and distribute assets when the time comes.

Source: NYCourts.gov, "Administration - Decedent did NOT leave a Will (and estate assets of more than $30,000.00)", August 04, 2014

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