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What happens if I die without a will?

If you are a New York resident who has yet to make a last will and testament, you may wish to consider making one. Wills are not just for the wealthy. Regardless of your financial status, your will is the means by which you set forth your wishes as to who receives your property when you die.

NYCourts.gov explains that if you die without a will, the State of New York determines who receives your property because you died intestate. Section 4-1.1 of New York's Estates, Powers and Trusts Law makes extensive provision for all manner of your possible heirs, such as your spouse, children, grandchildren and other relatives, none of which may have anything to do with your own wishes. In fact, your own wishes are irrelevant, even if someone knows what they were.

Spouse and children

If you are married with no children at the time you die and your spouse outlives you, (s)he will inherit your entire estate. If your spouse and children survive you, your spouse receives the first $50,000 of your estate plus half of the balance. Your children split the other half equally.

New York defines your children as all of the following:

  • Your biological children born during your lifetime
  • Your adopted children adopted during your lifetime
  • Your biological children born after you die
  • If you are a man, any child(ren) born outside your marriage for whom you establish paternity

Be aware that should one of your children predecease you but have children of his or her own who survive you, your deceased child’s children stand in his or her place in your line of succession and equally share in the portion of your estate that your deceased child would have inherited had (s)he outlived you.

No spouse or children

If you have no surviving spouse or children, but your parents survive you, they inherit your entire estate. Should they, too, predecease you, but you have surviving brothers and/or sisters, your siblings will share equally in your estate.

If you have no family, or if none of your family members survive you, your entire estate goes to the State of New York.

While this information is not legal advice, it can help you understand what will happen to your assets if you die intestate.

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