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The Implications of Dying Without a Will in New York

September 11, 2023
David Parker, Esq.
New City Estate Planning Attorney working with couple to create will
David Parker, White Plains and New City NY Estate Planning Attorney
David Parker, Esq.
David Parker is an attorney who specializes in Estate Planning and Elder Law and has been practicing law for 30 years. Be it Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, or Medicaid Planning, David provides comprehensive and caring counsel for seniors and their families. A large portion of David’s practice is asset protection strategies so that families do not lose their hard earned savings to nursing home care costs. He also handles probate administration for the settlement of estates.
Dying intestate can have unintended consequences for pretty much every family type. However, it is especially painful if there are unmarried partners or stepchildren, who are left out under the law in almost every scenario.

Dying intestate, or without a will, in New York can lead to unintended and sometimes distressing consequences, significantly affecting unmarried partners or stepchildren who often find themselves sidelined by the prevailing laws.

According to a recent piece, “The Confusing Fallout of Dying Without a Will”, featured in The Wall Street Journal, millions of Americans still neglect to draft a will despite the potentially severe repercussions for their heirs and loved ones. Even as the collective wealth of American households has tripled over the past three decades, over half of Americans surveyed by Gallup confessed to not having a will in 2021.

New York’s Intestacy Laws and Probate Process

Passing away intestate in New York means state intestacy laws and probate codes will determine the asset distribution and estate settlement, possibly leaving loved ones empty-handed, evicted from the familial residence, and grappling with substantial tax obligations. This is particularly troubling for unmarried couples living in New York, a region governed by intricate inheritance laws, probate processes, and estate administration protocols, which often do not favor partners not bound by marriage.

For instance, in one unfortunate case, a woman passed away just before she and her partner of 18 years could create wills, leaving her partner to navigate New York’s complex intestate succession and inheritance laws to retain shared assets. Collaborating with an adept New York estate planning lawyer proficient in local inheritance laws and probate processes is crucial to safeguarding familial interests both presently and in the future.

Dying without a will in New York implies that state laws, rather than personal wishes, will govern estate administration, determining the executor and asset distribution, and impacting the inheritance rights of legal heirs under NY law. When there is a surviving spouse and children, New York’s intestate property distribution laws mandate that half the estate goes to the surviving spouse and the other half is divided amongst the children.

This division can starkly contrast with prevalent expectations where the surviving spouse typically inherits the entire estate before it’s subsequently passed on to the children. Additionally, if the children are minors or under 18, they receive the full amount awarded, raising concerns over their financial prudence. Discover more insights on safeguarding inheritance in New York by exploring my article on ‘Spendthrift Trusts - Strategies to Shield Heirs from Imprudent Expenditure of Inheritance.’

Assets and Beneficiary Designations

It is crucial to review all assets for beneficiary designations regularly. Typically, assets like retirement accounts and life insurance policies are transferred to the listed beneficiary. However, in the absence of a named beneficiary or if the designations are outdated due to life changes such as marriage, childbirth, or divorce, state laws will decide the recipient of the asset.

Estate Planning in New York

If you’re without a will in New York and facing the intricate landscape of estate distribution, intestate succession, and inheritance laws, let's explore your options together to ensure your intentions are honored and your loved ones are protected. Schedule a free consultation to learn about optimal strategies to achieve your estate goals and shield your family from potential legal entanglements.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (May 2, 2023) “The Confusing Fallout of Dying Without a Will”


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