How are estates distributed when a person dies without leaving a will in New York State?


In New York, “intestate” is the legal term for dying without preparing a will.  This lack of preparation may leave loved ones in a precarious position, because New York Statutes Estates Powers and Trusts Law will govern the distribution of assets owned solely by the person who died. If there are no named beneficiaries, the assets will be passed on first to a surviving spouse in the amount of the first $50,000 plus ½ of the estate, with the remaining ½ left for any surviving children.  When there is no surviving spouse, assets would be split equally among surviving children to the estate.

Heirs-at-law, per stirpes, & collateral heirs.

In cases where there is no will, an heir-in-law must be named, usually someone who is entitled to inherit all or part of an estate.  This named status is usually important when other individuals want to challenge or contest an existing will and through  “intestate succession” where rights to inherit are decided by a legal order.  An experienced probate attorney can be a great asset if someone dies without a will, and surviving family members are at a loss regarding their household living situations, financial matters, business activities, and insurance documents, as well as making clear the personal wishes of the decedent that were never written down.

It is common for the surviving spouse and children to hold rights to an estate unless they are deceased, at which point the grandchildren may become heirs-at-law through the next generation descent known as “per stirpes.”  If there are no grandchildren to succeed the spouse and children, then other relatives known as “collateral heirs” will be in line to inherit an estate that cannot be left to any other immediate living relatives.

Prepare a will.

Taking time to make sure your wishes are followed upon your death, regarding material assets, or your minor children can have lifelong impacts to those who are left behind.  A legal professional can advise you as you determine how you might want tangible property divided, along with maintaining your ability to make bequests for various family members, without impacting the election share that must go to a spouse in New York State.  Naming an executor for your estate may give you piece of mind as well.

Seek counsel.

Make an appointment with Attorney Ron Meyers and take the time to write down exactly what should be done after your death.  It will reduce the stress on the remaining family and loved ones as they grieve. 


Ron L. Meyers & Associates, PLLC

Address:  475 Park Avenue South, Suite 2100

Manhattan, NY 10016

Phone: 212-644-8787






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