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The Importance of Having a Will: Who Inherits When You Don’t

Well, no one should leave it up to New York State but…

When Henry died without a Will, everyone scrambled to find out who would inherit his millions.

New York has what is called “Intestacy Laws.” Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here’s a quick overview of who inherits in the event that you die without a Will:

If you die with: here’s what happens:
  • children but no spouse
  • children inherit everything
  • spouse but no descendants
  • spouse and descendants
  • spouse inherits the first $50,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance
  • descendants inherit everything else
  • parents but no spouse or descendants
  • parents inherit everything
  • siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents
  • siblings inherit everything

Will the State Get Your Property?

If you die without a will and don’t have any family, your property will “escheat” into the state’s coffers. However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won’t go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, nieces or nephews, cousins of any degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a spouse who dies before you do.

So, the Moral of the Story…

Do not leave it up to New York State to tell you who will get your estate. Take control and have a Will (or a Living Trust and Pour Over Will). There are numerous advantages to having a Will such as controlling who inherits which assets and when. If you have minor children, you can designate who you want as Guardian of your minor children. Further, you can designate your Executor, who will handle your estate. For larger estates, a Will can contain tax provisions to minimize federal and New York State estate taxes.

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