Intestate Succession in New York

What happens if you die without a will? Learn about intestacy in New York.

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If you die without a will in New York, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in New York.

Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession

Only assets that would have passed through your will are affected by intestate succession laws. Usually, that includes only assets that you own alone, in your own name.

Many valuable assets don’t go through your will, and aren’t affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples: 

  • property you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • life insurance proceeds
  • funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account
  • securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • payable-on-death bank accounts, or
  • property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.

These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.

To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid Probate section of Nolo.com or read about Avoiding Probate in New York.

Who Gets What in New York?

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:

If you die with: here’s what happens:
  • children but no spouse
  • children inherit everything
  • spouse but no descendants
  • spouse inherits everything
  • 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
  •  

    The Spouse’s Share in New York

    In New York, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants -- children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren. If you don’t, then your spouse inherits the first $50,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance

    Example 1: Bill is married to Karen, and they have two grown children. Bill and Karen own a large bank account in joint tenancy, and Bill took out a life insurance policy naming Karen as the beneficiary. When Bill dies, Karen receives the life insurance policy proceeds and inherits the bank account outright -- those things are not intestate property. Bill also owns $350,000 worth of other property that would have passed under a will. Karen inherits $200,000 worth of that property -- that is, $50,000 plus $150,000 worth of the balance. The two children split the remaining $150,000.

    Example 2: Barrett is married to Jed and also has a 12-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Barrett owns a house in joint tenancy with Jed, plus $200,000 worth of additional, separate property that would have passed under a will if Barrett had made one. When Barrett dies, Jed inherits the house outright and $125,000 worth of Barrett’s property -- that is, $50,000 plus $75,000 worth of the balance. Barrett’s daughter inherits the remaining $75,000 share of Barrett’s property.

    Children’s Shares in New York

    If you die without a will in New York, your children will receive an “intestate share” of your property. The size of each child’s share depends on how many children you have and whether or not you are married. (See the table above.)

    For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of New York must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it’s not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.

    • Adopted children. Children you legally adopted will receive an intestate share, just as your biological children do.
    • Foster children and stepchildren. Foster children and stepchildren you never legally adopted will not automatically receive a share.
    • Children placed for adoption. Children you placed for adoption and who were legally adopted by another family will not receive a share. However, if your biological children were adopted by your spouse, that won’t affect their intestate inheritance.
    • Posthumous children. Children conceived by you but not born before your death will receive a share.
    • Children born outside of marriage. If you were not married to your children’s mother when she gave birth to them, they will receive a share of your estate if you acknowledged your paternity or if your paternity was otherwise established under New York law.
    • Grandchildren. Your grandchildren will receive a share only if their parent (your child) has died before you do.

    If you want to read the law, New York Estates Powers & Trusts Law § 4-1.2 covers parent-child relationships.

    This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney.

    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, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, neices, nephews, or cousins.

    Other New York Intestate Succession Rules

    Here are a few other things to know about New York’s intestacy laws.

    • Half-relatives. “Half” relatives inherit as if they were “whole.” That is, your sister with whom you share a father, but not a mother, has the same right to your property as she would if you had both parents in common.
    • Posthumous relatives. Relatives conceived before -- but born after -- you die inherit as if they had been born while you were alive.
    • Immigration status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States.
    • Joint tenant convicted of murder. One joint tenant who is convicted of murdering another joint tenant is not entitled to inherit any money in the joint tenants’ bank account. The convicted joint tenant is entitled only to any money that the convicted joint tenant contributed to the account. (New York Estates, Powers & Trusts Law § 4-1.6.)

    Learn More

    To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled When There is No Will.

    You can find New York’s intestate succession law here: New York Estates, Powers & Trusts Law §§ 4-1.1 to 4-1.6.

    For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of Nolo.com.

    Need a lawyer? Search for an experienced estate planning attorney with Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.

    For more on New York estate planning issues, see our section on New York Estate Planning.

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