People in New York often hear estate planning experts espouse the wisdom in ensuring that they create a will early on in their adult lives (and then continuously update that document as major life events occur). Yet all too often that advice goes unheeded. Indeed, according to information shared by The American Association of Retired Persons, roughly only four in every 10 American adults has a will. 

For many, the decision to not write a will may have less to do with procrastination and more about not wanting to upset potential beneficiaries with their decisions. They may think it better to not create a will and thus leave the decision of who gets what of their estate to those they leave behind. 

What happens when one dies without a will?

Unfortunately, the dispersal of the estate of one who dies without a will is not determined by their loved ones. Rather, New York state law regulates intestate succession (the process of administering an estate not governed by a will). Per The New York State Unified Courts System, the surviving spouse of one who dies intestate inherits either their entire estate (if they leave no children behind) or the first $50,000 plus one-half of the estate’s remaining value if they due leave behind lineal descendants (with the remaining portion passing to those descendants). 

No allowances for non-family members

If there is no surviving spouse, then one’s intestate estate descends in the following order: 

  • To their direct descendants 
  • To their parents 
  • To their siblings 

One will notice that no allowances exist for non-family members. Should one want a friend, business associate, charitable organization or their alma mater to benefit from their estate, they must stipulate that in a will.