As you contemplate initiating your estate planning in New York, a stark realization may hit: your decisions regarding the dispersal of your assets may upset some of your potential beneficiaries. Indeed, the last thing you want to do is cause contention amongst those you care about.
Many of those who come to us here at Marcus, Gould, and Sussman, LLP believe that a potential solution to this concern may be to not prepare a will at all. If you share the same thought, it is likely due to the assumption that if you follow this particular course of action, the dispersal of your estate would fall to your heirs. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
What happens if you die without a will?
Rather, if you die intestate (without a will), state law determines the disposition of your assets. According to the New York State Unified Court System, the state’s intestate succession guidelines mandate that your spouse inherits your entire estate if you do not prepare a will (and you leave behind no surviving descendants). If you do have descendants, then your spouse receives the first $50,000 of your estate plus one-half of the remaining balance (with the other half going to your descendants.
If you have no spouse, then the right of inheritance (in the case of intestate succession) is as follows:
- Your children
- Your parents
- Your siblings
What about non-relatives?
As you review these guidelines, you likely notice that there are no allowances for anyone not directly related to you. Yet you may want a friend, colleague, local charity or your alma mater to benefit from your estate. If that is the case, then you need to stipulate that in a will.
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