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What to Do When Someone Died Without a Will

While having a good estate plan, including a will drafted by a Westchester estate attorney, is always the best thing to do when it comes to disposing of assets after death, there are many times where someone passes away and did not have a will or other estate plan. In Westchester County, and the rest of New York, there are special laws, called intestacy laws, that are set up to dictate how an estate is supposed to be divided up when someone dies without a will.

A person’s estate probate assets must be probated after they die. There are very specific procedures in place about how to do this and who the estate should go to. First, a proposed Estate Administrator would file with the Surrogate’s Court in the state where the decedent resided to have the estate admitted to probate and to be appointed as the administrator of the estate. The administrator would act in an almost identical way to an executor would in a probate matter where there is a will, except they would be appointed according to a priority order controlled by New York law.

After an administrator is appointed, he or she would go about paying off the estate debts, in a similar way to any other estate. Once those debts are paid, the remaining assets would be divided up according to what is called the laws of intestacy. Those laws can be complicated, but take into account a number of different scenarios when it comes to who will inherit depending on who the decedent’s relatives are at the time that he or she dies.

Under intestacy laws, the decedent’s spouse would inherit $50,000 and half of the rest of the estate, along with a specific amount of the personal effects, cash and other property. After that, the rest of the estate would go to the decedent’s children. The entire estate would go to the spouse if there are no children. On the other hand, if the decedent was not married, but had children, the estate would go to those children. If the decedent was not married and had no children, the estate would go to his or her parents, if the parents are deceased, the estate would go to siblings.

This is only a basic description of how this type of inheritance would work. When someone dies without a will and there is a complicated family situation because of deaths, remarriages, etc. figuring out which family member would be entitled to inherit the estate can become complex. Because of this, when you are dealing with an estate of a relative who died without a will, especially if it may not be clear who is going to inherit the estate, you need to hire an experienced Westchester estate attorney who can assist in handling the probate matter.

If you would like to speak with Albert Gurevich, Esq., call us at (914) 293-2043.