When a loved one dies in New York, many things must be considered. This can be a stressful enough time on its own, but the stress is compounded when the deceased individual does not have a last will or testament. This can make inheritance matters extremely complicated. According to the Courts of New York State, in the event an individual dies without a last will or testament, this means that they have died ‘intestate,’ and the situation is called ‘intestacy.’
In this situation, which individuals are entitled to what parts of the estate is dependent upon those individuals’ relationship to the deceased. The individuals who have rights to the deceased’s estate are legally considered “distributees.” In order to be considered a distributee, individuals need to prove their relationship to the deceased. This can be a very stressful experience, especially since it is not uncommon for people to come out of the woodwork and claim a relationship to the deceased even if they have none.
New York state does have a hierarchy when it comes to distributees. In the event that there is a surviving spouse but no children, then the spouse inherits everything. If there are surviving children but no spouse, then the children will inherit everything. If there are surviving parents but no spouses or children, the parents will inherit everything. If there are surviving siblings but no spouses, parents, or children, then siblings will inherit everything. In the event that the deceased has zero living family, the assets will all go to the State of New York.
Of course, these cases are usually not this cut-and-dry. Typically there are multiple potential distributees who will try to establish a relationship to the deceased.