You can probably think of a thousand excuses for why now isn’t a good time to create a last will or estate plan. Maybe you want to grow your family, or perhaps you know that there will be big financial changes in the near future. Although there are always excuses, the truth is that every day you delay is the day that the people who rely on you remain vulnerable.
Your spouse, your children and other loved ones need you to plan carefully in case something happens to you. Especially when you haven’t married your romantic partner or have unusual family relationships, dying without a last will can mean that the people you care about the most don’t receive your property.
New York has its own approach for addressing intestate succession when someone dies without a last will, and there is little recourse for those whose situations fall outside of those guidelines.
Who receives your property when you die without an estate plan?
Your marital status and whether or not you have children is the most important consideration in how the state of New York will distribute your property after your death. Surviving spouses have the right to inherit everything if there are no children.
Those who leave behind a spouse and children will have a more complex split. The surviving spouse receives the first $50,000 of the estate’s value and then half of the remaining estate, with the balance going to the children. Those who have children but no spouse leave everything to their kids.
If someone dies without a spouse or children, their parents inherit all of their assets. If someone dies and doesn’t have parents either, siblings are the next family members with statutory rights, although the state will pursue more distant relationships if there are no siblings.
Making your own documents puts you in control
Estate planning involves multiple steps. You can protect yourself by creating a living will with a power of attorney and an advance medical directive. You can protect your loved ones by creating a last will or trust that distributes your property to them based on how you feel about each other, not just the technical closeness of your relationship.
Dying without previous estate planning strips you of your autonomy and possibly undermines your wishes by applying a basic formula to your specific circumstances.