What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

A Will is the most basic estate planning document.  It is a legally binding declaration of who will receive your property upon your death.  If you are a New York resident and you die without a Will, New York’s laws of descent and distribution will determine who receives your assets by default. This may not reflect your wishes.

 For example, if you are married and have children, you may assume that your surviving spouse will receive all of the assets in your estate if you die without a Will.   In New York that is not the case.  Your spouse would receive $50,000 and one-half of the balance of your assets.  Your children would receive the remaining one-half of your assets.

The above scenario most likely does not reflect your wishes (most people choose to have their surviving spouse inherit all of their assets).   Having a Will allows you to decide on the beneficiary of your property, whether family members, friends or charitable organizations.   It also allows you to select an Executor of your Estate and designate Guardians for your minor children.

A Will does not control the distribution of certain types of assets, called non-probate assets, such as life insurance and retirement plan assets.   Non-probate assets pass directly to the named beneficiaries according to the beneficiary designation in the life insurance contract or retirement plan.

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