The Inheritance Hierarchy Without a Will in New York State

By Mary MacIntosh
In the absence of a will, surviving family inherits the estate.
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When a person dies without leaving a will, and the value of his estate is larger than any debts or funeral expenses, the remainder of his wealth is known as "intestate." Intestacy laws identify an inheritance hierarchy of relations in line to receive the money and property left by the deceased. In New York state, the complicated inheritance hierarchy identifies several tiers of relatives eligible to inherit.

Surviving Spouse

Generally, a surviving spouse is the first in line to inherit from the deceased. If there are no children from the current marriage or any previous marriage, the surviving husband or wife is the sole inheritor. He or she receives the entire estate after the payment of debts, funerary expenses and estate taxes.

If the deceased has a surviving spouse and living children, the spouse receives $50,000 and then half of any remaining value of the estate.

Children of the Deceased

If the deceased has no surviving spouse, the estate is divided evenly among his children, after funerary expenses and debts. If a surviving spouse exists, the children evenly divide half of the estate after the spouse has received $50,000 and the other half.

Children of the deceased are defined as any legal offspring, including children from previous marriages, children born out of wedlock and legally adopted children.

Parents or Siblings of the Deceased

If there is no living spouse or children, the estate goes to the deceased's parents. If both parents are alive, the estate is divided evenly between them. If only one parent survives, the entire estate passes to the surviving parent.

If the deceased's parents are also dead, but they had other offspring, the estate passes to them. The estate is divided evenly among these, the deceased's siblings. For the purposes of inheritance, siblings who share one parent are considered equivalent to siblings who share two.

Grandparents of the Deceased and Their Issue

If the deceased has no living spouse, offspring, parents or siblings, inheritance grows even more complicated. Next in the inheritance hierarchy are any living grandparents. The estate is divided in half, with half allotted each to the paternal grandparents' side and the maternal grandparents' side. If one or both paternal grandparents are living, their half is divided between them evenly.

If both paternal grandparents are dead, their portion falls to their children and grandchildren (the aunts, uncles and cousins of the deceased). The half-estate is divided evenly between these paternal relatives. Similarly, the other half of the estate is divided between maternal relatives.

If one side of the family contains no living grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins, the entire estate falls to the living side.

Great-Grandchildren of the Grandparents of the Deceased

Similarly, if none of these inheritors are living, the estate is divided into maternal and paternal portions and falls to the great-grandchildren of the deceased's grandparents. These inheritors are the deceased's distant cousins. The half-estate is divided among all living great-grandchildren on each side.

If there are no living great-grandchildren of the deceased's grandparents, the remainder of the estate falls to the state of New York.

About the Author

Mary MacIntosh has been writing professionally since 2007, contributing articles to "The California Tech" and serving as an editor for the "Biweekly Frink Digest." She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in computational neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology.