New York Inheritance Law

Attorney meeting
••• Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Related Articles

In order to understand New York’s inheritance laws, it is best to understand how the act of inheritance comes to fruition. The property of a deceased person, known as a decedent, is distributed according to his or her will or the laws of intestate succession. Intestate succession means the rules relating to New York’s state laws regarding property distribution where there is no valid will for the decedent.

With or Without a Valid Last Will and Testament

Last will and testament

The decedent's will names the beneficiaries and the property which is distributed as inheritance. However, when there is no valid will, New York’s laws of intestate succession determine who will inherit from the decedent. Not all states follow the same procedure or percentage of distribution. According to the laws of New York Estate, Powers, Trust Section 4.1-1, a surviving spouse with no issue (child, grandchild and great-grandchild) would receive 100 percent of the estate. However, if the decedent had children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, the spouse would receive one-half of the estate in addition to a monetary sum and the issue(s) receive the remainder of the estate.



A common misconception with New York inheritance law is the belief that the state of New York will acquire all of the assets of the estate if there are no heirs. While this may be possible it is a rare instance. The pyramid of inheritance or intestate succession will reach the decedent’s parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and half-blood relatives before distributing the decedent’s property to the State of New York.

Non-existent Heirs or Property

Non-existent heirs or property

Since years may pass between the times someone makes a will and the time of his death, circumstances may change. Heirs may predecease the maker of the will. The decedent may not own property listed in the will. These situations make for a questionable inheritance. New York law states that a person may only inherit property which was owned by the decedent at his death. For example if a specific antique table is given to an individual in a will, but at the time of the decedents death the table no longer exists, that person may not inherit anything. In some cases, a monetary value is placed on the table and given to the heir. If an heir or beneficiary of a will pre-deceases the decedent, her inheritance will pass according to her estate. For example, if Mary Smith creates a will giving a piano to her sister, Ruth, but Ruth dies before Mary, the piano will be distributed to Ruth's spouse and children or according to the terms of Ruth's will.


Tax return

Depending on the value of the estate and if an estate income tax return is filed, an estate may be probated through the proper New York Probate Court within six months. This includes the final distribution of the assets to the heirs from the estate.



Many individuals are able to undertake the process of probating an estate in New York without difficulty. The staff of your local county Probate Court can provide forms in order to begin the probate process. If you become unsure of the process, seek the advice of an attorney licensed to practice in the state of New York. Many attorneys are able to guide you through the process or answer any questions relating to inheritance law in New York.