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How Are Estate Assets Passed Down In New York?

Deciding how to pass down your assets fairly and equally may not always be simple. Considerations of age, health matters, and economic factors must be taken into account. Distributing assets to heirs and beneficiaries can be done in a number of different ways.

Making a will or trust is the most common way to pass down assets for most people. Having a will and/or trust in place allows the testator the freedom to choose how to pass down estate assets and to whom, and it saves expenses for family members so they can avoid litigating the matter if a loved one dies without providing for the distribution of their estate assets.

Assets in a trust are not subject to probate. When someone has a valid will in place at the time of death, the executor named in the will must file the original will and death certificate with the New York Surrogate’s Court, and all assets that are held in the decedent’s name only will be subject to probate and passed down in accordance with the will and the New York Probate Laws.

If a person dies without a will (intestate), a family member or personal representative will need to file the death certificate with the Court and petition the court to appoint an administrator to manage and distribute the probate assets held solely in the decedent’s name. The priority of asset distribution for intestate estates begins with a person’s spouse, then the decedent’s children, grandchildren, parents, siblings and any other persons who may qualify under New York law.

Other Ways to Pass Down Assets

Another way to pass down assets is to give all or some of them away to loved ones before death. Or if someone decides to leave all their assets to their spouse, this can be accomplished by holding title to real and personal property such as a home and bank accounts as joint tenants and designating a spouse as the sole beneficiary on life insurance, pension and other retirement accounts. This way, when a person dies, a spouse avoids probate upon their loved one’s death and the assets are transferred automatically. Assets can also be left to both a spouse and children or to children or another family member, by also holding the property as joint tenants with the designated parties and by also designating them as beneficiaries on life insurance policies and retirement accounts. For example, if someone wants to leave their spouse 50% of their life insurance proceeds, and give their children the remaining 50%, then both the spouse and children could each be designated as 50% beneficiaries.

It is recommended that a person seek advice from a New York estate planning attorney with regard to the distribution of assets to avoid family disputes and litigation matters after death. When unexpected issues arise after a person’s death, the attorney can also help resolve asset distribution matters and prepare the necessary legal documents so that assets can be passed down to the rightful beneficiaries and heirs.
If you wish to speak to a New York estate attorney, call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at 718-509-9774.