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Who is Considered A Family Member When A Decedent Dies Intestate in New York?

When a New York decedent dies intestate without a will, the New York statutes set forth a priority of family who can inherit the decedent’s estate starting with a surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents and siblings. The statute provides that a decedent’s spouse is entitled to the greater of either $50,000 or one-third of the decedent’s net estate.

Certain assets such as property held in joint names, bank accounts, life insurance policies and pension and other financial accounts generally have named beneficiaries so they are not subject to probate because title automatically passes to the named beneficiaries after the decedent’s death. Property that a decedent owns in the decedent’s sole name at the time of the decedent’s death must be probated whether or not there is a valid will.

The benefit of having a valid will is that a decedent’s wishes are going to be carried out in the manner the decedent wanted as opposed to having the Court decide the disposition of the decedent’s assets pursuant to New York probate succession laws.

Kinship Hearing and Disputes

If the decedent is not survived by heirs considered priority heirs and relatives, then aunts, uncles and cousins can request a kinship hearing in the New York Surrogate’s Court. In a kinship hearing, the aunts, uncles and cousins of the decedent will need to prove their kinship relationship, sometimes with the help of a genealogical company that can provide certified birth and death certificates and sometimes expert witness testimony to the Court to establish the kinship relationship.

The best way to avoid will contests and kinship hearing matters is to have a valid will and/or trust in place. A New York estate planning and probate attorney is able to draft the will and trust for you and advise you about tax and estate planning matters. Having a valid will saves family members the stress of having to go to Surrogate’s Court and have a personal representative appointed, it ensures that a decedent’s assets are disposed of in the manner that the decedent’s chooses and avoids extra time delays in probating and winding up the estate so that the beneficiaries can receive their inheritances.

A New York probate attorney can assist with routine court appearances at hearings, calendaring court and tax deadlines, preparing tax returns, helping with accounting proceedings, distribution of assets, resolving disputes among heirs, and handle kinship hearing and other dispute matters. If you wish to speak to a New York estate attorney, call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at 718-509-9774.