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Who Inherits When a Sibling Dies

When your sibling dies, one primary concern every sibling has is, “who inherits when a sibling dies?” The answer to this question depends on whether your sibling died with or without a will and if your sibling had a spouse and/or children.

Who is considered a sibling

Under New York law, a sibling is a natural or adopted child of your mother or father. This definition includes full-blooded siblings, half-blooded siblings, and adopted siblings, all of who are treated equally. This definition excludes step-siblings or foster siblings.

Who inherits when a sibling dies with a will

When your sibling dies with a will, the people who will inherit are named in the will. Beneficiaries in the will can either receive a gift of real property (devise), a gift of personal property or cash (legacy), or a gift constituting what is remaining of the estate after all devises and legacies have been distributed.

Unfortunately, siblings, parents, and children can be omitted from the will with no consequences. Only spouses who have been left out in the will or who received an amount smaller than the spousal elective share under Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law (EPTL) § 5-1.1-A can petition the court to receive the amount the spouse is entitled to.

Contesting the will

The sibling, however, can contest the will if the sibling was the decedent’s nearest surviving relative. Why contest the will? Because if the will was declared invalid and denied probate, the sibling would inherit, being the nearest surviving relative.

Under EPTL § 4-1.1, there is an order of priority of who will inherit in case a person dies without a will:

  • spouse and children
  • descendants of children
  • parents
  • descendants of parents
  • grandparents

These people are called the distributees. The presence of a priority class excludes the other classes. For example, if the decedent died with a spouse and children, all other classes (e.g., siblings, parents, grandparents) are excluded and only the spouse and children are entitled to inherit. If the decedent died without a will, spouse, or children, the parents are entitled to inherit, thus excluding the siblings from inheriting.

In the case of a sibling, if the person died without a spouse, descendants, and parents, the sibling is entitled to inherit if there is no will. Even if there was a will, the sibling, being the nearest surviving relative and entitled to inherit under laws of intestacy, has legal standing to contest the will. When the sibling is successful in contesting the will, the will will be denied probate. The decedent’s estate will be distributed in accordance with the state laws of intestacy, EPTL § 4-1.1, which would then allow the sibling, as the nearest surviving relative, to inherit.

How to contest the will

Contesting the will requires the expertise of an attorney. The most common grounds for contesting a will are: forgery, fraud, misrepresentation of material fact, and undue influence. The most successful will contests are those where one or more grounds for contesting a will are present, such as undue influence and fraud. An experienced estate attorney will be able to help you in contesting a will.

Who inherits when a sibling dies without a will

As previously discussed, EPTL § 4-1.1 provides for the order of priority of the persons entitled to inherit when a person dies, i.e., spouse and children, descendants of children, parents, descendants of parents, grandparents. When the decedent dies without a spouse, descendants, or parents, the siblings, full-blood, half-blood, and adopted, all inherit equally.

The Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) § 1001 also provides for an order of priority for granting letters of administration. The person granted letters of administration is the person who will administer the estate – pay off debts, taxes, and liabilities, and distribute the proceeds to the distributees. Similar to laws of intestacy, the presence of one class excludes the other from being appointed as administrator.

SCPA § 1001 enumerates the order of priority to be administrator:

  • surviving spouse
  • children,
  • grandchildren,
  • father or mother,
  • brothers or sisters,
  • any other persons who are distributees and who are eligible and qualify, preference being given to the person entitled to the largest share in the estate

Thus, when asked who inherits when a sibling dies, the first step in legal analysis is to determine whether the sibling died with or without a will. The second step in legal analysis would be to identify who are the nearest living relatives who survived the decedent. Should you need assistance in determining your rights when a sibling dies, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com.