When a person passes away in New York without a will (intestate), the heirs at law are entitled to receive the decedent’s assets. But who are the heirs? If the decedent had no will, then the heirs are determined by New York State Law:
If the decedent is survived by a spouse and no issue, then the entire estate goes to the spouse.
If the decedent is survived by issue but no spouse, the issue will split the estate evenly.
If the decedent is survived by both a spouse and issue, the spouse gets the first $50,000.00. Then, the spouse gets half of whatever is remaining (the “residuary”) and the decedent’s issue split the other half equally.
For example, let’s assume the decedent had a spouse and three children and the decedent’s estate is worth $230,0000.00. The spouse gets $50,000.00 of the top, leaving $180,000.00. Then, the spouse gets half of what is remaining, here $90,000.00. This leaves $90,000.00 to be split equally among the decedent’s three children, so each child would receive $30,000.00. The surviving spouse receives a total of $140,000.00 ($50,000.00 + $90,000.00).
Let’s keep going.
If the decedent is survived by no spouse and no issue, then the entire estate goes to the decedent’s parents equally. If only one parent survives the decedent, then the entire estate would go to the surviving parent of the decedent.
If the decedent is not survived by a spouse, issue or parents, then the estate goes to the decedent’s siblings and children of pre-deceased siblings (nieces/nephews) in equal shares.
For example, let’s assume that the decedent had 4 brothers and sisters, A, B, C and D. C passed away a number of years before the decedent and had one child, E. Let’s assume that the decedent’s estate is worth $100,000.00. The estate would be divided into 4 equal shares of $25,000.00 and A, B, D and E (child of pre-deceased sibling, C) would each get a share. Now, assume the same facts except now assume that C passed away before the decedent but did not have children. In this scenario, the estate would only be divided into 3 shares and A, B and D would each receive an equal share.
Let’s go even further.
If the decedent is not survived by a spouse, issue, parents, siblings or children of pre-deceased siblings, then the estate goes to the decedent’s grandparents, with half going to the maternal grandparents and the other half going to the paternal grandparents. But grandparents rarely survive their grandchildren, so usually the estate goes to the issue of pre-deceased grandparents (aunts, uncles, or 1st cousins), again half to the maternal side and half to the paternal side.
Let’s again assume that the estate is worth $100,000.00 and the decedent was survived by 2 cousins on the maternal side and 4 cousins on the paternal side. The estate gets divided into 2 equal parts ($50,000.00 for maternal and $50,000.00 for the paternal). On the maternal side there are 2 cousins, so each would receive $25,000.00. On the paternal side however, there are 4 cousins, so each paternal cousin would receive $12,500.00.
If the decedent is not survived by any of the above, then the estate goes to the great grandchildren of the decedent’s grandparents (1st cousins once removed), half to the maternal side and half to the paternal side. Like the example above, the paternal side and maternal side each receive equal halves of the estate. Then, cousins on each side would divide that one half share equally by the number of first cousins on that side.