Dying Without a Will in New York
When a 97-year-old New York real estate scion with a net worth of about $40 million recently died, it appeared at first that he left no will and no living heirs. This scenario is unfortunately more common than most people think, with close to 2.5 million Americans dying last year without a valid will. While this case involves interesting legal issues in its own right, it also demonstrates the perils average New Yorkers face when they fail to plan for critical end-of-life financial decisions.
To whom are money and property distributed when New Yorkers die without a will?
When people die without a valid, enforceable will a set of rules called intestate distribution kicks in. This system distributes assets according to the relationship of living heirs to the deceased based on the assumption that had the deceased left a will these are the people to whom he or she would have left their assets. Each class of relative receives a certain percentage of the estate, with spouses receiving the greatest shares, followed by children, parents, and siblings.
No will, no heirs?
In certain cases, individuals die without a will and without heirs, as was the case with Roman Blum, a Holocaust survivor and New York real estate developer who was worth almost $40 million. When this happens, a rule called escheat provides that the money reverts to New York State. While it seems unlikely that the New York real estate tycoon in this case sought to leave his life’s fortune to the state government, this is exactly what will happen if no heirs come forward. Whether or not escheat actually takes place in the case above may depend on the authenticity and enforceability of a purported will that eventually surfaced. This case underscores the importance of estate planning prior to death.
Disputes arise when there is no valid will
In certain circumstances, a will that is left behind is deemed invalid. When this occurs and the rules of intestacy are activated, parties who may have been eligible to inherit under the invalid will may be left in unenviable circumstances. Such situations frequently lead to disputes in which interested parties must seek legal representation from an experienced estate lawyer.
Before it’s too late, consult with a New York trusts and estates attorney at Law Offices of Peter G. Gray who can help you plan for your future and that of your loved ones.