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Everybody Has a Will. But, Perhaps You Don’t Know What Yours Says?

May 1, 2013

“Everybody has a Will. But, perhaps you don’t know what yours says?”

In New York State, everybody has a plan to distribute assets after death. Without a written Will Last Will and Testament, your assets will pass on by what is commonly referred to as “intestate distribution” or “intestacy.”

There are four ways to pass on property when you die:

  1. by operation of law – joint tenancy;
  2. by contract – beneficiary designation;
  3. by Last Will and Testament – written instructions; or
  4. by intestacy – statute determines how assets are distributed following death.

Intestate distribution is made to distributees, i.e. the nearest level of blood (including half-blood) relatives. Unless you change that distribution by leaving a valid Last Will and Testament document, your estate will pass as follows:

  1. Survived by spouse and issue (“issue” means children or next lineal descendants)
    • Spouse gets first $50,000 and ½ of the residue of the estate
    • Issue equally share the rest;
  2. Survived by spouse and no issue, then the spouse inherits all;
  3. Survived by issue but no spouse, the issue equally share the estate;
  4. No spouse or issue, then to your parents, then to siblings, then to nieces/nephews, etc…, and so on, all the way to first cousins once removed;
  5. If there are no family members beyond that, your estate will pass to the State of New York.

There are many other rules and nuances to intestate distribution that are beyond the scope of this short article, but, remember, if you do not leave a Last Will and Testament for yourself, total strangers could inherit your life’s savings.

With a Will, YOU decide who receives your property and in what proportions. Your may create a trust for children or family members with special needs. You may nominate guardians for your minor children. If you don’t make this decision for yourself, New York State law will make those decisions for you.

Wills are not costly or complicated if you have relatively simple needs and the cost is an investment that is well worth the effort to ensure your wishes are honored. If you have any questions about this article or wish to speak to an attorney, please contact HoganWillig at 716-636-7600. HoganWillig is located at 2410 North Forest Road in Amherst, New York 14068, with additional offices in Buffalo, Lancaster, and Lockport.