If a loved one passes away without a will, then it's important to understand how his or her estate is passed down in accordance with New York's laws. When there is no will, you and your family may be called "distributees" instead of heirs. This term refers to anyone who is entitled to a share of the decedent's estate. If the decedent has direct family, then the law dictates who the property goes to in this order.
First, if he or she has a husband or wife but no children, then the husband or wife inherits everything from the estate. If he or she has a husband or wife and children, then the spouse inherits the first $50,000 and half of the remaining balance. The children obtain the remainder. In the case that the child has died prior to the decedent but has a child of his or her own, the grandchild may take the child's place for inheritance purposes.
If the decedent has children and no spouse, the children inherit everything. If there is no direct family (children or spouses) then his or her parents, if they are living, obtain everything from the estate. Finally, if there is no spouse, child or parent to inherit items from the estate, the siblings of the decedent inherit the assets.
Estate plans can help prevent this kind of distribution. If you know that you want to split your assets differently than above, it's vital that you have an estate plan and estate administrator who knows and respects your wishes. Your attorney can help you create the perfect plan for your needs.
Source: New York State Unified Court System, "When There Is No Will," accessed Aug. 11, 2017