What happens to your assets if you die without a will in New York?

About 70% of people in the United States do not have a will. A high percentage indeed, which can be attributed in part to the many complexities that come with the creation of this essential document. While the affluent are often well-prepared, and in possession of a professionally written will, most of the population is ill-equipped to fully understand the significance a will presents, and why it’s critical to have one. 

First and foremost, if you die without a will, then state law determines the distribution of your property. For this reason alone, it’s worth getting acquainted with wills and property succession in New York, regardless of your age. A will determines who receives your assets after you die. This may include your home, car, money, and special belongings. It can also have a major influence in who takes care of your children under the age of 18.  If you do not leave a will, every child, biological or in-law, will inherit from you equally. If it is not your intention to divide your property evenly among them, be sure to make a will.

In New York, you can dispose of property in the event of death not only by a will, but also by other means. This includes bank records, retirement accounts, joint property, and living trusts. All these instruments are a type of contract that cannot be changed by a testamentary record. The easiest way to transfer property outside of a will is to make someone the beneficiary of a bank account (or any other holdings). To do this, simply fill out the appropriate form that allows you to make someone your beneficiary. This will make it much easier for that person to retrieve any funds and/or possessions upon your passing. 

Another method is to make someone co-owner of your holdings (i.e., cash, stocks, mutual funds, real estate). However, this method has its drawbacks because it is tantamount to an irreversible donation. For example, if you add to a family member’s bank account and they get into legal trouble, your bank account may be seized for their debts.

Wrongful deaths can serve an alternate outcome in your assets and potential recovery. Deaths as a result of accidents occur very frequently in New York, with tens of thousands of families experiencing this tragedy every year. In many cases, it’s often the breadwinner who is lost. Wrongful death means that someone died due to the negligence, recklessness, or errors of another person or entity. To establish that a death occurred through the negligence of another, an attorney needs to prove that the responsible individual owed a duty of care to the person who died. The attorney must also show that the responsible parties’ action or omission violated that duty of care, or that their wrongful action was the proximate cause of death.

When establishing a will, you can name one or more beneficiaries to receive your assets after your death. You may also designate someone to serve as your personal representative during the administration of your will. The stronger and clearer the will, the less problems there will be after death. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand your rights after death and how you can best assure that your intended beneficiaries will be financially secure.

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