Intestacy Laws in New York State


Making out a will is the only way a person can ensure that his assets go to the desired heirs or beneficiaries after death. Those dying without a last will and testament die "intestate," and assets are distributed in accordance with the intestacy laws of the state in which they resided. In New York State, intestate estates are handled by the Surrogate's Court of the county in which the decedent lived.

Filing the Intestate Estate

  • A surviving spouse or the decedent's closest next-of-kin should contact the Surrogate's Court in the county in which the decedent resided. The Surrogate's Court cannot provide legal advice, and hiring an attorney to handle an intestacy may be advisable. New York state law determines how the decedent's assets will be distributed. The decedent's representative must provide the court with a certified copy of the death certificate. Filing fees are due based on the estate's assets.

Order of Inheritance

  • Under New York State law, a surviving spouse inherits the entire estate if the decedent left no children or grandchildren. The order of inheritance in New York State if there is no surviving spouse descends to children; parents; siblings, whether full or half; grandparents; uncles and aunts; grandchildren of the decedent's grandparents; and great-grandchildren of the decedent's grandparents. If the decedent leaves no surviving relatives, New York State claims the estate's assets.


  • At the time of publication, when a decedent is married and has children, the surviving spouse receives the first $50,000 and half of the balance of the estate's assets, with the other half divided among the number of children. Under New York State law, any child born after the decedent's death to the spouse is considered the decedent's heir. If the decedent is unmarried at the time of death, the entire estate passes on to the next relatives in degree of kinship.

Nonmarital Children and Inheritance

  • In cases of children born to the decedent in a nonmarital situation, such children are automatically heirs if the decedent is the mother. If the decedent is the father, the child is considered an heir by state law if the father acknowledged the child as his during his lifetime or a court-decided paternity during the lifetime of the father or genetic testing has determined paternity.


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