New York State Marital Inheritance Laws


In New York, a surviving spouse has a right to inherit from her deceased spouse's estate. According to the Estates, Probate and Trusts Laws (EPTL), a spouse will receive a percentage of the property whether the decedent died with or without a will, even if the spouse was disinherited.


A surviving spouse has a right to any inheritance left to her in the deceased spouse's will. In New York, a will can be submitted for probate if it meets the state's requirements for validity. The testator, the one making a will, must be 18 years old or older and mentally competent. The will must be in writing, signed by the testator and signed by two witnesses who watched the testator sign his will. If all requirements are met, the surviving spouse and all other named beneficiaries will be entitled to the inheritances set forth in the will.

Elective Share

In New York, if a surviving spouse is left out of a testator's will, she can seek her elective share. Under EPTL 5-1.1-A, a spouse cannot be disinherited. If she is, she can assert her right of election, which she must do within six months of the will being submitted for probate. Under the law, the court must award a disinherited spouse with $50,000 or one-third of the estate, whichever is greater. The spouse will receive that elective share ahead of any other beneficiaries in the will.


When a person dies without a will, his estate passes according to New York's intestate laws, set forth in EPTL 4-1.1. A surviving spouse is first to inherit. She receives the entire estate if the deceased spouse did not have children. If there are children, the spouse inherits $50,000 plus half of the estate, while the children inherit equal shares of the remaining estate.

Spousal Exemptions

Regardless of how a surviving spouse in New York inherits, whether by will or through intestacy, she will also be entitled to up to $56,000 in exempt property, as set forth in EPTL 5-3.1. First, the spouse can request up to $10,000 in household exempt property, including furniture, appliances, electronics and clothing. Next, books, photographs, software and music, valued at up to $1,000, will be awarded to the spouse. The spouse is also entitled to an automobile valued at up to $15,000. If the family ran a farm, the surviving spouse will inherit $15,000 in animals, machinery and tractor vehicles. Lastly, the spouse will receive up to $15,000 in personal property and money. All exempt property is awarded to a surviving spouse before any other beneficiary is entitled to inherit from the decedent's estate.

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