Wills and Trusts Law Firm Pound Ridge, NY
It goes without saying that the folks at Sweeney Legal, or any other good wills and trusts law firm in Pound Ridge, NY, would advise everyone to have a last will and testament in place even if they don’t think that they “need” one. You’ve probably heard this plenty of times, but you may be wondering exactly why it’s so important. Let’s take a look at what happens when a resident of New York dies intestate (this means that they don’t have a valid will). If you don’t like the way this plays out, you should get in touch with a trusted attorney today.
For this discussion, we will assume that the estate is valued at over $50,000. Before anything else can happen, the probate court will appoint an administrator (the administrator has the same duties and responsibilities as a named executor). The Surrogate’s Court Protection Act sets out the order of precedence for who can be appointed administrator, starting with the surviving spouse followed by children, grandchildren, and parents.
There is already room for strife and hard feelings here, since the law only recognizes legally wedded spouses and not other types of life partnerships. It also lists “children” as one subset; many people have more than one child, but only one child can be appointed administrator. If you want to decide who will be in charge of administering your estate, you need to consult with a wills and trusts law firm in Pound Ridge, NY.
While the administrator does have a fiduciary duty to the estate, they do not have a lot of discretion in the distributees (the people who are entitled to a share of the estate). When a person dies without a will in place, their estate is divided according to guidelines set out by the state.
- If the decedent was married at the time of death but had no children, the spouse inherits everything.
- If the decedent had children but no spouse, the children inherit everything in equal shares.
- If the decedent had both a spouse and children, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 of the estate plus half the remaining estate; the children inherit the balance in equal shares.
- If the decedent had living parents but no spouse or children, the parents inherit everything.
- If the decedent had siblings but no parents, spouse, or children, the siblings inherit everything in equal shares.
While it is easy to lay this out in bullet points, they don’t come close to capturing the complex lives that most people lead. As above, only legally wedded spouses count as “spouse” in an inheritance scenario. It’s also important to note that all legally wedded spouses count; if you haven’t talked to your spouse in twenty years but never got around to filing for divorce, they’re still your legal spouse and still inherit.
“Children” are also defined by the law and not by the heart. Foster children and stepchildren cannot inherit unless they have been legally adopted, and children born out of wedlock cannot inherit from their fathers unless paternity has been legally established.
In a lot of ways, it makes sense for the law to have a strict definition of family. No one wants a court to decide which potential distributee is the most deserving. It is efficient to have a predetermined succession of distributees. But, especially if you are a person whose life does not necessarily lie in line with the bullet points, it is imperative that you reach out to a good wills and trusts law firm in Pound Ridge, NY, such as Sweeney Legal, to make sure that your wishes are recorded.