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What does intestate succession mean for your stepchildren?

You may not already know this, but New York has a plan for when you die. If you don’t write and register your own will, the state will divide your assets for you. It just might not do a very good job of dividing them fairly, and it might miss one or more of your intended heirs.

New Yorkers who don’t create their own estate plans will have their assets distributed according to the state’s laws for intestate succession. It’s basically the state’s mathematical formula for deciding who you felt was important, it may force your family into probate court, and it doesn’t care about your stepchildren at all.

A brief review of intestate succession

As noted on NYCourts.Gov, intestate succession applies whenever a New York resident dies without a will. In that case, the courts will try to round up the deceased person’s heirs and divide assets as strictly as possible, according to the law:

  • If the deceased has a spouse but no children, the spouse gets everything.
  • If the deceased has children but no spouse, the children get everything, divided into equal shares.
  • If the deceased has a spouse and children, the spouse gets the first $50,000 plus half of the rest. The children get everything else, divided into equal shares.
  • Adopted children inherit the same as biological children.
  • Stepchildren get nothing unless they were legally adopted.

If the deceased has neither a spouse nor children, the law will continue to look for possible heirs among that person’s other relatives, including parents and siblings.

Estate planning allows you to change the process

The point of estate planning isn’t to make sure there’s a plan in place. There’s already a plan thanks to intestate succession. It’s just that the state’s plan isn’t very good. The state doesn’t understand what you and your family may think is fair, it doesn’t treat assets as anything more than dollar values, and it takes no steps to keep your family members out of lengthy probate proceedings.

Estate planning allows you to shape your family’s future. You can leave your assets to the people who will value them most. You can keep certain assets, like your home, intact. You can take steps to keep your family out of probate court. And you can support the people you love—including your stepchildren.

Learn how you can shape your familys future

Estate planning is more than mere inheritance. You can assign powers of attorney and instruct others how to care for you in case of certain medical emergencies. You can use helpful tax laws. And you can say how you want to use your assets to care for others after you’ve gone. There’s a lot you can do with estate planning, and an experienced attorney can help you explore your options.

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  • Walter J. Roesch IV
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