New York State Marital Inheritance Laws

By Beverly Bird

In New York, as elsewhere, marriage gives spouses certain indelible rights when their partner dies. These inheritance laws typically override any estate planning that spouses might make that contradicts the statutes. If you try to disinherit your spouse in New York, it won't work. If you deliberately leave her out of your will, or leave her only a small token amount, New York law will give her a portion of your estate anyway.

In New York, as elsewhere, marriage gives spouses certain indelible rights when their partner dies. These inheritance laws typically override any estate planning that spouses might make that contradicts the statutes. If you try to disinherit your spouse in New York, it won't work. If you deliberately leave her out of your will, or leave her only a small token amount, New York law will give her a portion of your estate anyway.

Elective Share Laws

If you write your spouse out of your will in New York, she can elect against it. A surviving spouse can waive acceptance of whatever her partner's will leaves her -- or doesn't leave her -- and instead take up to half the estate after payment of the decedent's debts, taxes and other expenses have been made. She can get half the estate if her husband left no surviving children. If he did leave children, she can accept a third of the estate and the balance goes to them. If the one-third portion is less than $50,000, the surviving spouse can take $50,000 instead. Spouses have six months to notify the court they want to elect against the will.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Dying Without a Will

New York law also protects spouses when their partners die without leaving a will. If a decedent has no children, his surviving spouse automatically inherits his entire estate. Otherwise, she receives $50,000 after payment of taxes, debts and expenses, plus half of anything left over, and his children share the remaining half. If a decedent's children died before him, but he has grandchildren, the same rule applies. The grandchildren would inherit their parents' portions.

Other Inheritance Rights

Spouses also have inheritance rights in New York outside of the probate process. Certain assets are not included in probate -- passing directly to the spouse. These include up to $11,000 of various household items and personal effects, $15,000 in cash or personal property and $10,000 of the value of an automobile. This law applies regardless of whether the decedent left a will.

Effect of Divorce

The law protects spouses against disinheritance only until they take steps to end their marriage. Divorce terminates all inheritance rights and so does a signed separation agreement. Unless the decedent specifically states in his will he wants his former spouse to inherit or execute his estate regardless of their divorce, a divorce decree overrides anything he leaves her in his will and she cannot act as executor of his estate. Divorce ends a spouse's right to an elective share.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
The Widow's Legal Rights in South Carolina

References

Related articles

How Is a Will Affected by Multiple Marriages?

Most American divorcees remarry within five years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Spouses who lose their partners to death don’t even wait that long -- the national average in 2006 was three years for men and about four-and-a-half years for women. If you never get around to adding or deleting spouses from your will, state law typically takes over and decides what will occur -- and sometimes these laws might override your final wishes.

Can an Heir Be Deleted From a Property Inheritance?

When someone leaves a will, he can bequeath his property to anyone he chooses. With the exception of his spouse in some jurisdictions, he can also omit or disinherit anyone he likes. Heirs have far more rights when a loved one dies intestate, or without a will. In this case, a statutory code takes over, determining who inherits his property. Depending on how closely related an heir is to the deceased, it might be impossible to “delete” him.

Laws Regarding Spousal Inheritance Rights in Georgia

If you have concerns about an inheritance from your spouse, you better hope you don't live in Georgia. At the time of publication, it's the only state that allows one spouse to disinherit the other. However, other provisions under Georgia’s estate laws prevent a surviving spouse from utter destitution, at least for a while.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Pennsylvania Inheritance Laws for Spouses

Every state but Georgia protects a spouse’s right to inherit when her partner dies. In Pennsylvania, the law does ...

Marital Rights in Connecticut

Marriage gives spouses throughout the United States certain rights when it comes to inheritance and divorce. However, ...

When a Spouse Dies in Kentucky Who Gets the Estate?

Kentucky is somewhat unique in that it maintains a version of dower in its legislation; most states have abolished such ...

Spouse's Rights After Death

Marriage carries with it certain rights. Spouses have an obligation to support each other, even if one spouse just ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED