The Inheritance Hierarchy Without a Will in New York State

By Jennifer Mueller

A person who dies without leaving a will is said to have died “intestate.” New York courts distribute intestate property according to a statutory scheme of succession and these laws apply only to property located in the state of New York. Laws of other states may apply to real property located outside of New York, even if the decedent had been a legal resident of the state. The intent of New York's intestate succession law is to distribute the estate in the manner in which the decedent likely would have had she left a will; the statutory scheme distributes the decedent's property to the closest surviving relatives first.

Spouse and Children

If the decedent leaves no surviving children but a surviving spouse, all assets pass to the surviving spouse. The estate would be distributed differently if the decedent leaves a spouse and children. In that case, the spouse is entitled to $50,000 and half of the decedent's remaining property. The other half of the remaining property is distributed in equal shares to each child. All children of the decedent are included equally in this distribution, including adopted children and children not born to the surviving spouse.

Parents and Siblings

If a decedent dies intestate and leaves no surviving spouse or children, but has surviving parents, all of the decedent’s property passes to his parents. If the decedent has no surviving parents, but has surviving siblings, the property is divided equally among the surviving siblings. In some states, if a sibling is deceased, that sibling's share is distributed to his or her children - the decedent's nieces and nephews. However, New York intestate law does not distribute the decedent's property to the children of a deceased sibling if there are other surviving siblings.

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Other Relatives

More distant relatives may receive portions of the decedent’s estate if the decedent leaves no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings. If the decedent has surviving grandparents, the estate is divided equally between maternal and paternal grandparents. If grandparents on either side are deceased, the estate passes to surviving children of those grandparents. If there are no surviving children, the estate passes to grandchildren of those grandparents, who would be first cousins of the decedent.


The decedent’s estate will “escheat,” or revert to the state, if there are no surviving heirs. New York will look as far as the great-grandchildren of the decedent's grandparents to find someone related to the decedent to inherit the estate property. These are the most remote relatives who can inherit a decedent’s estate under New York's intestate succession laws, and they will only inherit if the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles or first cousins.

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