The New York Estate, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) is a comprehensive body of legislation that governs the creation, administration, and termination of trusts and estates in the state of New York. One of the key sections within the EPTL is Section 4-1.1, which outlines the rules for intestate succession – the process by which property is distributed when an individual dies without a valid will. This article aims to provide an overview of EPTL 4-1.1, detailing its implications and key provisions.
EPTL 4-1.1: Intestate Succession
When an individual dies without a valid will, their estate is said to be intestate. In such cases, EPTL 4-1.1 sets forth the rules for determining the distribution of the decedent’s property among their surviving relatives. The rationale behind intestate succession laws is to ensure an equitable distribution of assets, taking into account the decedent’s likely intentions had they created a will.
Key Provisions of EPTL 4-1.1
Spouse and No Children: If the decedent is survived by a spouse and has no surviving children or descendants, the spouse inherits the entire estate.
Spouse and Children: If the decedent is survived by a spouse and children, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 of the estate, plus one-half of the remaining estate. The children share the remaining half of the estate equally.
Children and No Spouse: If the decedent has children but no surviving spouse, the entire estate is divided equally among the children.
Parents and No Spouse or Children: If the decedent has no surviving spouse or children but is survived by one or both parents, the entire estate goes to the surviving parent(s).
Siblings and No Spouse, Children, or Parents: If the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, or parents, but has surviving siblings or descendants of deceased siblings, the entire estate is divided among the siblings and their descendants.
More Distant Relatives: If the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings, the estate is distributed to more distant relatives according to a hierarchy established by the EPTL.
Escheat to the State: If no eligible relatives can be identified, the decedent’s property escheats, or reverts, to the state of New York.
Considerations for Same-Sex Couples
With the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, intestate succession rules apply equally to same-sex couples. The surviving spouse in a legally recognized same-sex marriage is entitled to the same inheritance rights as a surviving spouse in an opposite-sex marriage.
Considerations for Non-Marital Children
See our article “Inheritance Rights of the Non-Marital Child” for a detailed discussion.
EPTL 4-1.1 plays a critical role in ensuring the orderly distribution of assets when a New York resident dies without a valid will. While intestate succession laws are designed to approximate the decedent’s likely intentions, they may not always align with their specific wishes. To ensure that one’s estate is distributed according to their preferences, it is essential to consult an estate planning attorney and create a comprehensive estate plan, including a valid will.