What Happens To Your Estate If You Die Without a Will

When an individual passes away without having a valid will in place, they’re deemed by the law to have died interstate—which means that the administration and distribution of their estate will be done in accordance with the legislation.

drafting a will

On the other hand, when you have a will, you can dictate the distribution of your estate and appoint an executor of choice who ensures your wishes are carried out.

Who Administers Your Estate When You Die Without A Will?

When an individual passes away interstate, and leave behind an estate that needs an administrator, an eligible person must has to apply with the Court for Letters of Administration. Whoever’s granted the Letters of Administration becomes the estate’s legal representative.

The following is a list of people who’re deemed eligible by the court to be an estate’s administrators:

  • The spouse of the deceased
  • The children of the deceased
  • The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the deceased
  • The parent or parents of the deceased
  • The deceased’s siblings
  • The grandparent or grandparents of the deceased
  • The decease’s aunts and uncles
  • The first cousins of the deceased
  • Anyone else appointed by the court

When applying to become an estate’s administrator, each individual who has priority over the applicant has to be “cleared of the record.” For instance, if you’re the son/daughter of the deceased who’s applied for the letters of administration, the court will first ensure that the deceased didn’t have a spouse at the time of death.

If You Pass Away Without a Valid Will, Who Will Your Estate Go To?

The distribution of an interstate estate primarily depends upon the deceased’s circumstances. According to the Succession Act (Qld) of 1981, the estate of a deceased person will be bequeathed to their closest next of kin, with the spouse and the children getting first priority. If the deceased was married, but childless, then the spouse will inherit the entire estate.

If the deceased was married with children, then:

  • If the estate’s worth is less than $150,000, then the spouse will inherit the entire estate
  • If the estate’s worth exceeds $150,000 (excluding household goods), the spouse will inherit the $150,000 plus all the household goods, and 50% of the rest of the estate (if there’s one child), and 33% of the rest of the estate (if there are more than two children).

Ledwidge & Associates, P.C., is a leading legal firm that assists clients across New York with estate planning, Family Law Services Brooklyn and Family Law Attorney Queens, divorce, and probate law. If you require our services, get in touch with us today to schedule a consultation.

3 Common Mistakes Made by Executors

Being an executor is not as easy a role as one might assume. An executor has to deal with the loss of a loved one while simultaneously trying to get their will implemented and their estate distributed. The whole process involves a lot of legal leg work and documentation; so, it’s actually quite easy to make mistakes along the way.

Seeing as when you become an executor you gain legal authority to finalise a person’s affairs, it would be best to get into the role after some preparation. To help you along, we’re going to go through some of the more common mistakes that executors make.

Hopefully, this can save you some time and minimize the stress that comes with the job.

A Pile of Folders with Paperwork

Properly Probating the Will

It may be surprising, but some of the bigger mistakes are made right at the beginning.

A lot of people who might not know about court proceedings will try and turn toward a legal professional, but it’s important to know who’s help you should be enlisting. You might think the best course of action is to turn to an estate law attorney, but that’s not the correct call. You should enlist the help of a probate attorney instead.

Wills need to be proved in probate court, and while an estate attorney may be better at handling distributions of the property, they aren’t the best people to take to court to get the will testified. The right attorney can prepare the will and all supporting documents to ensure the next phase can begin smoothly.

Making Timely Payments

This mistake may come as a surprise to a lot of people, but it’s entirely possible to pay the bills too quickly. Executors usually begin getting invoices and bills on behalf of the deceased, and many would think the best course of action is to begin paying them immediately.

Instead, you should first take stock of all the bills and sort them by priority. Money owed to government bodies and tax departments should be the first ones paid off, and then you should move to lower-level bills for services and such.

Executors can be held legally responsible for being unable to make such payments on the deceased behalf. Getting rid of bigger liabilities first means you will not run out of money once the IRS comes calling.

A Man signs legal documents with a pen

Moving the Process Along

Trying to get through with your executor responsibilities as soon as possible is probably the wrong way to do things. The process of distributing an estate is quite lengthy and will take you the better part of 6 to 9 months to complete properly. Trying to rush things often results in legal liabilities that the executor can actually be sued for.

It’s ideal to take things slowly and plan a list of what needs to be done in a professional manner. If you require a specialist estate law attorney Brooklyn and estate law attorney Queens or a probate attorney in Queens, you can get in touch with us.

Your Will & Pension: What You Should Know

The will you make should ideally include details for how you would want all your assets to be settled and distributed amongst all your beneficiaries. People will add the different properties they own, the liquid money and valuables they have, and the money they expect to get to be distributed.

Most people would expect that money owed to you from your workplace would also end up in the same assets pile, but that’s not necessarily the case. The way your pension is moved around and if you’re able to pass it forward depends on a lot of different factors. Let’s have a look at what they are.

Old man giving thumbs up

The Type of Pension

A major factor for whether you’ll be able to pass on your pension depends on what type of pension plan you have set up. Essentially there are two major types of pension plans that can be transferred to someone else.

You have the standard “Fixed Benefit” plan, which is a company-sponsored pension. This plan is a tax-free, company-sponsored fund that’s calculated on time served with the company and how much your salary was. The other option is a “Fixed Contribution” plan that relies on employees putting a bit of their own salary in a tax-free account, and the number is matched by their employer.

Person counting money

Who can Inherit a Pension?

Unlike your other assets, it’s not as easy to just give the money you have in your pension account away to any living friend or family member through your will. Pensions often come with a lot of legal terms attached to them that dictate where the money can go. Many pension plans are for one person only and may actually be wasted if you pass away before you claim it.

If you have the sort of pension plan that would allow you to transfer it forward, you would still only be able to give it to either your spouse or child officially. You may want to review what yours allows with the help of a litigation lawyer or an estate law attorney.

Claiming your Funds

To add the funds to your will, you would need a combination of the right factors, which would include things like your company’s policies on transferring pensions, your type of pension plan, and if you’ve been working long enough to actually get the pension claim, among a few other things.

The whole process can still be quite messy and hard to figure out. Getting help from a professional from our team can make the whole process easier. With our experienced probate attorney Queens and probate attorney Brooklyn and estate law attorney in Queens, we can help with any issues that come up regarding your will.

An Overview of the Probate Process in New York

An estate lawyer in Brooklyn helping a client write her last will.

In New York, probate is necessary for assets solely owned by the deceased and haven’t been legally bequeathed to a designated beneficiary. This means that if the property owner passes away without a written will, the probate court will distribute the estate according to the state laws. However, if the property holder leaves behind a will that stands uncontested, the probate has a limited role to play.

What Are Probate And Non-Probate Assets?

Assets that can go through probate include solely-owned bank accounts, vehicles, antiques, cash, art pieces, and jewelry. On the other hand, non-probate assets include:

  • Any bank accounts with named beneficiaries.
  • Retirement accounts.
  • Life insurance policies with named beneficiaries.
  • Jointly held real estate.
  • Assets held in a trust.

Probate may also not be necessary if:

  • The total value of the estate is not big.
  • The estate only comprises non-probate assets.
  • The deceased left behind an estate plan to avoid probate.

A deceased individual’s last will.

A Quick Look at the Probate Process

Here is the process that follows:

  • The executor starts off the process by filing the probate petition. For this, they need a copy of the deceased’s death certificate and the original will. Both of these documents need to go to the Surrogate’s Court of the County, where the deceased individual last lived. The exact filing fee depends on the total size of the estate.
  • The next step is to itemize the inventory. The executor will collect the deceased’s physical and non-physical assets and appraise them as of the date of death.
  • The executor will also use the estate funds to pay any outstanding debts, liabilities, and taxes. If the estate doesn’t comprise enough cash, they might need to sell one of the assets.
  • The next step is to notify the distributees (legal heirs). The formal notice is called a citation, which also goes to the Surrogate’s Court. The estate is then distributed according to the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) and the Estates Powers and Trust Law (EPTL).

Seek Guidance from a Probate Attorney Brooklyn

Other than this, probate law also involves matter related to contesting a will, spousal rights, estate planning for blended families, and administration of a trust. If the process sounds overwhelming, try seeking help from a well-experienced probate attorney.

There is no better option in Brooklyn than The Law Offices of Joseph A. Ledwidge, P.C. Joseph Ledwidge attorney himself has around 20 years of experience in dealing with complex estate matters.

Try us out. We also offer services in Queens, Manhattan, and Jamaica.

Probate vs. Non-Probate: What Is the Difference?

When a loved one has passed on, you will inevitably need to begin the work of settling their estate, which will involve going through the probate process with a Queens probate lawyer. In order to ensure your loved one’s property is distributed properly, it’s necessary to understand the difference between probate vs. non-probate assets.

Last Will Document and Fountain Pen

What Is Probate?

The probate process proves the validity of a will before a Surrogate’s Court in the county where the deceased was living. Once the court accepts the will, the assets contained in that will can be distributed. However, before this can happen, the relatives of the deceased need to be called to court and given the opportunity to contest the will with a New York probate attorney if they feel they were unfairly treated.

Probate Assets

Probate assets are those which are owned only by the deceased. These assets include items that are in their name alone, such as bank accounts, titled or held property, and life insurance policies.

Probate assets also include any interest the deceased may have had in a company, whether it was a limited liability, corporation, or partnership. Personal property such as automobiles, jewelry, and furniture are also considered to be probate assets by New York probate law.

Non-Probate Assets

Non-probate assets are those which are not solely in the deceased’s name. These assets include retirement, brokerage, and life insurance accounts which list a name other than the deceased’s as the beneficiary. Any property that’s held in a trust qualifies as a non-probate asset, as does property held in its entirety by tenants or in a joint tenancy.

A major difference between probate and non-probate assets is that the deceased’s will does not control how non-probate assets are distributed. Where the deceased has named one or more specific beneficiaries for non-probate items, those items will be distributed directly to these named individuals. Non-probate items without a named beneficiary may default to the estate of the deceased so that those assets can be distributed according to terms laid out in their will.

Probate Can Be a Complex Process

Unfortunately, the New York probate process sometimes becomes a difficult and complex process to navigate when family members contest the will of a loved one, or the settlement of a loved one’s assets places a significant financial burden on the executor.

Even jointly owned accounts can be challenged, which can complicate matters even further, not to mention cause division within the family. This can all add more negativity to an already difficult situation.

Handshake between attorneys and clients

With a strong focus on probate and estate administration law, the law offices of Joseph A. Ledwidge PC represent executors, fiduciaries, heirs, beneficiaries, and other interested parties. Possessing a combined 32 years of experience, our attorneys understand the value and importance of providing clients with attentive service and manageable fees.

Your result matters. If you need help navigating the New York probate process of a loved one, call (718) 276-6656 to be put in touch with an experienced Queens probate lawyer.