What would happen if you die without a will?

Having worked so hard throughout your life to accumulate the assets that will comprise your estate, one might assume that you would want to do everything that you can in order to ensure that you decide who receives them. Yet if you have not yet completed a will, then you run the risk of having the authority to determine the dispersal of your estate taken away from you. Imagine if your life in New York City were to unexpectedly end. What would happen if you still had not created a will? 

Your estate would then be subject to a process known as intestate succession ("intestate" is the term applied to estate cases where there is no will). This happens often enough that states have created their own laws detailing how an intestate estate should be handled. According to the New York State Unified Court System, your spouse would inherit your entire intestate estate if you do not have any direct descendants. If you have surviving descendants, then your spouse's share would be reduced to the first $50,000 of your estate, plus half of any remaining amount split between them and your descendants. 

If you have no spouse, your children (and other descendants) would each inherit an equal portion of your estate. If you have no spouse or children, the order of succession would be your parents and then your siblings. 

At first glance this may not seem so bad; the parties listed above might be those to whom you would designate as your beneficiaries anyway. Yet not creating a will takes away the privilege to leave assets to friends or organizations that you might wish to support. It also does not allow you to designate which assets your beneficiaries will receive. 

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