When a New Yorker dies without a will, the manner in which his or her assets will be passed is determined by the state's intestacy laws. These laws provide a mechanism to pass assets to a person's closest living relatives regardless of whether the decedent wished them to be given to those particular people or in that manner.
When a person who is married and who has children dies without a will, all jointly-owned assets will pass automatically to the co-owner of them, which is normally the surviving spouse. The person's assets that are owned by the decedent separately will instead go through probate and will pass according to the dictates of the intestacy laws.
In general, if the person who dies is single and has children, then the entire estate will pass to the children equally. If an adult child predeceased the parent, the parent's assets will go to the deceased child's children in equal shares. If the person is single and has no children or grandchildren, the assets will first go to the decedent's parents. If they are also dead, then the assets will go to surviving siblings. If there are none, then the assets pass to other relatives. If there are none, then the state of New York will receive the entire estate.
It is a good idea to complete estate planning in order to make certain assets will pass as the person wishes them to. People may want to discuss the different types of estate planning tools that they might want to use with their estate planning attorneys who can make recommendations according to their clients' individual wishes and needs. Attorneys can also point out the tax implications of various methods of distributions.