With all the planning adults do in a lifetime—saving for college tuition, buying a new home, planning that trip of a lifetime, retirement—it is surprising that less than half of adults in the United States do not have a proper estate plan.
According to a 2017 Caring.com survey, only 42% of U.S. adults had completed any estate planning. The numbers rose with age, 60% of Americans 53 to 71 years of age had estate planning documents and 81% of those 72 and older had established a will or living trust.
Now, if you are young, unmarried, with no assets nor children, you may not yet need a will. However, if you are or have been married, have assets or children, and are without at least a basic will, you should be searching for elder law estate planning lawyers in your area and scheduling a consultation.
In the event of their death, what happens to the nearly 60% of adults that do not have any estate planning documents? In New York, their debts and assets will be settled and then disbursed amongst the eligible heirs, as state intestate laws prescribe:
- If you are married with no children, your spouse will inherit everything.
- If you are married with children, your spouse inherits the first $50,000 of your assets as well as 50% of your remaining assets, and the rest is divided amongst your children.
- If you have children and are not married, your children get everything.
- If you have no spouse and no children, then your parents inherit everything.
- If you have no spouse, children, nor living parents, your siblings will inherit your estate.
Establishing the proper heir is not always so straightforward. In instances where children are adopted, born after the descendent dies or out of wedlock, the laws can be less clear. There are also stipulations for grandchildren of the descendent if the child of the descendent dies before the descendent.
In cases where no biological family can be located, the estate will go to the State of New York.
If you have any opinions on how your estate should be settled and by whom, you need to establish an estate plan. Not only can you designate who will benefit from your assets—be that family, close friends, or even organizations you wish to support—you also can designate the executor, or trusted person, you wish to oversee your estate business. Without a comprehensive estate plan, you’re left hoping your heirs can identify and access your assets when you’re gone.
Estate planning is not just providing instructions to settle your financial affairs, but also making arrangements for the care of your dependents. If you have minor children or disabled dependents of any age, estate planning also provides an opportunity for you to leave instructions on who should be responsible for their care and how you wish that to happen.
Working with a senior law attorney to establish your estate planning documents will give you and your family peace of mind that your final wishes are made clear and respected.