What Happens When My Child (Over 18) Passes Without a Will?

We can't predict when it is our time to go, but one thing is certain: death and taxes persist even after we're gone. More than half of Americans lack a will, often due to the belief that their assets aren't significant and they won’t die any time soon. However, this self-deception negatively impacts families, leaving them grappling with grief and confusion when a child over the age of 18 passes without a will. The unfortunate reality is that old age is not the only cause of death and a freak accident or sudden illness can result in an unpredictable death. In this article, we'll discuss the aftermath of a child over the age of 18 passing on without a will.

Dying With a Small Estate

A will ensures assets go to chosen recipients, including individuals and charities. However, without one, assets are distributed according to state intestacy laws, which apply when someone dies without a will. Assets passing through a will or intestacy constitute the probate estate. In New York, without a will, married individuals inherit all assets. Unmarried individuals with children leave assets to their children. For those with a spouse and children, the spouse gets $50,000, and the rest is divided evenly. With parents as beneficiaries, they inherit everything; with siblings, siblings inherit all assets.

If there's no will, the closest family member can step up to manage the estate. Typically, it's the spouse, but if there isn't one, it falls to the children. However, if they choose not to take on this responsibility, they can decline it through a legal process called renunciation. It's important to note that declining to manage the estate doesn't mean they're forfeiting their portion of the inheritance.

Losing a child is a devastating experience, and managing their estate without a will adds further complexity to an already difficult situation. Families often have questions about the fate of their child's assets, who assumes responsibility for their estate, and the steps involved in settling it. Gain insight into these important aspects to help families navigate this challenging time with clarity and understanding:

What happens to my child's assets if they pass away without a will?

  • Without a will, the state's intestacy laws will dictate how the estate is distributed among family members.

Who is responsible for managing my child's estate if there is no will?

  • Typically, the closest family member, such as a parent or sibling, may need to apply to become the administrator of the estate.

What are the steps involved in settling my child's estate without a will?

  • This may include gathering assets, paying debts and taxes, distributing assets according to intestacy laws, and obtaining necessary legal documents.

How long does it typically take to settle an estate without a will?

  • The timeframe can vary depending on the complexity of the estate and any potential disputes that arise. In some cases, it may take several months to several years to fully settle the estate.

Are there any taxes that need to be paid on my child's estate if there is no will?

  • Depending on the value of the estate and applicable tax laws, estate taxes or inheritance taxes may need to be paid. Consulting with a tax professional or estate attorney can provide guidance on any tax obligations.

Can family members contest the distribution of assets if there is no will?

  • Yes, family members may contest the distribution of assets if they believe it is unfair or if they have a legal claim to a portion of the estate. This can lead to additional legal proceedings and delays in settling the estate.

If your child over the age of 18 has a common-law spouse, similar to Amira Ghosh, you may believe that it is their partner that receives her assets. Amira Ghosh was a 34 year-old computer programmer who passed away due to a brain aneurysm. Prior to passing, Amira had a girlfriend of two years named Rebecca, who she even considered moving in with. In Amira’s case, under New York legislation, Rebecca would not be entitled to any part of her estate, due to the fact that in the eyes of the law, Amira is single. Common law marriages established within the state are not recognized. The only exception to this is if your child and their partner established their common law marriage in a state that recognizes such marriages. The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution obligates each state to acknowledge and uphold laws and court rulings made in other states. However, it will be difficult to inherit all assets as a common-law spouse in New York because inheritance laws usually prioritize blood relatives, adopted children, and legally married spouses. Given common-law marriages are not granted in New York, you might not have legal claim to your spouse’s assets according to intestacy laws.

After Amira's passing, even though her father held the title of estate administrator, both her parents encountered the responsibilities of canceling various aspects of Amira's life. This included tasks like terminating her driver's license, health card, credit cards, memberships, and subscriptions. Furthermore, they needed to inform Amira's employer about her passing, as well as assess potential benefits owed to the estate, such as pensions. In the event that there are debts to be settled, it is recommended to advertise for creditors. Advertising for a creditor requires sending a notice that informs creditors if an estate is being administered. Within this notice, there is a deadline by which creditors must step forward to claim collection. If they do not step forward, then the administrator of the estate can continue to distribute the assets of the estate to beneficiaries without personal liability. After this is all sorted out, the decedent's taxes need to be filed.

Understanding the implications of passing away without a will is essential. A will provides the opportunity to ensure assets are distributed according to one's wishes, avoiding the complexities of intestacy laws. When there is no will, the process of estate administration for a child over the age of 18 who has passed becomes vital, involving tasks beyond burial arrangements, such as canceling licenses, addressing debts, and notifying relevant parties. In all cases, seeking professional guidance and planning ahead can help navigate these challenges and provide peace of mind for both the individual and their family. At the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn, you'll find all the answers to your questions, but most importantly you’ll be comforted every step of the way. If you need help with estate planning, please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2394.