So, you know your immediate family members (i.e., parents, siblings, children, spouse), but do you know who your DISTRIBUTEES are?
Your distributees, also known as “heirs-at-law,” are those persons who would share your property after your death if you do not leave a valid will. Every state has rules that determine your heirs-at-law. For example, in New York, the relevant rules are provided by New York State’s “Estates, Powers and Trusts Law” and in Massachusetts, the relevant rules are provided by the Massachusetts version of the Uniform Probate Code. The laws of the state in which you reside at the time of your death will control who your heirs-at-law are.
The New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law provides that if you are survived by a spouse (wife or husband) and issue (children) then those people are your distributes, and they will share in your assets upon your death. If you are survived by a spouse and no issue, then everything will be distributed to your wife/husband. If you are survived by issue only, your property will be distributed in equal shares to your issue. However, if you die without a spouse or issue, then all your assets will be distributed to your parents. An adopted child is a distributee. A stepchild is not. A non-marital child may be a distributee if paternity has been established.
Letting your state’s rules of distribution determine how your assets are to be disbursed after your death may not be what you want to do. If you have been putting off getting a will done, or your family situation has changed, add it to your 2016 To Do List.