When a New York resident dies leaving a spouse or children under the age of 21, those family members are entitled to certain assets up to $92,500 under New York’s “family exemption” law, and are given priority to such assets over most creditors, and sometimes even the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.
While some items included in the family exemption may seem dated and even comical, its purpose is to ensure the family receives reasonable support after the death of a loved one while the estate is being settled. The two most commonly exercised family exemptions provide the surviving spouse or children with a car and cash.
The family is entitled to receive a motor vehicle with a value not to exceed $25,000. The DMV has forms and processes in place to easily transfer vehicle titles to family members without first completing probate. In lieu of receiving title to the vehicle, the surviving spouse or children may elect to receive cash equal to the value of the motor vehicle, up to $25,000.
The family is also entitled to receive money (consisting of cash, checking/savings accounts, CDs and/or marketable securities) up to a total of $25,000.
Also included are various household items including utensils, instruments, jewelry not disposed of under the will, clothing, furniture and electronics, with a total value not to exceed $20,000. The family may keep religious books, family pictures, books, computer software, CDs and DVDs and electronic storage, all with a value not to exceed $2,500. And no need to worry about Fluffy—domestic and farm animals (and their food for 60 days), farm machinery, a tractor and a lawn tractor, with an aggregate value not to exceed $20,000, are also enumerated in the exemption.
While many families do not need to exercise the family exemption and instead can wait to receive their property through the course of normal estate administration, this law can be helpful when someone dies with minimal assets and/or family resources. The family exemption can also be beneficial when someone dies with a lot of debt, so that the family isn’t left with nothing. You should consult the estate attorney to guide you through the proper application of the family exemption.