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Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin Right Inheritance Rights in New York

Aunts, uncles, and cousins often hold significant places in our lives. Because of this, individuals frequently include these close relatives in their wills. In the absence of a will, inheritance laws outline how a person's assets are distributed when they pass away. These laws aim to ensure a fair and orderly process, especially when there's no will in place. Under these laws, the entitlement of aunts, uncles, and cousins to inherit becomes nuanced. New York's laws of intestate succession dictate a specific order of priority, where children and spouses are first in line for inheritance. See EPTL § 4-1.1. Only in situations where the decedent is not survived by children, a spouse, siblings, or parents do aunts, uncles, and cousins become potential inheritors. If you have concerns related to the inheritance rights of an aunt, uncle, or cousin and need clarity, consulting a knowledgeable New York probate lawyer is a prudent step. Stephen Bilkis & Associates can provide valuable insights, ensuring a clear understanding of one's rights and aiding in navigating the legal landscape to secure a rightful share in the absence of a valid will.

New York Inheritance Laws

In the absence of a will, the distribution of assets typically follows a predetermined order based on familial relationships. Spouses and children typically take precedence, but where do aunts, uncles, and cousins fit into this hierarchy?

In New York, aunts and uncles have the potential to inherit, but only if the decedent does not leave behind a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, or grandparents. Pursuant to EPTL § 4-1.1, those who would be entitled to inherit next would be the descendants or issue of the decedent's grandparents. That would include aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Cousin Cases

In the absence of aunts or uncles, and the only closes relative is a cousin, a determination must be made as to consanguinity. Note that the statute governing intestacy does not explicitly use the term "cousin." Instead, it identifies first cousins as "children of common grandparents." EPTL § 4-1.a.6.

Another unique aspect for cousins in probate matters is that cousins are generally not permitted to service as administrators of estates. EPTL § 1001(1)(f)(ii). Thus, if the only distributee is a cousin, instead of that person serving as the estate administrator, either the public administrator would serve as administrator or the county tax assessor. It depends on where the probate proceeding was initiated.

Generally, a person claiming to be a cousin or believed to be a cousin must prove that they are through a kinship hearing. Because cousins are not considered close relatives and are less likely to have had a relationship with the decedent, the Surrogate’s Court wants to make sure that the person claiming to be related to the decedent actually is. Thus, before the court will permit the administrator to distribute assets to the cousin claiming to be a next-of-kin, consanguinity must be proven. This process can be complicated and requires consulting with an experienced New York probate lawyer.

Kinship Hearing

In a kinship proceeding, the responsibility of proving kinship which means relatedness or consanguinity falls on the person claiming to be the heir. In other words, the person claiming to be or believed to be the cousin must prove that they are. This person is referred to as the claimant.

To prove relatedness, the claimant must present evidence. Typically the evidence may include documentation as well as statements from witnesses such as family members, family friends, and neighbors of the parties. The documentation may include birth certificates, marriage records, death certificates, census records, baptism records, court records, and military records.

Another potential aspect of “cousin cases” or any type of kinship hearing is proving that your inheritance rights are greater than any other claimants. In some instances there may be others who are also claimants. If they have prior inheritance rights, meaning they are more closely related to the decedent, that would prevent you from inheriting.

If the outcome of the kinship hearing is that the claimant is related and there is no one with prior inheritance rights, then the claimant would be entitled to inherit.

Avoiding Intestate Succession Problems

Avoiding intestate succession problems in New York involves proactive estate planning. Crafting a valid will ensures that your wishes dictate the distribution of assets, preventing potential disputes and uncertainties among surviving family members. Consulting with a knowledgeable probate attorney in New York is crucial to navigate the legal intricacies, providing tailored guidance for a seamless process. By taking these steps, you secure a clear path for the transfer of assets according to the wishes of the testator, avoiding the complications that can arise when intestate succession comes into play.

Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

The inheritance rights of aunts, uncles, and cousins in New York become particularly significant in the context of intestate succession. Navigating these complexities requires a thorough understanding of New York laws governing the distribution of assets in the absence of a will. At Stephen Bilkis & Associates our skilled probate attorneys serving New York are dedicated to providing you with personalized guidance to navigate the complexities of executing a valid will. Contact us at 800-696-9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Manhattan, Long Island, Nassau County, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Suffolk County, Bronx, and Westchester County.

Client Reviews
Mr. Bilkis handled both my father and mother's estate issues through very difficult times he was compassionate kind and understanding. In fact the whole firm showed great empathy. Despite the emotional hard time we were having that quickly and efficiently handle all the matters that were necessary to get us the result we desired. Can't recommend them enough. B.B.
From the very first phone call to Stephen Bilkis' office, the staff was extremely polite and helpful in assisting me. Mr. Bilkis was honest and upfront with me from the beginning in what he projected the outcome of my case would be; in the end we got better results than either of us anticipated. He was very genuine and compassionate in understanding my situation and how this legal matter could effect not only myself but my family as well. I highly recommend this law firm and will most definitely continue using them for any future legal needs. Jarrett
Stephen has handled numerous estate matters, criminal matters and family court matters effectively and with a goal-oriented approach. He gets great results and is a results-oriented attorney. Dustin