Definition of DISTRIBUTEE: (noun) / a person entitled to take or share in the property of a decedent under the statutes governing descent and distribution (New York Estates, Powers, & Trusts Law §4-1.1)
A distributee is also often referred to as an “heir-at-law” and is less formally known as “the next of kin”. When a person dies intestate (without a will) the decedent’s distributees will be the ones entitled to receive the decedent’s assets.
Under New York law, the distributees are determined in the following order:
- Spouse and children. If a decedent leaves a spouse and children, the spouse and children are considered distributees. However, if there is only a spouse and no children, the spouse is the sole distributee. Conversely, if there are children and no spouse, the children are the distributees.
- Siblings and issue of pre-deceased siblings, if any (nieces and nephews)
- Grandparents and issue of predeceased grandparents (1st cousins)
- Great-grandparents and issue of predeceased great-grandparents (1st cousins once removed)
Note: “Issue” refers to lineal descendants: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
In order to determine the decedent’s distributees, start with number one on the list above and work your way down until you reach a level where at least 1 survivor exists. The level at which at least 1 survivor exists is the surviving class. No one at a lower level is considered a distributee. For example, if the decedent was survived by a person on level 1, such as a spouse or child, then no one on a lower level is considered a distributee, such as a parent, sibling, etc