FAQ: What is a Distributee? What is an Heir at Law?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Parents
  3. Siblings and issue of pre-deceased siblings, if any (nieces and nephews)
  4. Grandparents and issue of predeceased grandparents (1st cousins)
  5. 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

Do You Need Legal Help Regarding Probate Issues In The New York Metro Area?

If a loved one died without a will and you need legal assistance regarding the probate process you should be speak with an experienced probate attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our New York City office directly at 212.227.2424 to schedule your free consultation. We proudly serve clients throughout New York and northern New Jersey including Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, The Bronx, Nassau County and Westchester County.

Daniel R. Antonelli
Representing trust and estate matters with an emphasis on estate litigation in the New York City Metro area.