Having died without a will or without providing legally binding instructions for the distribution of one's property after his or her death. Distribution of a person's estate who died intestate is governed by state law.

In New York, intestate succession is governed by Article 4 Part 1 of the Estate Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL). New York law distributes asset to your closest living relatives. The law will first look to a surviving spouse and descendants or issue:
  1. If you are survived by a spouse and children. Your spouse will take $50,000 plus half the residuary estate the other half of the residuary going to the issue  by representation.
  2. If there are no children, the entire estate would go the surviving spouse.
  3. If no spouse, the entire estate will be shared by the descendents.
  4. If no spouse or descendants, then your parents will take everything.
  5. If no spouse, descendents, or parents, your parents other descendents, i.e. your brothers and sisters, will take everything.
  6. If no spouse, descendents, parents, or siblings, then the grandparents or their descendents, i.e. your cousins, will take everything. (EPTL § 4-1.1 Descent and distribution of a decedent's estate)
This state default estate plan is not desired by many people and only applies if you fail to execute a will that expresses your true desires.  Additionally, failing to execute a will and otherwise plan for the inevitable will likely cause your family expense and complication that would have been easily avoided.