Many people are aware that a married couple’s joint bank accounts and jointly owned real property passes by operation of law to the survivor upon a spouse’s death . In such cases, it is often unnecessary to probate a will or bring an administration proceeding unless there are other assets just in the deceased spouse’s name. What many people don’t know, however, is that there is other property solely in the deceased spouse’s name which passes to a surviving spouse without the need to bring a proceeding in Surrogate’s Court.
Such property is set forth in New York State’s Estates Powers and Trusts Law Section 5-3.1 as “exempt” property when a deceased person is survived by a spouse or children under 21 years of age. This property is exempt, that is, not part of the deceased person’s estate or subject to claims of creditors. Included as exempt property is a motor vehicle worth up to $25,000.00, cash in bank accounts up to $25,000.00 and other property such as household appliances and furniture not exceeding $20,000.00 in value.
The New York State DMV will issue a new title to a surviving spouse, provided the vehicle is worth $25,000.00 or less, and the surviving spouse may continue to use the vehicle until the deceased spouse’s registration and/or insurance expires. See the NYS DMV’s website for additional information.
If you have any questions concerning what property of your spouse’s may be exempt and whether you need to probate a will, be sure to consult with an attorney experienced in these matters.