When a New York resident dies, New York law provides benefits for certain members of the decedent’s family. These protective benefits are called the family exemption.
Under New York Estates Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) 5-3.1, the surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse but there are children under 21, receives specific assets that pass outside of the decedent’s probate estate. There is no need for a New York executor or administrator to be appointed by the surrogate’s court in order to manage these exempt assets.
New York EPTL 5-3.1
New York EPTL 5-3.1, “Exemption for benefit of family” states:
(a) If a person dies, leaving a surviving spouse or children under the age of twenty-one years, the following items of property are not assets of the estate but vest in, and shall be set off to such surviving spouse, unless disqualified, under 5-1.2, from taking an elective or distributive share of the decedent’s estate. In case there is no surviving spouse or such spouse, if surviving, is disqualified, such items of property vest in, and shall be set off to the decedent’s children under the age of twenty-one years:
(1) All housekeeping utensils, musical instruments, sewing machine, jewelry unless disposed of in the will, clothing of the decedent, household furniture and appliances, electronic and photographic devices, and fuel for personal use, not exceeding in aggregate value twenty thousand dollars. This subparagraph shall not include items used exclusively for business purposes.
(2) The family bible or other religious books, family pictures, books, computer tapes, discs and software, DVDs, CDs, audio tapes, record albums, and other electronic storage devices, including but not limited to videotapes, used by such family, not exceeding in value two thousand five hundred dollars.
(3) Domestic and farm animals with their necessary food for sixty days, farm machinery, one tractor and one lawn tractor, not exceeding in aggregate value twenty thousand dollars.
(4) The surviving spouse or decedent’s children may acquire items referred to in subparagraphs (1), (2) and (3) of this paragraph, in excess of the values set forth in such subparagraphs by payment to the estate of the amount by which the value of the items acquired exceeds the amounts set forth in such subparagraphs. If any item so acquired by the spouse or children of the decedent was a specific legacy in decedent’s will, the payment to the estate for such item shall vest in the specific legatee.
(5) One motor vehicle not exceeding in value twenty-five thousand dollars. In the alternative, if the decedent shall have been the owner of one or more motor vehicles each of which exceed twenty-five thousand dollars in value, the surviving spouse or decedent’s children may acquire one such motor vehicle from the estate, regardless of the fact that the decedent may also have been the owner of another motor vehicle of lesser value than twenty-five thousand dollars, by payment to the estate of the amount by which the value of the motor vehicle exceeds twenty-five thousand dollars; in lieu of receiving such motor vehicle, the surviving spouse or children may elect to receive in cash an amount equal to the value of the motor vehicle, not to exceed twenty-five thousand dollars. If any motor vehicle so acquired by the spouse or children of the decedent was a specific legacy in decedent’s will, the payment to the estate of the amount by which the value of the motor vehicle exceeds twenty-five thousand dollars shall vest in the specific legatee.
(6) Money including but not limited to cash, checking, savings and money market accounts, certificates of deposit or equivalents thereof, and marketable securities, not exceeding in value twenty-five thousand dollars, reduced by the excess value, if any, of acquired items referred to in subparagraphs (1), (2), (3) and (5) of this paragraph. However, where assets are insufficient to pay the reasonable funeral expenses of the decedent, the personal representative must first apply such money to defray any deficiency in such expenses.
(7) Any set off to a child under the age of twenty-one years not exceeding ten thousand dollars shall be covered by the provisions of section twenty-two hundred twenty of the surrogate’s court procedure act as if the child were a beneficiary of the estate. Any excess amounts shall be governed by the guardianship statute, if applicable.
(8) The court shall have the authority to issue such documentation as necessary to effectuate the transfer of any items under this section.
(b) No allowance shall be made in money or other property if the items of property described in subparagraph (1), (2), (3) or (5) of paragraph (a) are not in existence when the decedent dies.
(c) The items of property, set off as provided in paragraph (a), shall, at least to the extent thereof, be deemed reasonably required for the support of the surviving spouse or children under the age of twenty-one years of the decedent during the settlement of the estate.
(d) As used in this section, the term “value” shall refer to the fair market value of each item, reduced by all outstanding security interests or other encumbrances affecting the decedent’s ownership of said item.
Summary of New York EPTL 5-3.1 Exemptions For The Benefit of The Family
In sum, the surviving spouse or children, as applicable can receive up to $92,500 of personal property from decedent’s estate under the New York family benefit exemption, as follows:
Not exceeding in total value of $20,000
Not exceeding in total value of $2,500
Not exceeding in total value of $20,000.00.
Not exceeding in total value of $25,000.00.
Not exceeding in total value of $25,000.00.
Why Does The New York Family Benefit Exemption Exist?
The exemption for the benefit of the family was enacted by the New York legislature to protect the immediate family of the decedent in the time after the decedent’s death. By removing certain assets from the probate process, the surviving spouse and/or children can obtain these assets immediately