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When does a New York resident have a right to property in a will?

In many estate planning scenarios, a person creates a will that designates certain pieces of property to go to one person or another. Then, during the course of their lifetime, the person disposes of the property. For example, they might sell it or even give it away during their lifetime to someone other than the heir listed in the will, without actually making any changes to the terms of the will itself. When that happens, the heir to the property listed in the will may wonder if they have any right to that property after their loved one passes away.

Our readers may be surprised to hear that a will does not become legally enforceable until the creator of the will has died. During the creator's lifetime, that individual can decide what to do with property, regardless of what is contained in a will. While having a will is very important, it is also important to understand that until the creator of the will dies, its contents are an expectation, not a right.

Also, it is important to understand that a person cannot give away, through a will, what that person no longer possesses. That means that if the creator of the will sells a piece of property or gives it away while alive, then that piece of property cannot be inherited, as the creator of the will no longer owns it, and therefore cannot give it away through a will or otherwise.

For these reasons, in order to avoid disappointment and the possibility of a will contest after one's death, it is important to keep your will updated, along with other estate planning documents. If you sell or give property away during your lifetime, ensure that your will reflects that. Doing so can avoid causing your loved ones even more heartache than they may endure once you pass on.

Source: nwi.com, "Estate Planning: An expectation vs. a right," Christopher Yugo, Feb. 5, 2017

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