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Why Should a Cosmopolitan New Yorker Have a Will?

Legendary Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, sometimes described as "the original Carrie Bradshaw," died this week in New York. She was 90-years-old.

Brown's final years were full of fabulous friends, but her husband and sister predeceased her and she had no children. So what will become of her estate?

The New York Observer reports the Brown owned one of the more coveted apartments in New York, an Upper West Side quadraplex at Central Park West and 81st Street. The Observer noted that, if it goes on the market, the property will be the first of only 211 Central Park West's quadruplexes to come on the market since July 2004.

(Apparently, the decor captured and preserved the "legitimately groovy" vibe of the 70s.)

Prime real estate wasn't Brown's only asset. In addition to editing Cosmopolitan for 30 years, Brown penned a number of bestsellers, ranging from her breakout book, Sex and the Single Girl to her 2000 memoir, I'm Wild Again: Snippets from My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts. With the news of Brown's death this week, sales of Brown's titles will likely spike again, generating more revenue for her estate.

A Cosmopolitan woman like Helen Gurley Brown probably had a sophisticated plan for distributing her assets among loved ones and cherished causes.

In January, The New York Times reported that Brown had donated $30 million to the graduate school of journalism at Columbia University and the school of engineering at Stanford University to establish David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation at the two schools. That kind of money doesn't change hands without a handful of lawyers, so we assume that Brown also had lawyers draw up a will to distribute the rest of her assets upon her death.

But what if she didn't?

Helen Gurley Brown seems to have passed without heirs. If she also died without a will, her estate would be subject to "escheat," which means that the state would get her property.

Under New York law, the state will get a deceased person's property located within the state -- homes, jewels, bank accounts, etc. -- if that person:

  • Dies without a will, (also known as dying "intestate"), and
  • Dies without heirs.

The New York State Comptroller's office takes over an escheated estate.

If you don't have any living relatives, and you want to have a say in how your property is distributed after your death, consider contacting a New York estate planning specialist about drafting a will.

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