What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

Almost everyone intends to have a will in place when they die, but many never get around to drafting one and pass with no formal estate plan.

estate planning workbook

So, what happens to your assets when you die without a will? 

If you die without a will, the intestacy laws of the state where you are a resident step in to determine who gets what. What shocks most people are their own misconceptions about where their assets will go. Many who don’t draft a will neglect to do so with the assumption that their spouse will receive all assets in the event of their passing. In many states, however, this is not entirely correct, and the process may require expensive help from lawyers and courts, leaving many people without the support they need after the death of a loved one. In addition, many family arrangements which states do not consider to be traditional family arrangements are not provided for in state intestacy laws.  

In Pennsylvania, like many other states, when you die, who gets what is determined by who survives you. If you die without a will in Pennsylvania, here is what happens: 

What does my spouse get?

Your spouse will only inherit everything if you have no descendants and no parents.  If you die married but without a will, and you have any surviving descendants or parents, then your estate is divided between your surviving spouse and your surviving descendants, or between your surviving spouse and your surviving parents if you have no surviving descendants.  

If you have a surviving spouse and descendants of you and the spouse, your spouse inherits the first $30,000 of your estate, plus half of the remainder of your estate. Your descendants inherit everything else. If you have a spouse and descendants of you and someone other than that spouse, your spouse inherits half of your estate, and your descendants inherit everything else.  

If you have a surviving spouse and surviving parents but no surviving descendants, your spouse inherits the first $30,000 of your estate, plus half of the remainder of your estate. Your parents inherit everything else. If you have surviving parents but no spouse or descendants, your parents inherit everything. Similarly, if you have surviving siblings but no surviving spouse, descendants, or parents, your surviving siblings inherit everything. 

What do my kids get?

In Pennsylvania, if you have children but no spouse, your children inherit everything. If you have a spouse and children, the children inherit as mentioned above. 

Defining the terms

So exactly who qualifies as descendants, parents, and children? These categories may seem straightforward, but questions frequently arise. 

Descendants are defined as children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. Grandchildren will only inherit under the intestacy laws if your children have already passed at the time of your death. Great-grandchildren will only inherit under the intestacy laws if your children and grandchildren have already passed at the time of your death. 

If you die in an accident while your spouse is pregnant or if you die during childbirth, any child conceived by you but not born before you passed away still will receive a share. Any child born to your wife during your marriage is assumed to be your child and will therefore receive a share of your estate. Your grandchildren are determined by the same rules, and they will receive a share only if their parent (your child) has died before you do. 

Intestacy Complexity 

Determining who inherits with no formal estate plan is often a complicated process, and those who you think may inherit may not be those who do. Consulting an estates and trusts attorney and planning your estate in advance can ensure that your assets provide for those you love in the way you choose. 

Estate Planning Attorneys

If you would like help with your estate planning, no matter how simple or complex, the estates and trusts team at The Lynch Law Group is ready to help. When it comes to planning your estate, there is no time like the present. 

Pittsburgh Estate Planning Attorneys

Jacquelyn Core is a Partner at The Lynch Law Group. If you have questions or would like more information about developing an estate plan, please contact her at jcore@lynchlaw-group.com or by phone at 724-776-8000.

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