What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Pennsylvania?


No one likes to think about dying, but it’s a reality that everyone will face sooner or later. If a person dies without a will in place, their assets will pass to their closest living next of kin as per the intestate succession laws in Pennsylvania.

No one likes to think about dying, but it’s a reality that everyone will face sooner or later. If a person dies without a will in place, their assets will pass to their closest living next of kin as per the intestate succession laws in Pennsylvania.

Anything that you own in your name alone will be affected if you die without a will. One of the most common misconceptions is that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will take everything. Pennsylvania law and your family relationship may mean that a parent’s spouse inherits or the descendants' parents inherit what is left.

It’s important to understand what will happen to your assets when you are gone, which is why you need an estate attorney to help you create a will. Very Law in Pittsburgh is committed to helping you understand intestate succession and giving you the guidance you need for estate planning. This blog will shed light on the subject to help you make an informed decision about your estate plan.

Judges Hammer With Scales

Understanding Intestate Succession

A person dies intestate when they die without a will in place. Pennsylvania intestate succession laws set the rules for who gets a share of your estate when you don’t have a will. These laws only affect property that is part of a probate estate. 

Any property that was titled in the name of the deceased is deemed probate property. Non-probate property is excluded as it passes directly to another person. Examples of non-probate property include trust assets, retirement accounts and remaining retirement funds, real estate held by the entirety as married persons, any real estate held with another person as joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, or transfer or payable on death accounts.

Many scenarios can arise when distributing an intestate estate in Pennsylvania. Intestate succession allows for two distribution methods depending on the degree of the relationship of the survivors.

The per stirpes distribution method is used when the ancestors of the deceased are not in the same degree of relationship. The per capita distribution method is used when all surviving ancestors are in an equal degree of relationship. This tends to create confusion in an already upsetting time for a surviving spouse, children, parents, or another member of the kinship. 

If you do not currently have a will, it is wise to sit down with an estate planning attorney to create a plan and spare your loved ones any hassles once you are gone. Additionally, before an estate is divided, the debts, taxes, funeral expenses, and other administration expenses must be paid first. Any joint tenancy property, life insurance payable to beneficiaries other than the estate, and bank accounts payable on death to certain individuals will be passed along according to their terms and not be part of the intestate succession.

Does a Surviving Spouse Get the Entire Estate?

If there is a surviving spouse after someone dies without a will, the amount they receive depends on whether there are other surviving relatives such as children or parents. What a surviving spouse receives regarding the entire estate depends on the following factors.

No Surviving Children

If you die and have no children or surviving parents, your spouse will receive the entire estate. However, if you are survived by your spouse and one or both parents but have no children, your surviving spouse would receive estate administration of $30,000 along with half of the estate. Parents of the deceased will have other factors that determine what they receive in intestate succession.

Surviving Children

Upon a decedent’s death, if they are survived by their spouse and any child born who is also the surviving spouse’s child, then the surviving spouse receives the first $30,000 of the estate belonging to the deceased person along with one-half of the remaining estate.

If the surviving spouse had surviving children who are not the surviving spouse’s child, the spouse would only receive half of the estate and not the first $30,000. Presumably, the surviving spouse would care for and provide for the children that were their own but the laws do not make this presumption for children that are not those of the surviving spouse.

When There Is No Surviving Spouse

If there are children but no spouse, children inherit everything. However, if there are no children to collect the remaining intestate property, the parents of the deceased will share the estate equally. When only one parent survives, the surviving parent gets the entire estate.

If the deceased is survived by their spouse, that spouse would get the first $30,000 and then half of the remaining estate. If a parent survives the decedent, the surviving spouse inherits $30,000 plus half of the remaining estate while the parent would get the other half. If both living parents survive the decedent, they share the remaining half of this estate.

If you die and have no spouse, children, or surviving parents, your brother, sister, or their children will have the estate distributed to them. Grandparents are considered next of kin when there are no surviving siblings of the deceased. Half of the estate will go to the paternal grandparents and half to the maternal grandparents. Uncles, aunts, their children, and grandchildren or your parents' siblings inherit the estate according to intestate succession laws if there are no other qualifying family members.

If none of these other parties survive the lineage, then the estate will have nowhere else to go except the State of Pennsylvania.

Judges Hammer

How to Protect Your Remaining Estate in Pennsylvania

Intestate inheritance is complex, and there may be more family members affected such as posthumous children, foster children, adopted children, and other relatives. Planning your estate doesn’t need to be complicated and can ensure you have peace of mind in leaving your legacy behind.

Since it’s difficult to think of these things, contact Very Law to ensure your estate passes along as you wish and keep your assets in the family.

We Are Here to Serve You

Think you may have a case? Let’s talk.

Schedule a Consultation