A will establishes a person’s wishes for his or her belongings and affairs after death. When a person dies without a will, his or her estate is subject to state inheritance laws.
In Pennsylvania, these provisions govern the settlement of an estate in the absence of a will.
Assets with a named beneficiary
Some assets will automatically pass to the person named as a beneficiary if the owner dies without a will. Examples include assets co-owned with another person, payable-on-death bank accounts and securities, retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, and assets in a living trust.
Other assets pass to family members in a process known as intestate succession. Pennsylvania has established general inheritance rights as follows:
- Children get everything if the deceased was not married but had children
- Spouse gets everything if the deceased had a spouse but no dependents
- Parents get everything if the deceased person was not married and had no children
- Siblings get everything if the deceased person has no surviving parents, children or spouse
When the deceased and his or her spouse share children together, the spouse will receive the first $30,000 from the estate. Then, the children will share half the remaining assets and the spouse will get the other half. This scenario also applies when the deceased person has a spouse and living parents, but no children.
Intestate succession is more complicated when the person had more than one spouse and children from each marriage. Having a detailed estate plan can help ensure that the court follows the deceased person’s wishes.