Recently, a client from Downingtown who had four children came in to see me. She wanted to create a will, and only wanted one of her four children to inherit her estate. I explained that she needed to make a will to expressly disinherit her other 3 children. But what if she hadn’t made a will? What would have happened?
Dying without a will is called intestacy. Pennsylvania provides for intestacy with a statute (a law) that leaves the deceased’s property to various relatives in various shares, as follows. The Intestacy Statute can be found at 21 Pa. Cons. Stat. 2101 et seq.
The surviving spouse
The surviving spouse, if there are no surviving children or parents of the deceased, called a decedent, gets the entire estate. If there are no surviving children of the decedent but there are surviving parents, the surviving spouse gets $30,000 plus one-half of the remaining estate and the surviving parents get the remainder of the estate.
If there are surviving children of the decedent who are also children of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse gets $30,000 plus one-half of the remaining estate and the surviving children get the remainder of the estate. If there are surviving children of the decedent, one or more of whom are not children of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse gets one half of the estate. All of the decedent’s children then split the remaining half evenly.
Others beside the surviving spouse
Any share of the estate to which the surviving spouse is not entitled, and the entire estate if there is no surviving spouse, passes as follows:
To the children of the deceased
If there are no children of the deceased, to the parents of the deceased.
If there are no children and no parents, to the brothers, sisters, or their children of the decedent.
If there is no sibling, niece, or nephew of the decedent, then to the grandparents of the decedent, half to the maternal grandparents and half to the paternal grandparents.
If no grandparents survive, then to the uncles, aunts, and cousins of the decedent.
Finally, if none of the decedent’s family survives, to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
You need a will
If you want your property to pass to others in a different way than the Intestacy Statute provides, you need a will. Please contact me so that we can avoid your intestacy and provide for those you want to provide for specifically and thoroughly.
Property passing outside of a will
Finally, please be aware that some property passes outside of a will and is not affected by the Intestacy Statute:
- Life Insurance
- Life Insurance
- Property that has been transferred to a Living Trust
- Securities that provide for transfer-on-death
- 401(k)s, IRAs, and other types of retirement accounts
- Property owned by the decedent that is “joint tenancy” or “tenancy by the entirety” property