In Pennsylvania, a person who dies without a will is called “intestate.” In that case, the state has a set of laws and rules that determine what happens to their property. Some people think that dying intestate means that the state takes all of the property, but that is a misconception.
Assigning property when intestate
Estate law in Pennsylvania says that what happens to a person’s property if they do not have a will depends on their surviving family. There is a hierarchy of priorities for different scenarios depending on whether the deceased person had a spouse or children, who inherit before other family members. The spouse, if there is one, gets the entire estate if there are no children. If there are no children but the deceased has living parents, the spouse gets the first $30,000 and then half of the remainder. If there are surviving children, the surviving spouse gets the first $30,000 and half of the rest if the children are all the couple’s children; if one or more children are from a different parent, there is no provision for the first $30,000.
For the leftover half of the estate, or if there is no spouse, the order of priority is children of the deceased, their parents, any siblings, any children of the siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, the children or grandchildren of aunts and uncles, and lastly the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This can be a complex process.
The ability to take control of the process and name who will be the beneficiaries is a big incentive to have a will and ensure that it is up to date. Estate planning helps heirs know exactly what they will receive rather than leaving it up to the state to decide. Having a will also allows you to choose your own executor, who is the person responsible for collecting together all the assets, and paying off any debts, and then distributing the proceeds of the estate in accordance with the will. This process allows you to exercise control over your property even after you have passed away, to make sure your intentions and wishes are honored.