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Pennsylvania Intestacy Law — When a Pennsylvania Resident Dies Without a Will

Pennsylvania Intestacy Law

If a Pennsylvania resident dies without a Will, that person is said to have died “intestate”. The Pennsylvania intestacy scheme is governed by statute (20 Pa.Cons.Stat. 2101 et. seq.). Where the money goes depends in large part who survives the decedent.

Many people think that as soon as they get married that if they die, everything that they own will go to their surviving spouse. THIS IS NOT TRUE!

Scenario 1: A person is only survived by a spouse

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and does not have any surviving parents or issue (children or other lineal decedents) then the surviving spouse receives the entire estate.

Scenario 2: A person is survived by a spouse and parent(s)

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and at least one parent, but no issue, then the surviving spouse receives the first $30,000 and one-half of the balance of the probate estate. The balance would go to the surviving parent(s).

Scenario 3: A person is survived by a spouse and children from the marriage to the spouse

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and only children from their marriage, then the surviving spouse receives the first $30,000 and one-half of the balance of the probate estate. The balance would go to the surviving issue of the decedent.

In most cases, the distribution will be made equally to a person’s children, but if a child is not then living, then that deceased child’s share shall go equally to that deceased child’s children.

For example, let’s assume Joey died with $300,000 and he is survived by his wife and one son. He also had one daughter, who died before him, but she had two children of her own. The widow would get $180,000 ($30,000+$150,000), the son would get $60,000 (1/2 of ($300K-$180K)) and each of the grandchildren would get $30,000 (1/4 of ($300K-$180K).

Scenario 4: A person is survived by a spouse and at least one child from another relationship

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and at least one children from another relationship, then the surviving spouse receives only one-half of the balance of the probate estate. The balance would go to the surviving issue of the decedent.

Scenario 5: Person is not survived by a spouse

If the decedent does not have a spouse, then his or her probate estate will first go to surviving issue, if any; then to surviving parents, if any; then to surviving siblings (or their issue), if any; then to surviving grandparents, if any; then to surviving aunts, uncles (or their children); if any. If none of these individuals survive the decedent, then the decedent’s assets go to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

You may have noticed that I used the term “probate estate” over and over in this entry. That is because the probate estate does not cover life insurance, retirement benefits, annuities, joint accounts, pay on death accounts or other moneys that are payable as a result of a contract.

These assets are called “non-probate” assets and they do not pass according to the instructions of a Will nor do they pass via the intestacy laws. You must look to the terms of those documents to see who is entitled to what.

Accordingly, when administering an estate, one must consider all assets – probate and non probate. If no beneficiary is named, then they do pass through the probate estate.

Unless you wish your assets to go according to the Pennsylvania intestacy scheme, you should draft a will so that your money can be distributed the way that you want when you pass.