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What will happen if I die without an estate plan?

On Behalf of | Aug 30, 2022 | Estate Planning, Probate & Estate Administration

If a Pennsylvania resident dies without an estate plan, then the law of this state spells out what will happen to their property. These laws, which are sometimes called intestate succession laws, do not just apply when a person left no estate plan. They also apply if a person’s only plan gets deemed legally invalid or if any piece of their property does not get covered in their existing estate plan.

On the other hand, these laws may not apply to property that does not pass through probate. Examples of this type of property include certain jointly held real estate, joint bank accounts, life insurance proceeds and retirement accounts.

If a person dies married, their spouse will receive favorable treatment

For property that does pass by intestate succession, the deceased person’s surviving spouse will receive favorable treatment.

However, spouses are not given as much priority in Pennsylvania as they are in other states. They only receive the entire estate if the deceased person had no children and has no surviving parents.

This rule would also apply if a person had children but neither the children nor the children’s descendants survived.

In other cases, the spouse gets half the estate, with the rest going to a person’s surviving parents or children (or the descendants of those children). In many cases, the surviving spouse is also entitled to an initial $30,000 plus half of the balance of the estate.

Unmarried residents who die will have their property distributed to relatives

If a person is not married at the time of death but has surviving children or descendants of those children, the property will go to the descendants.

Otherwise, the property goes to the person’s parents.  If a person has no surviving parents or children, then property will go to their siblings, then their grandparents and then other more distant relatives.

As a word of warning, in Pennsylvania, a person’s property can also automatically go to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania if the person has no relatives legally in line to receive an inheritance.

Those residents of Central Pennsylvania who want control over how their property will get divided should strongly consider writing a will or other appropriate estate planning documents.