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Who Gets Your Stuff if You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania?

Posted on Sat Feb 2, 2008, on Intestacy, Dying Without a Will

Most Recently Updated Sun. Sept. 10th, 2017: Who Gets Your Stuff if You Die Without a Will In Pennsylvania?

From Our “Ask a Question” mailbag: Who Gets Your Stuff if You Die Without a Will In Pennsylvania?

Who Gets Your Stuff if You Die Without a Will In Pennsylvania

Probate Attorney, Tatyana Gleyzer.

If you have a Will, you control who gets your things at death. If you have no Will, the Commonwealth decides who gets your things.  These rules are complex. I have tried to make them as understandable as possible in this short article. But, you may wish to see my website for an article “Who Gets your stuff if you die without a Will in Pennsylvania” that provides detailed examples.

What it Means if you Die “Intestate.”

If you die without a Will, you are Intestate (without a testament/will). Intestate estates pass by the Commonwealth’s Rules of Intestacy. These rules create bright line rules. By following the rules, you determine who receives the Intestate person’s assets. The rules try to give assets to the person or people that the Commonwealth believes you want to benefit. The state is left to guess who would you would have included in your Will. Sometimes the State gets it right and sometimes it does not.

A common misunderstanding is that if you die without a Will, your assets may end up passing to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth could end up with your assets, but only if you have no surviving relatives. The intestate rules are set out in Chapter 21 of the PEF Code.

Who Gets Your Stuff if You Die Without a Will In Pennsylvania, an Introduction.

This short article is meant to explain complex rules in simple terms.  For a more in-depth review with particular facts, see my website article Pennsylvania Intestacy Rules.  All the examples help you understand, Who Gets Your Stuff if You Die Without a Will in Pennsylvania.

Beneficiary Designations and Property Passing By Operation of Law.

Having a Will, or not having Will, does not affect who receives your assets after death if you have named a beneficiary. Some assets, such as IRAs or life insurance policies, typically name beneficiaries. If you do not remember naming someone you can contact your benefits person or life insurance agent for a copy of you Beneficiary Designation Form.

If you have an asset that names a beneficiary then this asset passes to the designated beneficiary, whether you have a Will or not. This also applies to assets that you own jointly with another person, such as a house you hold as “Joint Tenants With a Right of Survivorship” with another person. Your other assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate, furniture, cars or any other thing that you own that has no beneficiary will pass as part of your estate at death. If you have a Will, the Will states who gets these things. If you have no Will, then the Commonwealth dictates to whom these assets pass.

A Breakdown of Pennsylvania’s Laws of Intestacy.

Most people assume that if they die without a Will all their assets pass automatically to their surviving spouse. This is not necessarily true!

If You have a Surviving Spouse:

The surviving spouse would receive everything only if the intestate deceased had no surviving issue (children, grandchildren, etc.) or parents.

If there are a surviving spouse and issue, and the issue is an issue of both the surviving spouse and the deceased, the surviving spouse gets the first $30,000.00 and one-half of the remaining assets. The issue divides the other one-half of the property.

If there are a surviving spouse and surviving issue, but at least one of the issue is not the issue of the surviving spouse (e.g., a child from the deceased’s previous marriage), then the intestate estate is divided one-half to the surviving spouse and one-half to issue.

If there is a surviving spouse, no surviving issue, but the deceased’s mother or father survives the intestate decedent, the surviving spouse gets the first $30,000.00 plus one-half the balance while the surviving parents divide the remaining one-half share.

Should You have no Surviving Spouse:

If there is no surviving spouse, then the entire intestate estate passes to surviving issue. Should there be no surviving issue, then the deceased’s parents divide the entire estate. If there is no surviving spouse, no surviving issue, and no surviving parents, then the assets are distributed between the issues of the parents (typically the deceased’s siblings or if they have died, the nieces and nephews).

Should there be no surviving spouse, issue or surviving issue of parents, but at least one grandparent survives the decedent, then one-half to the paternal grandparents or grandparent, or if both are dead, to the children of each of them and the children of the deceased children of each of them, and one-half to the maternal grandparents or grandparent, or if both are dead to the children of each of them and the children of the deceased children of each of them. If both of the paternal grandparents or both of the maternal grandparents are dead leaving no child or grandchild to survive the decedent, the one-half which would have passed to them or to their children and grandchildren shall be added to the one-half passing to the grandparents or grandparent or to their children and grandchildren on the other side.

If no grandparent survives the decedent, then to the uncles and aunts and the children and grandchildren of deceased uncles and aunts of the decedent as provided by the Code.

When none of these people survive the deceased, then, and only then, does the intestate estate pass to the Commonwealth.

Better to see some examples!

These rules can become confusing.  We provide you some examples in our article, Simplifying the Pennsylvania Rules of Intestate Succession.

In this Post, I tried to answer the question, “Who Gets Your Stuff if You Die Without a Will in Pennsylvania?”  Let me know how I did, comments and questions are welcome!

If you still have questions about the Rules of Intestacy, feel free to Contact our office for a free consultation. 

Author, Peter Klenk, Esq. LL.M.


Estate Administration, Intestate Succession, Pennsylvania, Probate, Rules of Intestacy

Peter KlenkPeter Klenk

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