Who gets your property if you die without a last will and testament in Pennsylvania? This is legally referred to as dying intestate. Each state has enacted an intestate succession statute to address this issue. These statutes are government formulated and mandated estate plans. If there is no Will, these statutes how all of the deceased’s probate property will be distributed. Here is a link to Pennsylvania’s statute for reference.
The answer to this inquiry depends which family members or relatives survived the person who died (the decedent) without a Will. This page seeks to explain in clear terms with simple examples what happens to a person’s probate assets if he or she dies intestate in Pennsylvania.
Before the examples begin, remember, property that is held joint with the right of survivorship or that has a beneficiary designation will not follow the intestacy statute. Each example below has a pictograph example, simply click on the box to the right. As always, please contact us for a free consultation if you have any questions.
We start with some fairly straightforward examples, then move onto more complex family situations at number 8 below.
1 – Husband and Wife are married, Husband dies with surviving spouse but no surviving parents or children. This is as simple as it gets. The surviving wife inherits the entire probate estate.
2 – Husband is married to his partner, both die together in a car accident, survived by their two adopted children. The surviving children each inherit equal one-half (1/2) shares of the probate estate of each decedent.
2.1 – Husband and Wife are married, they die together in a car accident leaving one surviving child and two surviving grandchildren from a predeceased child. All probate assets of each decedent are divided into per stirpital shares at the child level. The surviving child inherits one-half (1/2) of the probate estate. The grandchildren divide the remaining one-half (1/2); meaning each inherit a one-quarter (1/4) of the probate estate.
2.2 – Husband and Wife are married with and two sons, all die together in car accident; one son survived by one daughter, one son survived by three sons. The probate assets of each decedent are divided into per stirpital shares at the grandchild level. The surviving grandchildren each inherit a one-quarter (1/4) share of the probate estate.
3 – Man dies unmarried with no children, survived by both parents. The probate estate is divided equally among the surviving parents. Each parent inherits a one-half (1/2) share of the probate estate.
4 – Man dies survived by only a brother; no spouse, children or parents. The man’s brother inherits the entire probate estate.
4.1 – Woman dies with surviving brother, two surviving nephews of another predeceased brother, and no surviving spouse, children or parents. The probate estate is divided into per stirpital shares at the sibling level. The surviving brother inherits one-half (1/2) of the probate assets, the nephews divide the remaining one-half (1/2), meaning each inherit a one-quarter (1/4) share of the probate estate.
5 – Woman married to her partner, woman dies survived by her partner and both parents (no children). Contrary to popular belief, the surviving partner does not inherit the entire probate estate. The surviving spouse inherits the first thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) of probate assets and one half (1/2) of the remaining probate estate. The remaining one-half (1/2) of the probate estate is divided into equal shares for the woman’s surviving parents.
6 – Husband and Wife are married, Husband dies with surviving spouse, their two children, and his parents. The surviving Wife inherits the first thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) of probate assets and one-half (1/2) of the remaining probate estate. The remaining one-half (1/2) of the probate estate is divided into per stirpital shares for the children (1/4 share to each child).
7 – Husband and Wife are married, Husband dies with surviving spouse, a child of both he and his Wife, and a child of only his Wife’s (step-child). The surviving Wife inherits the first thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) of probate assets and one-half (½) of the remaining probate estate. The husband’s surviving child inherits the remaining one-half (½) of the probate estate. The step-child receives nothing.
7.1 – Husband and Wife are married, Husband dies with surviving spouse, a child of both he and his Wife, and a child of his from a previous marriage. The surviving Wife inherits one-half (½) of the probate estate. The remaining one-half (½) is divided into per stirpital shares for the husband’s children. The two children split the remaining one-half (1/2) and each inherit one-quarter (1/4) of the probate estate. In this case, the wife does not receive the first thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) because the husband has a child from a previous relationship.
This is where our analysis becomes tricky. As long as there are living relatives of the decedent as distant as a child of a first cousin, the probate estate is inherited by a relative. Otherwise, the probate estate passes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The first step of the analysis is to divide the probate estate into two equal shares; one for the maternal grandparents (and their descendants) and one for the paternal grandparents (and their descendants). Note: If there are no surviving relatives as close as a grandchild of a grandparent on the maternal side, but there are on the paternal side, no division takes place, and the estate passes entirely to the paternal side of the family and vice versa. In some examples, the discussion takes place solely on the paternal side however the same analysis is necessary on the maternal side.
8 – Man dies with both surviving maternal and paternal grandparents, but no spouse, children, parents or siblings. The probate estate is divided into equal one-half (1/2) shares, one for each of the maternal and paternal side of the family. Each grandparent inherits an equal one-fourth (1/4) share of the probate estate.
8.1 – Man dies with both surviving paternal grandparents (2) one surviving maternal grandparent (1), but no spouse, children, parents or siblings. The maternal grandparent inherits one-half (1/2) of the probate estate. The remaining one-half (1/2) is divided into equal shares for the paternal grandparents, each receive a one-fourth (1/4) share of the probate estate.
9 – Man dies with one surviving uncle, but no spouse, children, parents or siblings or grandparents. The maternal and paternal shares of the probate estate are divided into per stirpital shares at the uncle level; the sole surviving uncle inherits the entire probate estate regardless of whether he is a maternal or paternal uncle.
9.1 – Same scenario as above except one uncle predeceases the man, leaving a surviving child (the man’s cousin). The cousin inherits the entire probate estate.
10 – Man dies with three surviving grandchildren of his paternal grandparents (1st cousins), but no spouse, children, parents or siblings or grandparents, aunts, or uncles; If there are living paternal grandchildren (1st cousins), probate estate is divided into three equal one-third (1/3) shares among them, regardless of whether there are surviving paternal great-grandchildren.
10.1 – Man dies with two surviving grandchildren of his paternal grandparents (1st cousins) and one surviving great-grandchild of his paternal grandparents, but no spouse, children, parents or siblings or grandparents, aunts, or uncles; At no time can a share pass both to a grandchild of a paternal grandparent (1st cousin) and a great-grandchild of a paternal grandparent (1st cousin’s child). A great-grandchild can only inherit if they are the closest remaining relative to the deceased. The entire probate estate is divided into two (1/2) shares for the surviving grandchildren.
11 – Man dies with no surviving spouse, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or grandchildren of grandparents, or great-grandchildren of grandparents; The entire probate estate goes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
I hope this review of a complicated subject has been helpful to you. If you have further questions about intestate succession in Pennsylvania, feel free to contact us for a free consultation with one of our Pennsylvania Probate Lawyers.
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