The consequences of dying without a Will in Pennsylvania are outlined in the Intestate Succession Law. An individual that dies without a valid Will is deemed to have died “intestate” and has an “intestate estate.” The Intestate Succession Law is applied to intestate estates. If the deceased person does not have any living relatives, then the person’s estate will be given to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. If the deceased person does have relatives, the Law determines the amount the relatives receive and how it is shared.
The living spouse of the deceased person will received everything only if the deceased person has no living children, grandchildren, or parents. If the living spouse and the deceased person had children together, then the living spouse receives the first $30,000 of the estate plus 1/2 of what remains. The children will share the other 1/2 that is left. If the deceased person had a child that is not the living spouse’s child, then the living spouse only receives 1/2 of the estate and all of the children will share the other 1/2.
If the living spouse or the deceased person did not have children, but the deceased person has a living mother or father, then the living spouse receives the first $30,000 plus 1/2 of the remaining estate. The living parents of the deceased person will share the other 1/2.
If the deceased person does not have a living spouse, then the living children will receive the entire estate. If there are no living children, then the deceased’s living parents will receive the entire estate. If there are no living parents of the deceased, then the estate is divided among the deceased person’s living siblings. If there are no living siblings, then the deceased person’s nieces and nephews will share the estate.
If the deceased person never had siblings, then the living paternal and maternal grandparents share the estate. If none of the paternal or maternal grandparents are alive, then their halves of the estate are given to their living children, which is the deceased person’s Aunts or Uncles. If the Aunts or Uncles are no longer alive, then the respective halves of the estate are given to the cousins of the deceased person. In circumstances where either both of the paternal grandparents or both of the maternal grandparents are dead and have no living child or grandchild, then the 1/2 of the estate that they would’ve received is given to the living grandparents on the other side or the living Aunts & Uncles or the living cousins or the living grandchildren of the Aunts & Uncles.
In addition to these rules, there are two methods for distributing an estate, which is based on the relationship of the living relatives. The methods are per stirpes distribution (for different degrees of relationships) and per capita distribution (for equal degrees of relationship).
Due to the complexity of the rules and the distribution methods, it is important that relatives of a loved one that died without a will in Pennsylvania seek the help of an attorney before beginning the probate process. At the Wilson McLean law firm, we can help you with the probate process, advise you on drafting your own Will to avoid any risk of intestacy, and guide you through the tax consequences.
Pennsylvania Intestate Succession Law 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2101 et seq.