If you die without a will in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, certain assets, including property, will be distributed based on the laws Interstate Succession. It is important to note that not all property is passed down by will. Certain assets, such as assets held in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety, policies of life insurance, Individual Retirements Accounts (IRAs) or other contractual agreements, are passed down by different methods.

The laws of Interstate Succession in Pennsylvania oversee the distribution of an individual’s assets if the individual dies without a will. The first person in line to receive the deceased’s assets is the spouse, followed by children, parents, siblings and other relatives. If there is no fit substitute then the person’s estate is left to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Spouse & Children

The Interstate Succession laws in Pennsylvania state that if an individual is married at the time of their death and is not survived by any children then the spouse will receive the entire estate. However, if the deceased is survived by a spouse as well as children, who were also the surviving spouse’s children, the surviving spouse receives the first $30,000 and one-half of the rest of the estate. If one of the existing children is not the surviving spouses’ child, the spouse receives only half of the estate.

Spouse & Parents – No Children

If the deceased’s spouse and parents survive and there were no existing children, the surviving spouse would be entitled to the first $30,000 plus half of the rest of the estate.

No Spouse

When there is no surviving spouse the distribution of the deceased individual’s assets and property are distributed as follows:

(1) Children, Parents, Siblings & their Children

If there are still living children, the estate is split between them. If there are no children, parents of the deceased are next in line to split property and assets amongst themselves. If there are no living children or parents, the estate goes directly to the children of the deceased’s parents (aka their siblings and their children).

(2) Grandparents & Other Relatives

No spouse, children, parents, or siblings means that the estate goes to the grandparents of the deceased. Assets and property are split between maternal grandparents and their children and paternal grandparents and their children, each receiving half. If there are currently no surviving grandparents, the estate is distributed between other relatives, such as uncles and aunts and their children and grandchildren.

(3) Pennsylvania

If none of the above-mentioned individuals survive, the estate is given directly to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

As one can see, these rules are not tailored to an individual’s specific situation and may not accomplish the individual’s goals. For example, you may want to give some of your estate to a charity or to a good family friend.  More importantly, you will want to select the person or persons who will care for your minor children if you and your spouse die. These are just two important reasons why it makes sense to draft a will.

The estate planning attorneys at Astor Weiss Kaplan & Mandel, LLP  have over 40 years of experience advising clients on their estate plans. For additional information on why a will is beneficial for your estate plan, feel free to contact David Workman or Daniel Levine.