Wills, Trusts, Estates and Taxes – Why draft a will when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania already provides one?

What happens if you die without a will?  In Pennsylvania, your assets* that are in your name will be distributed based on the intestate succession laws of Pennsylvania. Specifically, your property will be distributed in the following manner:

    • If you are only survived by a spouse, your entire estate would be distributed to your surviving spouse.
    • If you are survived by a spouse and children, all of whom were also the surviving spouse’s children, your spouse would receive the first $30,000 of your estate plus one-half of the balance of the estate. However, if you were survived by a spouse and children, at least one of whom was not also the surviving spouse’s child, the surviving spouse will only receive one-half of the estate and the children would share the other half. There are special rules if a child predeceases you and is survived by children (your grandchildren).
    • If you have no surviving spouse, your estate would be distributed in the following order:
      1. Children
      2. Parents
      3. Brother, Sister, or their Children
      4. Grandparents
      5. Uncles, Aunts, and their Children and Grandchildren
      6. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

As you can see, these rules are not tailored to an individual’s specific situation and may not accomplish your 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 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, or other estate planning inquires, feel free to contact us.

*Note that not all property passes by will (e.g., assets held in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety, policies of life insurance, Individual Retirement Accounts (“IRAs”) or other contractual agreements).

By: Daniel Levine