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  • Writer's pictureLeeson & Leeson

Pennsylvania Intestacy Laws: What Happens If You Die Without a Will

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

Estate planning is an essential aspect of securing your legacy and ensuring that all of your assets are distributed according to your wishes. A last will and testament is a powerful tool allowing you to dictate how your estate should be managed and allocated after passing. However, life is unpredictable, and circumstances may arise where someone passes away without a valid will.


The Bethlehem estate planning attorney at Leeson & Leeson is here to help when your loved one passes away without a will.


Intestacy Defined



Intestacy refers to the condition in which a person dies without a valid will. When this occurs, state laws step in to fill the void left by the absence of a will. Intestacy laws dictate the distribution of the deceased's assets, specifying who inherits what portion of the estate. The process of administering an estate without a will is referred to as intestate succession. This can be difficult for family members as the deceased's wishes are not taken into account.


Distribution of Assets


Pennsylvania's intestacy laws provide a structured framework for asset distribution among surviving family members. The hierarchy of inheritance typically prioritizes the closest relatives. If the deceased had a surviving spouse but no children, the spouse would inherit the entire estate. However, if the deceased had children, the spouse would inherit half of the estate's value, with the other half being divided equally among the children.


What Happens When There is No Surviving Spouse or Descendants?


In cases where the deceased has neither a surviving spouse nor descendants (children or grandchildren), the intestacy laws determine the inheritance based on a predetermined order of priority. The estate would pass to parents, followed by siblings, nieces, and nephews. If none of these relatives exist, the state may eventually claim the estate as "escheat," meaning the government takes control of the assets.


Potential Challenges


Intestacy can lead to unintended consequences, especially in complex family structures. Without a will, the deceased's wishes are not accounted for, potentially causing disputes among family members.


Additionally, the intestacy process can be more time-consuming and costly due to legal proceedings and potential disagreements among heirs.


Avoiding Intestacy: The Importance of Having a Will


Creating a valid will is the most effective way to ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes. A will allows you to name beneficiaries, designate guardians for minor children, and even establish trusts for specific purposes. By taking the time to draft a will, you gain the peace of mind that your loved ones will be spared the complexities and uncertainties of intestate succession.


Consulting an Estate Planning Attorney


To navigate the intricacies of Pennsylvania's intestacy laws and ensure that your estate is handled according to your preferences, it's advisable to consult an experienced Pennsylvania estate planning attorney. They can help you draft a comprehensive will that reflects your intentions and assists your loved ones during what can be a challenging time.


At Leeson & Leeson, we specialize in estate planning and probate matters, offering tailored legal solutions that align with Pennsylvania's laws and regulations. Call us today and schedule a consultation to start planning.


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