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If someone dies without a will, who gets their belongings?

On Behalf of | Jan 9, 2020 | Estate Planning

It’s a question we all have to consider at one point or another. After I’m gone, what do I want to happen to all of my stuff? Many people use a will to help answer this question.

But what happens if someone dies without a will? Will their loved ones still inherit the correct items?

Dying intestate

There is a term the courts use when someone passes on and does not have a will. It is referred to as dying intestate.

If a person dies without a will, the courts divide their estate – meaning most everything they own – based on intestate succession laws. These laws spell out how much of the estate certain heirs receive, and are quite rigid.

This means, without a will, your family and loved ones will have little say in how your belongings are distributed. Rather, the law makes the decision for them, regardless of whether it’s what you would have wanted.

What are Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws?

Intestate succession laws depend, in large part, on whether someone has a spouse or children, and the presence of surviving loved ones.

For example, if you have a spouse but no children, and both of your parents have passed, your spouse inherits everything. Similarly, if you have children but no spouse, the children get everything. Here are some other situations:

  • Spouse and children only from that spouse – surviving spouse receives $30,000 then half of the remaining estate; the children split whatever is left
  • Spouse, children from that relationship and children from a different partner – surviving spouse inherits half of the estate; all the children inherit and split the rest
  • Spouse, no children, one or both parents – surviving spouse receives $30,000 and then half of what is left; parent or parents inherit the remainder

In some cases, these situations can open the door for unnecessary conflict, where family members and loved ones disagree on certain things. A will can help prevent these touchy situations before they begin. And better yet, you can feel secure knowing your prized belongings will end up with the family and loved ones you care about.