If a Pennsylvania resident dies without a will, then their property will be passed to their heirs through a process called intestate succession.
One can think of intestate succession as a default estate plan put together by Pennsylvania’s lawmakers. The idea behind it is to pass a deceased person’s property to their closest family members.
The big drawback to intestate succession is that it might not be what the person wanted or what their family, loved ones or favorite charities expected. It also takes up a lot of the court’s time, and the associated costs come out of the estate, leaving less for the eventual heirs. However, without a will, courts must follow Pennsylvania’s intestate laws.
These laws can be complicated to apply since how they work in a given case will depend on a person’s circumstances.
In general, a person’s surviving spouse is favored in the intestate succession process, although not as much as one might expect.
For example, if a person dies without any children and with no surviving parent, then the surviving spouse takes the entire estate.
However, in most cases, a surviving spouse will be entitled to $30,000 plus only half the rest of the estate.
This is true even in situations where a person has no children but only one surviving parent. It is also true if the person’s only children were with their surviving spouse.
A person who dies without a surviving spouse will see their property split among their parents or their descendants. The laws also cover rarer situations in which a person only has more distant surviving relatives.
Those who do not want intestate laws to apply need to plan their estates
At the most basic level, a Lancaster County resident who does not want Pennsylvania’s intestate laws to apply should prepare a will.
They may also wish to include in an estate plan some techniques to pass their home and other assets outside the probate process. Intestate laws may not apply to things like jointly held real estate, joint bank accounts, retirement plans and life insurance policies.
There is more to avoiding intestate succession than just preparing a will, however.
Intestate laws also apply when a person’s only will is deemed invalid or in cases where the will does not address all of a person’s property. Drafting the will and other documents requires attention to legal details.