What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

June 1, 2021

What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

Do you know what happens to your estate if you die without a will? Well, have you heard about intestate succession? That’s the name of what will happen. The Pennsylvania court system will try to distribute your estate amongst your spouse and living heirs as equally and legally as they can, to put into layman’s terms.

They do this according to the laws of Descent and Distribution. These contain Civil and Common Laws pertaining to the distribution and transfer of property. If the laws dictating estates feel like Russian dolls to you, no one would blame you. Any level of confusion at this point is understandable, and why you should want to set up a will, something we can help you with.

At the same time, there are plenty of things that happen if you die without a will, that will convince you that you should make one. You may be surprised by who is privy to the contents of your estate and who is not. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll speak as if all of your estate is broken down into monetary value. In reality, when it comes to non-monetary property, shares of it will be split between heirs accordingly.

What Does Your Spouse Get?

What your spouse gets will actually depend on whether or not you have any living descendants. Descendants can be your children or grandchildren, but this can complicate things depending on whether they’re your current spouse’s descendants as well. If you have living parents, that can also complicate issues as they have a claim to your possessions if you have no descendants. Grandchildren will only inherit an estate if their parent (your child) is not alive or otherwise unable to receive their share.

A Spouse with no Descendants

This is rather simple. Your spouse will receive everything you own if you have no descendants and no parents to claim your possessions. If you do pass before either of your parents, then the court typically will award your spouse the first $30,000 of your estate, and then half of the remaining balance, with that other half going to your parents.

A Spouse with Descendants

In the case that you and your spouse have children or even grandchildren together, it’s similar to what would happen if you’re survived by your parents and spouse, but had no descendants. Your spouse will get the first $30,000 of your estate, then half of the remaining balance, with the other half being evenly distributed among your children. Typically, if the children are not of age, the surviving parent (or for grandchildren in some instances) can be appointed the trustee until the children come of age.

A Spouse with Descendants from another person

This is where things differ. If you’re married but have descendants from a previous relationship, the distribution of your estate changes. This may lead to conflict between the recipients. Your spouse will receive half, and the other half will be distributed amongst all of your descendants. If your children from a past relationship, and thus any following grandchildren, are adopted by your current spouse, they would be treated as descendants of your spouse. Then the distribution of your state would be as if they were the blood descendants of you and your spouse.

What if You Have No Spouse?

Not everyone gets married before having kids. Some people have children without ever having been married. Others outlive their spouses. This all leaves us with a few simpler explanations for what happens to your estate. This does, however, also leave us with many different possibilities for what counts as a descendant.

There are several types of children that are commonly discussed in court, and you should know which ones do and don’t count as your descendants when you die without a will or spouse. Those who count as your descendants include all biological children, legally adopted children, grandchildren (if their parents cannot accept their inheritance), and relatives placed for adoption. Relatives placed for adoption, include grandchildren who were legally adopted by another family, but you have “maintained a family relationship” with them.

Foster children and stepchildren you never adopted, along with children you placed up for adoption who were eventually adopted, will not count as one of your descendants. Having a child adopted by a stepparent who was your now deceased spouse still counts as your biological child.

No Spouse, Only Descendants

Your estate will be spread out equally among all of your descendants. Relatives placed for adoption and children born posthumously (conceived but not born before your death), may have to come forward and stake a claim if the court is initially unaware of them when distributing your estate.

No Spouse, No Descendants, Only Parents

Your parents will receive everything from your estate.

No Spouse, No Descendants, No Parents, Only Siblings

Your siblings are only considered when there are no spouses, descendants, or parents to come before them. When the siblings are the only ones left, your estate is left all to them. It will be split evenly among multiple siblings, or all to one if you only have one who survives you.

No Spouse, No Descendants, No Parents, No Siblings

Your closest surviving relative(s), whether it be cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts, or uncles, will be chosen to receive your estate. The court will likely give your estate to whomever is left, and split it equally among them, or whoever is fittest.

No Family or Relatives Whatsoever

If there is truly no one who your estate can be left to, this is the one and only way in which the state takes ownership of your estate. What they do with it, depends wholly on the kind of estate you have left behind.

Rules to Remember

Yes, there are still more stipulations and rules to remember. If this hasn’t convinced you to meet with someone, like MKPV’s law firm, to set up a will and/or trust, maybe these added rules will.

Posthumous Relatives

Any relative, from children to grandchildren, to nieces and nephews, will be treated the same as those alive when you died if they were conceived before you died and born afterward.

Half Relatives

Half relatives, or typically called half-siblings, are treated as if they were “whole siblings.” A brother or sister who shares only one parent with you is recognized the same as a sibling who shares both parents.

Immigration Status

If anyone, from a descendant, a parent, or a sibling, is not a legal citizen or immigrant of the United States, they can still inherit your estate from your will.

Survivorship Period

For an estate to inherit another person’s estate under Pennsylvania law, the person who receives your estate must outlive you by at least five days. This means that if your descendant, parent, or relative dies within five days of you, they cannot include your estate in their will. They must have been alive for at least five days after your death to receive your estate.

Advancement Rule

If you gave property of any kind before your passing, that relative will see that portion subtracted from their share of your estate upon your death. They do not owe other recipients of your estate if the property you gave them is valued more than what they would have received upon your death.

Slayer Rule

If someone who may inherit your estate “willfully and unlawfully” kills you, they cannot receive a share of your estate. If they prove they killed you in self-defense, they can still be a recipient of your estate.

Don’t Wait, Contact Mazzoni Karam Petorak & Valvano now to protect your future

After reading and trying to understand all the complicated rules and proceedings that affect who gets your estate after you die without a will, you should be thinking to yourself, “Maybe I need a will.

The answer is yes, you do, and we can help you turn it into an easy process. If you also need assistance creating a trust for your estate alongside your will, we help with that as well. Contact us as our real estate lawyers are waiting to help you secure the future of your property.

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