You might be tired of constantly hearing from estate planning experts how important it is to map out the administration of your estate while you are still capable of doing so. Yet the prospect of actually doing it can seem daunting, particularly because you do not want your decisions upsetting any of those you might (or might not) designate as beneficiaries.
Many estate planners wonder what happens if they choose not to prepare a will at all. Like them, you might think that by not drafting a will, you leave the decision on how to divide up your assets to your heirs. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
What happens when you do not prepare a will?
If you die without a will, the law classifies your estate as “intestate.” You can find the details of Pennsylvania’s intestate succession guidelines in Section 2101 of the state’s Consolidated Statutes. There it states that if you leave behind a spouse but no surviving descendants, then your spouse inherits your entire estate. In such a scenario, if your parents are still alive, then your spouse’s interest in your estate reduces to the first $30,000 in value, and then one-half of the remaining balance of the estate (with the other half going to your parents).
The same scenario applies if you leave behind a spouse and descendants. If those descendants are not also the descendants of your spouse, then the state simply divides the entire amount of your estate between both sides.
Intestate succession priority if you have no surviving spouse
If you do not leave behind a spouse or a will, the inheritance of your estate passes in the following order:
- To your descendants
- To your parents
- To your siblings (and their descendants)
- To your next surviving kin
If none of the aforementioned parties are available, then your intestate estate passes directly to the state.