What Happens if You Die Without a Will in Pennsylvania?

Dying without a will in Pennsylvania can lead to unforeseen complications and stress for your loved ones. Understand the laws of intestacy and how they apply if you pass away without a will, especially if you're married with children from different relationships.



6/7/20243 min read

pink cherry blossom tree on green grass field
pink cherry blossom tree on green grass field

When an individual passes away without a will in Pennsylvania, they leave behind not only their loved ones but also a number of legal intricacies that can complicate the distribution of their estate. In legal terms, dying without a will is known as dying "intestate," and it means that the state's intestacy laws will dictate how your assets are distributed. As an example, if you're married, have a child from a previous relationship, and a minor child with your current spouse, commonly referred to as a “blended family,” understanding these laws becomes crucial.

The Basics of Intestacy in Pennsylvania

Intestacy laws in Pennsylvania are designed to distribute your estate based on familial relationships. Essentially, if you do not have a will, the state has already written one for you, following a standard hierarchy of heirs. However, this one-size-fits-all approach may not align with your personal wishes or the needs of your family members.

How Assets Are Divided

If you die without a will in Pennsylvania and your family situation includes a spouse and children from different relationships, the division of your assets will depend on several factors:

  1. Spousal Rights: Your surviving spouse is entitled to a portion of your estate, but the exact amount can vary. If you have both a current spouse and descendants—children or grandchildren—the spouse receives the first $30,000 of your intestate estate plus half of the remaining balance. The other half is shared equally among your remaining children.

  2. Children’s Rights: Your children from a previous relationship and the minor child with your current spouse will share the portion of the estate not allocated to the spouse. This means that if you leave behind significant assets, your children from the previous relationship and the child from the current marriage will divide these assets equally after accounting for the spousal share.

Potential Complications

Dying without a will in Pennsylvania, especially with such a blended family structure, can lead to several potential complications:

  • Unequal Treatment of Children: The intestacy laws do not consider individual needs or circumstances. For example, a minor child may have different financial needs compared to an adult child, but intestacy laws distribute assets strictly based on legal guidelines, potentially leading to an unequal support system for the children involved.

  • Lack of Control: Without a will, you lose control over who administers your estate. The court will appoint an administrator, which might not be the person you would have chosen. This individual will have significant control over how your assets are managed and distributed during the probate process.

  • Delayed or Restricted Inheritance: Another disadvantage of dying without a will is that you have no control over when, where, and how your beneficiaries receive their inheritance. For example, you may want to set up a trust for your children to ensure they receive their share at a certain age or for a specific purpose, such as education or health care. Without a will, your assets will be distributed outright to your heirs, which may not be in their best interest. Additionally, if your spouse remarries, your children may lose some or all of their inheritance to the new spouse or their children. A will can help you protect your legacy and provide for your loved ones according to your wishes.

  • Extended Legal Processes: The absence of a will often leads to longer and potentially contentious probate proceedings. Family members may disagree on the distribution, and such disputes can prolong the process, leading to increased legal costs and strained family relationships.

Protecting Your Family’s Future

To avoid the complexities and potential hardships that can arise from dying intestate, it's advisable to have a will in place that clearly outlines your wishes. This is especially important if you have a blended family, as it allows you to specify how your assets should be distributed among your spouse and children. A will can also designate a guardian for your minor children, something that intestacy laws do not address.

If you reside in Pennsylvania and want to ensure that your estate is handled according to your wishes, contact the attorneys at Ament Law Group. Our experienced team can help you prepare a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your desires and provides for your loved ones. Don’t let the state dictate what happens to your assets and children—get a plan in place today. Call us or visit our website to schedule a consultation and start the process of securing your family’s legal future. By crafting a will and considering all aspects of estate planning, you not only protect your assets but also provide peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones.