Intestate succession occurs when a person dies without a will. In Pennsylvania, your assets will pass to your closest relatives. In this case, your estate will enter probate.
Pennsylvania has a relatively simple probate process, but you still need to know what to expect when you or a loved one dies without a will.
Your spouse does not automatically receive everything
If you have a spouse, do not assume that your estate will automatically transfer to them. Pennsylvania law states that your assets can only transfer without probate to your spouse if they are in both your names. Any property or investments that you hold solely in your name require probate.
What if you have surviving children or parents?
If you do not have any surviving children or parents, your surviving spouse will receive the entire estate. If there are surviving parents or children, the probate process becomes a little more complicated. Your spouse is still entitled to a portion of your estate, but your parents and offspring also receive a share.
If your children are both you and your spouse’s, they will not receive a percentage of your estate. If at least one child is not your spouse’s, they will receive an inheritance. This is because the court does not assume your surviving spouse will take care of a child not their own.
Without a surviving spouse, the state will distribute your assets according to a descending order of family relations. In order, your estate passes to any children, parents, siblings, siblings’ children, grandparents, uncles or aunts and the children of your uncles or aunts. To avoid the court deciding on an heir, it is easier to draft a will. Your estate will still pass through probate. However, you have a clearer say in the management of your estate after you pass away.