What Happens To My Assets If I Die Without a Will? Part I
Question: I am unmarried and have no children. My parents are alive and I have three (3) siblings. I currently do not have a will. If I die without a will, who will inherit from my estate?
Answer: Dying without a will is known as dying “intestate.” Estate Administration is the process of the collection of the deceased person’s assets, payment of his or her debts, taxes and the expenses of administering the estate, followed by distribution of the remaining assets to entitled family members, subject to Court supervision and authorization. The Administrator or Administratrix (female administrator) of the Estate is the individual appointed by the Court to carry out the above responsibilities and duties where an individual dies intestate.
In an administration proceeding, it must be determined who are the surviving next of kin of the deceased person. These individuals are known as “distributees.” Under Pennsylvania Law, the distributees are determined in the following order:
1) Surviving Spouse
4) Brothers, sisters or their issue (Issue refers to lineal descendants- children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc.)
6) Uncles, Aunts and their children, and grandchildren
Accordingly, Pennsylvania Law determines who falls into the category of a “distributee” based upon which members of your family are living at the time of your death. As you can see, priority is given to spouses, followed by children, then to parents. If you do not have any of these relations, the priority shifts to brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, then to grandparents. Ultimately, the law traces your family tree until a level is found in which at least one living person is found, with priority being given in the order of the above categories.
In the scenario set forth above, since you are unmarried, do not have children, and your parents are still living, your parents would be your distributees and would inherit your entire estate if you die without a will. If your parents predecease you, your siblings would inherit. Furthermore, the Court will appoint an Administrator or Administratrix to manage and oversee your estate.
While it is unpleasant to contemplate death, it is important to recognize that dying without a will results in your assets being distributed pursuant to the aforementioned Pennsylvania intestate laws, which may or may not align with your wishes, and your estate possibly being overseen by a person that you have not chosen. In order to minimize the burden on your loved ones, it is important to express your wishes in a written document (a “Will”) and direct which of your loved ones will benefit from the property and assets you leave behind. In doing so, it is vital to consult and contract with an expert in preparing such documentation in order to ensure that it accomplishes your wishes and is drafted in accordance with Pennsylvania law.
This article serves as a very brief overview of Pennsylvania Intestate law and is not intended to constitute a comprehensive description or analysis. If we can be of assistance in connection with your or your loved one’s planning, please do not hesitate to contact us.
This article is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.