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Intestate Succession – Dying Without a Will

April 14, 2014 Estate Planning

Having your Will drafted, especially in this era of e-mail communication, is typically an easy, non-complicated, and financially efficient experience. Unfortunately, it appears high on the list of many people’s New Year’s resolutions that they often do not get around to completing.

What are the consequences of dying without a Will? Read below, and some of the information may surprise you.

The Basics

Dying without a Will means that the property that you own in your name alone will enter into what is known as Intestate Succession. The rules for Pennsylvania Intestate Succession are found in the Pennsylvania Laws, Title 21, Section 2103.

Upon your death, any probate assets (see below for explanation 1) would be divided with the first $30,000 going to your surviving spouse, plus one-half of the balance likewise going to your spouse. This would come as a surprise to many individuals, who assume that their surviving husband or wife would be entitled to all of the assets that an individual might leave. You should remain aware of the fact that any assets that you hold jointly with your wife would pass to her in their entirety, by what is known as “operation of law.”

The balance that would remain will be divided equally among your living children.

If you had no children in this marriage, your spouse would be entitled to the same spousal share described above, and the balance to your surviving parents, or parent, as the case might be.

If you have no surviving parents, then the balance of your estate would be divided equally among your surviving brothers or sisters, or if one of your siblings had predeceased you, then to their children in equal shares. Once again, this might come as an unexpected result to you, with your brothers and sisters becoming an active part in the distribution of your estate.

Perhaps most surprising is that if your parents have predeceased you, and you have no brothers or sisters, or if they have predeceased you, then the balance of your estate would go to any surviving grandparents! While this is likely an expected result, it is still something that most individuals would not anticipate happening.

Going down the line, if there are no surviving grandparents, the balance of the estate, after spousal payment, would be distributed among surviving uncles, aunts, or their children.

Finally, in the world of statistical improbability, the balance of the estate would go to your first cousin, then to children of cousins. Once all of these avenues have been exhausted, then your estate would go to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in what is known as an “escheat” situation.

While many people believe that if they do not draft a Will that the State would be next in line for the funds, as you can see from the above, there are many perhaps unexpected consequences of not leaving a Will.


One other consequence of not leaving a Will in Pennsylvania is that you will have not named an Executor of your estate, typically an individual whom you know and trust, who would admit your Will into probate. Instead, your descendants would be left to agree, amongst themselves, who would best be suited to be Executor. If there was not unilateral agreement in that regard, then a petition would have to be filed with the Court, and the disagreeing parties would state their case as to why they should be named as Executor of the estate. This, at times, can lead to the appointment of an outside Executor, a consequence that most individuals would not contemplate, or want.

Take Action

As you can see, there are many unintended results from not leaving a Will. Take action on this, and let your wishes be known through the drafting of a Will. Your family will thank you for it!

1Probate property is one in which there is not a designated beneficiary of an account, or policy. For example, a contract of life insurance will designate a beneficiary upon your death. This property, in which there was a named beneficiary, will not be subject to intestate distribution.