The Importance of Having a Valid Will
If you’ve been thinking about preparing and executing a last will and testament, but just haven’t gotten around to it, you’re not alone. A recent poll found that less than half of all Americans have a will. In Pennsylvania, as in other states, if you die without a will and there are assets that can only be transferred through the probate process (see our earlier blog about assets that avoid probate), your property will pass under the laws of intestacy, a statute that identifies the order in which assets are distributed.
Assets That Are Subject to the Laws of Intestacy
The laws of intestacy are only applied to those assets that would have been included in your will, had one been in place. As a general rule, that includes only assets that have documents of title, such as a car, house or mobile home, or a bank account, and which you owned individually. Because you are the only person who can legally transfer those assets, the probate court must oversee their distribution.
The Rules Governing Intestate Succession in Pennsylvania
If you die without a will in Pennsylvania and you have a surviving spouse, that person will get some portion of your estate, but the extent of the inheritance will depend on whether you have other living family members. If you have no living parents or descendants at the date of your death, your spouse will receive your entire estate. However, if you have parents or children living at the date of your death, your spouse will receive the first $30,000 of your estate and one half of the remaining amount, unless your descendants are not from that spouse. If they’re not, your spouse at the time of your death gets half of the estate and your descendants get the rest.
If you die intestate, and a probate proceeding is required, the probate court will appoint an executor to handle the estate.
As you can see, if you die without a will, and have property that must go through probate, your loved ones may have to go through a long and arduous process where they have little or no control over the outcome. A well-drafted will may be the best legacy you can leave your loved ones.
Contact Our Office
At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie, Seelaus & Kraft LLP, we offer experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel to individuals in Pennsylvania. To set up an appointment for an initial consultation, call us at 610-565-4055 or 302-594-4535 or contact us online