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What exactly happens if you die without a will?

While you undoubtedly understand the importance of showing up to work, eating healthy meals and taking your medication, other things are easy to put off. Writing a will falls into this category, as it may not seem particularly pressing. In fact, about 54% of Americans say they do not have a will.

A will is simply a legally binding document that describes what happens to your possessions and perhaps even your children after you die. While it is advisable to remove all doubts about your intentions by creating a will, you may wonder what happens if you die without one.

Intestate succession

If you have no will when you die, the assets you exclusively own go to your closest relatives according to Pennsylvania’s intestate succession rules. If you do not exclusively own assets because they are in a trust, part of a joint tenancy or otherwise have joint ownership, intestate succession rules may not apply.

In Pennsylvania, the following close relatives receive your assets:

  • If you have children and no spouse, your children inherit your entire estate
  • If you have a spouse and no children, your spouse inherits your entire estate
  • If you have a spouse and children, each inherits a portion of your estate

If your close relatives include only your parents, they may inherit everything you own. The same is true for your siblings, provided you have no other closer relatives who are alive.

Your Estate passes by a statute rather than your express wishes

As you can see, the intestate succession rules in the Keystone State can be quite confusing, and are a one size fits all answer to a problem. Furthermore, you may want a person who is not in line to inherit some of your assets by intestacy laws to have a share in your estate, and conversely you may NOT want a family member to receive anything who per the intestacy laws they would. As such, many times it can be a recipe for disaster when a person dies without a will.

Ultimately, by writing a will, you maintain control over what happens to your estate after your death.