When you die without a will, your state’s intestacy statute dictates how your estate is distributed. For the most part, only assets in your own name are transferred through the probate process. For example, life insurance proceeds or retirement accounts with beneficiaries pass directly to the designated beneficiaries. Also, real estate owned as joint tenancy with right of survivorship or tenancy by the entirety passes directly to the survivor(s).

In Pennsylvania, assets are distributed as follows:

  • If you leave a spouse and children (and all children are also children from your spouse):
    • Spouse gets $30,000 plus half of the remainder, the children get the remainder.
  • If you leave a spouse and children (and at least one child is from a different parent):
    • Spouse gets half of the estate and the children share the remaining half.
  • If you leave a spouse and no children, but your parents are still alive:
    • Spouse gets $30,000 plus half of the remainder, your parent(s) get what’s left.
  • If you leave a spouse and no children or parents:
    • Spouse inherits everything.
  • If you leave children, and no spouse:
    • Children inherit everything.
  • If you leave parents, but no spouse or children:
    • Parents inherit everything.
  • If no parents, spouse or children survive you:
    • Siblings inherit everything.
  • If you have no parents, spouse, children or siblings, then your estate gets more complex as it is distributed to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins in a specific order. If this is the case, it is best to speak with an experienced attorney.
  • If you have no living relatives, then the estate eventually goes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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