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Intestate Succession: What Happens to Your Estate if You Pass Away Without a Will?

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What is the Probate Process Without a Will in Pennsylvania?

When someone dies, the property they leave behind needs to be passed on to the beneficiaries according to the instructions they leave behind in a Will or other estate planning document. If someone dies without a Will, distributing their estate can be complex. That’s where Pennsylvania’s intestate statutes kick in to determine how to dispense the estate.

The same process is followed if a Will is contested or invalidated due to various legal challenges. If your loved one died intestate and you are wondering how to receive what is rightfully yours, contact skilled estate planning attorneys in Pennsylvania for legal counsel and representation.

Overview of Intestate Succession

Intestate succession or probate laws are designed to protect the surviving spouse and children first when distributing a decedent’s estate. If there is no surviving spouse or children, the law provides for the decedent’s extended family, such as their parents, siblings, grandchildren, aunts, and uncles.

Generally, whoever is alive when distributing the estate receives it, based on their relationship to the decedent.

Intestate Succession Order

Probate and trust administration lawyers in Pennsylvania provide an overview of the succession order:

  • If the decedent has a surviving spouse and no surviving children or parents, the spouse will receive the entire intestate estate.
  • If there is a surviving spouse and parents, the first $30,000 of the estate goes to the spouse, plus half of the remaining estate. The surviving parents receive the other half of the estate’s remainder.
  • If survived by a spouse and children, the first $30,000 of the estate goes to the spouse, in addition to one-half of the remaining estate. The surviving children receive the other half of the estate.
  • If survived by a spouse and the spouse has children who are not the surviving spouse’s children, the spouse gets half of the estate, and the children get the other half.
  • The decedent’s surviving children receive the entire estate if the decedent has no surviving spouse.
  • The parents receive the estate if the decedent has no surviving spouse or children.
  • The estate goes to the decedent’s siblings if there are no surviving parents, children, or spouse.
  • The decedent’s surviving grandparents will receive the estate if there are no surviving children, spouses, parents, or siblings. One-half of the estate goes to the maternal grandparents and the other half to paternal grandparents or grandparent’s children in some cases.
  • The estate goes to the decedent’s uncles, aunts, and their children and grandchildren if there are no surviving grandparents.
  • If there are no surviving relatives, as mentioned above, the estate passes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Which Assets Are Affected by Intestate Succession Laws?

Only the assets passing through the decedent’s estate are affected, which comprise the things they own in their name only, without a joint owner or a beneficiary designation. It’s possible that many of a decedent’s valuable assets won’t be affected by the intestate succession process, such as the following:

  • Property already transferred into a trust
  • Life insurance benefits
  • IRA funds, 401(k), or other retirement accounts
  • Property owned jointly in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account

These assets go to the surviving co-owner or designated beneficiary whether or not the decedent left behind a Will. Only the investments in their name alone will be subject to intestate succession procedures, including stocks, real estate, and bank accounts. Skilled Pennsylvania probate and trust administration lawyers can provide legal counsel if you need clarification.

What is the First Step in the Probate Process?

The first step in the probate process is to appoint a personal representative to administer the decedent’s estate. Family members can agree on who to select as the administrator and sign a renunciation form. If the members can’t agree, you must file a petition with the probate court for a grant of letters.

You must present the decedent’s death certificate and renunciations signed by the heirs if no Will exists. Upon taking an oath to administer the estate properly, the Register of Wills will issue Letters of Administration. The process can be demanding, but experienced probate and trust administration attorneys in Pennsylvania can work with you to ease the process.

Legal Duties of the Personal Representative

Pennsylvania law highlights the many duties of a personal representative. They undertake a fiduciary duty to serve and protect the interests of the:

  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Decedent’s creditors
  • Decedent’s heirs

Before distributing the decedent’s estate, the administrator must first pay the decedent’s debts, taxes, administration expenses, and funeral costs. What remains is what makes up the distributable estate.

It’s worth noting that a personal representative can be held liable for breaching their duty, wrongful acts, or mistakes that arise when administering the decedent’s estate. If you need help when fulfilling your duties as personal representative of a decedent’s estate, talk to experienced Pennsylvania probate and trust administration attorneys for legal assistance.

An Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer Helping You Protect Your Estate

Dying without a Will subjects your estate to intestate succession. Everything you worked so hard for might end up with the people you didn’t intend to inherit you. So, you might want to create a Will to protect your assets and loved ones. Experienced Pennsylvania estate planning lawyers can help you draft your Will.

Peak Legal Group, LTD lawyers have been helping families plan their estates for many years. While creating an estate plan can be challenging, not having one can be more complex for your family. Let us help you plan your estate to help your loved ones avoid the probate process, which can be lengthy and complicated. Call us at (610) 989-7064 to schedule a FREE consultation.

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