What Happens to an Estate After a Person Dies Without a Will?

February 22, 2023
Delaware County Wills and Estates Law Firm Eckell Sparks Can Help You Get Your Affairs in Order.

Many people put off creating a will, or never do it at all, because they feel uncomfortable or think the process is involved or expensive. Yet, when someone has a will in place, their final wishes will be carried out. However, what happens when someone dies without a will in place?

Someone who passes away without a will dies intestate; there is no legal document to guide how the estate and assets will be distributed. Instead of the final wishes being followed, legal procedures determine how matters will be handled. This means that potential inheritors like surviving spouses and family members will have to wait until the process is completed.

Only assets that go through the probate process are affected by intestate succession laws. Probate court is where assets, debts, and payments are determined. It is where guardianships and conservatorships are handled. When there is a will, the process is much more organized and does not take as long. In essence, the will is the set of instructions that guides probate courts.

Each state has its own intestate laws. Without a will in place, a deceased person’s bank accounts, life insurance proceeds, real estate holdings, and investments will be at risk of going to the wrong party. During probate, inheritors must file petitions to explain why they have claims to the estate. There can be several or more people making these kinds of claims.

Pennsylvania’s Intestate Laws

In Pennsylvania, determining who gets what will depend on whether there are living parents, children, or other close relatives. If there is a surviving spouse but no children or living parents, the spouse inherits all the assets. If there are living children but no spouse, they will be the inheritors. When there is a surviving spouse and children, the spouse receives the first $30,000 of the property, plus half of the balance. The children inherit everything else.

When there are children involved, Pennsylvania courts must determine they are legal children of the deceased. Adopted and biological children can fall into this category. There are also laws that apply to half-relatives and posthumous relatives.

Also, keep in mind that all funeral expenses, debts, and taxes must be paid before the inheritors receive anything. In rare instances when someone dies and there is no family, the assets will be turned over to the state.

Delaware County Wills and Estates Law Firm Eckell Sparks Can Help You Get Your Affairs in Order

Wills are designed to carry out final wishes and lessen the burden on loved ones. Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. is a Delaware County wills and estates law firm you can rely on. Complete our online form or call us at 610-565-3701 to learn more and to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients in Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.