Division of Estate: What Happens in Pennsylvania? February 2nd, 2011
When somebody dies without a will in Pennsylvania, that person is said to have died “intestate,” and the individual's division of estate is subject to Pennsylvania intestacy laws. Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, which means that the court will handle the division of estate in the fairest way possible. After legitimate claims against the estate of the deceased are fully paid, the remaining estate is divided in this way:
- 1. If there is only a surviving spouse, that spouse receives the full estate.
2. If there is a surviving spouse and also a child or children of the decedent: 1/2 of the estate is left to the surviving spouse and 1/2 is left to the decedent's children per stirpes, which means that half of the estate is divided equally among the children.
3. If there is no surviving spouse but there is a child or children of the decedent: the entire estate is left to the decedent's children per stirpes.
4. If there is no surviving spouse or descendant but a parent, brother, sister or descendant of a brother or sister of the decedent (niece and/or nephew): the entire estate is left to the parents, brothers and sisters of the decedent in equal parts. If only one parent is alive, that parent receives a double portion. And if a brother or sister of the deceased has also passed away, his or her children—the niece(s) and/or nephew(s)—share their parent’s portion per stirpes.
This division of estate continues on down the line to the point where there are no known relatives at all. In those very rare cases, the estate is left in the hands of the government, according to the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act. (For the full explanation from the State of Pennsylvania, click here.) Of course, the only way to help ensure that your division of estate happens in the way you choose is to legally draw up a will. If you suspect your parents or grandparents may not have a will or other estate planning documents in place, ask them. For more information on how to start a family conversation on estate planning, read our previous post outlining the five legal documents your parents need now.
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