Who Receives Your Property When You Die Without a Will?
Probate (which lawyers call estate administration) is the process of settling a deceased person’s estate. This process involves appointing a personal representative, known as an administrator or executor, paying all of the debts and taxes and distributing the inheritance to the beneficiaries. The deceased’s last will and testament determines who receives the personal property, real estate, and cash distributions from the estate.
But what happens if you die without a will in Pennsylvania? Dying without a will is known as dying intestate. Many people do not realize that Pennsylvania has an Intestate Succession law (20 P.S. § 2101 et seq.) which sets the rules for who receives a share of your estate if you die without a will. Here is a link to the intestacy law if you wish to review for your own reference.
It is important to know that only property which is part of the probate estate passes by the intestacy law. Most property that was titled in the name of the deceased is considered probate property unless there is an exception. Non-probate property is excluded from probate because it passes directly to another person by operation of law. Some examples of non-probate property may include:
- Retirement accounts
- Trust assets
- Real estate held by married persons as tenancy by the entirety
- Real estate held with another person as a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship
- Transfer or payable on death accounts
What Does the Law Say About Who Receives the Property?
When a person dies without a will, who receives the property which is part of the deceased’s estate? The answer depends on which relatives of the deceased person survived the decedent. The first heirs in line to receive property are the surviving spouse and the deceased’s children. If the deceased did not leave a surviving spouse or children, then the property next passes to the parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
Below is a brief overview of how property passes without a will:
|Deceased has a surviving spouse, but no surviving children or parents||The spouse receives the entire estate|
|Deceased has surviving children, but no surviving spouse||The children receive the entire estate|
|Deceased has a surviving spouse and surviving children||The spouse receives the first $30,000 of the estate, plus half of the remaining estate. The children receive the remaining half|
|Deceased has a surviving spouse and at least one child who is not the child of the surviving spouse||The spouse receives half of the estate. The children receive the remaining half|
|Deceased has a surviving spouse, surviving parents, but no children||The spouse receives the first $30,000 of the estate, plus half of the remaining estate. The parents receive the remaining half|
|Deceased has surviving parents, but no surviving spouse or children||The parents receive the entire estate|
|Deceased has surviving siblings but no surviving spouse, children or parents||The siblings receive the entire estate|
The First Step – Obtaining Appointment as the Administrator
The attorney for the proposed administrator will file a petition with the Register of Wills requesting grant of Letters of Administration. The petition must be accompanied by Renunciations signed by all other heirs. The Renunciation defers the right to serve as to another person to serve as the estate’s Administrator.
Once the Letters of Administration have been granted, the administration process can begin.
As a probate attorney to estate executors, I help settle estates efficiently and reduce stress. If you know someone faced with a probate process or roadblocks to a property sale, please have them contact us for a free evaluation at:
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