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Understanding Pennsylvania’s intestate succession guidelines

While most adults in Cranberry Township likely understand that they should start considering their estate planning, few have actually completed the process. Indeed, according to information shared by the American Association of Retired Persons, as many as 60 percent of Americans do not have a will. There may be many reasons why people put off estate planning: they may fear the prospect of facing their own mortality, or they may simply believe that they will always have time later to do it. Yet one of the primary reasons is likely misunderstanding. 

Among that misunderstanding may be the notion that if one does not leave a will, it is left to their heirs to determine how to divide their estate. That is not the case. If a person dies intestate (without a will) the state then determines how their assets are dispersed. Pennsylvania’s intestate succession guidelines can be found in Chapter 21 of the state’s Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code. Here it states that one’s surviving spouse is entitled to their entire estate if they die intestate and leave behind no surviving issue (direct descendants). If one does leave behind any issue (who are also the issue of the surviving spouse) or they are survived by their parents, then the spouse is entitled to the first $30,000 of their estate plus one-half of its remaining balance. The estate is split evenly if one leaves behind issue who are not biologically related to the surviving spouse. 

If one who dies intestate leaves no surviving spouse, then the order of succession is as follows: 

  • Issue
  • Parents
  • Siblings (or their issue)
  • Grandparents
  • Extended family

If one has no familial connections, their intestate estate goes to the state. Thus, those hoping to leave assets to parties they are not directly related to must stipulate that in a will