Intestate Laws – What Do You Need to Know?

February 11, 2019
Lindsay M. Schoeneberger

“I’ve got to do a Will so that the government doesn’t get everything!”  I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard some version of this sentiment.  While I am certainly a proponent of having and regularly updating a Will, preventing the government from getting everything is not actually one of the reasons you need a Will.  Those of you who have read my Myths of Estate Planning series might remember some examples I have given about how probate assets are distributed when a person fails to have a Will. In this series of posts, we will help you understand what could happen if your estate is distributed according to Pennsylvania intestate rules.

If you die without a Will, you are considered to die intestate and your probate estate will be divided according to the Intestate Succession statutes.   The statutes were created to provide an organized, methodical method to dispose of someone’s estate when they fail to do so themselves.  The distribution scheme may not be one you’d select for yourself, but it is designed to be as fair as possible in the most generic way possible.  By not drafting your own Will, you are allowing everything you worked for to be distributed in a generic “one size fits most” way, that likely doesn’t actually fit your needs or wishes.  Do you really want your spouse or kids to be left with the estate planning equivalent of a one size fits all article of clothing?  Sure, for a select few that estate plan fits great and is exactly what the person would have done in a Will.  But for most, an estate distributed according to the statute can be awkward and doesn’t actually fit at all, just like the “one size fits all” hat that is passed around the family at Christmas.  All joking aside, the intestacy laws can lead to some very uncomfortable outcomes.  In a future post I will show you how you could suddenly find yourself owning your home with your three year old or owning your vacation property with the brother-in-law who is quite annoying at every family gathering.

Intestate laws are somewhat of a mystery to most people.  While the law is not difficult to comprehend, if you choose to forgo the usual estate planning, it is imperative that you take the time to understand what it means for you.  For more information about probate assets and other terms you might not recognize, check out this post for Common Estate Planning and Estate Administration Terms.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning and Estate Administration.