Intestate Laws – When You Do Not Have a Surviving Spouse

April 10, 2019
Lindsay M. Schoeneberger

This is the final installment of the intestate success series.  To see the other installments start here.

If you’ve already read the second post in this series, then you know that the intestate succession can be rather complicated when you leave a surviving spouse and other family members.  But what happens when you don’t have a surviving spouse?  How are assets distributed in those circumstances?  Well, it depends on who survives you.

When you do not have a surviving spouse, the distribution of your estate becomes much more straightforward with much less sharing and dividing.  There is no first $30,000.00 to take into consideration.  If you have children, they inherit your intestate estate.   The entire intestate estate is divided among all of your biological and adopted children.  If you have no children, but your parents are living, they inherit your intestate estate.   No children or parents? Your siblings will inherit, or if they have predeceased you, their children can inherit in their place.

While the intestate distribution is less complicated when you do not leave a surviving spouse, it doesn’t guarantee the distribution will be any more to your liking than the provisions in the intestate statute when you leave a surviving spouse.  The intestate succession does not take into account that you had a falling out with one of your children or no longer speak to your parents.  If you do not want them to inherit, avoid dying intestate.  What happens if you die without children, parents, or siblings?  The intestate statute goes as far as to name your grandparents next, followed by aunts, uncles, and their children and grandchildren.  The intestate statute is impressive in how far its reach extends.  But how often do you actually know all of these people, and wish them to benefit from all of your hard work?  To prevent a King Ralph situation, where a foreign slob inherited a kingdom, it would be wise to write a Last Will and Testament.  Writing your Will and properly updating as needed, is the best way to ensure your final wishes are met.

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.