What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania

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In estate planning and probate law, the absence of a valid will can result in various complexities and uncertainties.

When an individual passes away without a will, the legal process of distributing their assets and settling their estate is governed by intestate succession laws.

This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of intestate succession in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

It will also illuminate what happens if you die without a will in Pennsylvania.

Table of Contents

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania – Understanding Intestate Succession

Intestate succession refers to the legal process.

It occurs when a person dies without a valid will in place. 

When this happens, the distribution of the deceased’s assets and property is determined by the statutory laws of the state.

It ensures that the estate is settled according to established guidelines.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania – Application In Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania, like many other states, has its own set of intestate succession laws outlined in the Pennsylvania Probate, Estates, and Fiduciaries Code.

These laws dictate how a decedent’s estate is to be distributed when no will is available to specify their wishes.

Surviving Spouse*The entire estate goes to the surviving spouse
Surviving Spouse and Descendants (Children, Grandchildren, etc.)Surviving Spouse gets the first $30,000 plus 50% of the balance; Descendants get the remaining 50%
Surviving Spouse and No Descendants but Surviving ParentsSurviving Spouse gets the first $30,000 plus 50% of the balance; Parents get the remaining 50%
Surviving Spouse and No Descendants or ParentsThe estate is divided among Siblings (and their descendants if applicable)
No Surviving SpouseThe estate goes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
No Surviving Spouse or DescendantsEstate goes to surviving Parents equally
No Surviving Spouse, Descendants, or ParentsThe estate is divided equally among Descendants
No Surviving HeirsThe estate is divided among Siblings (and their descendants, if applicable)

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania – Determining Heirs

The determining of heirs are as follows:

Surviving Spouse:

Under Pennsylvania law, let’s say an individual passes without a will and is survived by a spouse.

But has no surviving children or descendants, the entire estate passes to the surviving spouse. 

This is often referred to as the “spousal share.”

Surviving Spouse And Descendants:

If the decedent leaves behind a surviving spouse and children or other descendants, the law allocates the estate differently. 

The surviving spouse gets the first $30,000 of the estate.

Plus one-half of the remaining balance. The other half goes to the children or descendants.

No Surviving Spouse:

When there is no surviving spouse, the estate is distributed directly to the decedent’s children or their descendants. 

If there are no children, the estate may go to other relatives, such as parents, siblings, or nieces and nephews.

It depends on the familial relationships and Pennsylvania’s statutory order of inheritance.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania – Statutory Order Of Inheritance

The statutory order is as follows:


Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws prioritize the decedent’s descendants when there is no surviving spouse. 

Descendants are defined as children, grandchildren, and so forth. 

The closer the familial relationship, the higher the priority in the inheritance order.


If there are no descendants, the estate passes to the parents of the deceased or the surviving parent if only one is living. 

If both parents are deceased, the inheritance order continues down the line of familial relationships.

Siblings And Their Descendants:

Should there be no surviving spouse, descendants, or parents, the law directs the estate to the decedent’s siblings or their descendants. 

If the decedent had no siblings, the estate proceeds to other relatives.

Grandparents And Their Descendants:

In the absence of closer relatives, the estate may pass to the grandparents or their descendants.

These are aunts, uncles, or cousins, depending on the specific familial circumstances.

Escheat To The Commonwealth

In the rare situation where no eligible relatives can be found, the decedent’s estate may escheat to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

It means the state takes possession of the assets.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania -Representation Of Minor Children

The representation of minor children is:


In cases where minor children are entitled to inherit property through intestate succession, the court may appoint a guardian to manage and protect their interests until they reach the age of majority. 

This ensures that the children’s inheritance is properly cared for and used for their benefit.

Custodial Accounts:

Alternatively, the court may establish custodial accounts to hold and manage the inheritance for the minor children’s benefit. 

These accounts are typically transferred to the children once they come of age, which is generally 18 in Pennsylvania.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania – Estate Administration

In cases of intestate succession, the court will appoint an administrator instead of an executor since there is no will designating an executor. 

The administrator is responsible for overseeing the probate process.

It ensures the deceased’s debts and taxes are paid before distributing the assets to the heirs according to the laws of intestacy.

Bond Requirements:

The administrator may be required to post a bond to protect the interests of the estate and the heirs. 

The bond serves as a financial guarantee.

It is where the administrator will fulfill their duties faithfully and honestly.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania – Distribution Of Assets

The distribution of assets is as follows:

Sale Of Property:

In some instances, it may be necessary to sell assets in the estate to cover debts, taxes, and administrative expenses. 

This is typically done with the court’s approval to ensure the fair market value is obtained.

Payment Of Debts And Taxes:

Before distributing any assets to the heirs, the administrator is responsible for paying the deceased’s outstanding debts and taxes. 

This includes funeral expenses, medical bills, and any other valid claims against the estate.

Asset Distribution:

After all debts and taxes have been settled, the administrator can distribute the remaining assets per the intestate succession laws. 

The administrator follows the statutory order of inheritance, as discussed earlier, to ensure the proper allocation of the estate.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania – Estate Settlement And Closure

The estate planning and course distribution are as follows:

Final Accounting:

The administrator is required to prepare a final accounting.

It details all financial transactions and distributions made during the estate administration process. 

This accounting is submitted to the court for approval.

Court Approval:

Upon reviewing the final accounting, the court will either approve the administrator’s actions.

It will also require further explanation or adjustments if necessary.

Heirs’ Receipt Of Assets:

Once the court approves the final accounting, the administrator can distribute the remaining assets to the heirs.

This is as stipulated by the intestate succession laws.

Closing The Estate:

After all assets have been distributed, the court will issue an order formally closing the estate, and the administrator’s responsibilities will be concluded.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania – Potential Challenges And Disputes

The potential challenges and disputes are:

Claims By Unacknowledged Children:

In intestate succession cases, unacknowledged children are not uncommon to come forward and claim a share of the estate. 

The law in Pennsylvania allows for these claims, and the court will consider them in the distribution of the estate.

Disputes Among Heirs:

Heirs may sometimes disagree over the distribution of assets or the handling of the estate. 

In such cases, the court may be required to mediate and resolve these disputes to ensure fair and equitable distribution.


In summary, dying without a will in Pennsylvania triggers the application of intestate succession laws. 

These laws determine the distribution of a decedent’s estate.

It prioritizes surviving spouses, children, and relatives in a specific order outlined by the state statutes.

Individuals must consider their estate planning needs and create a will to fulfill their wishes.

Failing to do so can result in complex legal proceedings, potential disputes, and an estate distribution that may not align with one’s preferences.

Seeking legal counsel and guidance when navigating the intricacies of intestate succession is highly advisable.

It can help streamline the process and mitigate disputes.

It will also ensure a fair and just distribution of assets per Pennsylvania’s laws.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Happens If I Die Without A Will In Pennsylvania?

If you pass away without a will in Pennsylvania, the state’s intestacy laws will determine how your assets are distributed.

2. Who Decides How My Assets Are Distributed Without A Will?

The court will appoint an administrator to oversee the distribution of your assets according to Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws.

3. Can I Nominate An Executor Without A Will?

Unfortunately, without a will, you cannot nominate an executor. The court appoints an administrator instead.

4. What If I Have Minor Children And No Will?

If you have minor children and no will, the court will determine their guardianship based on the children’s best interests.

5. Are There Specific Rules For Spousal Inheritance Without A Will?

Yes, Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws have specific rules for spousal inheritance, which may vary depending on the presence of children or other heirs.

6. How Does The Court Handle Debts And Taxes Without A Will?

The court will prioritize the payment of debts and taxes from the deceased person’s estate before distributing assets to heirs.

7. Can Distant Relatives Inherit Without A Will?

Yes, distant relatives may inherit, but the degree of relationship will impact the distribution under Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws.

8. What Happens To Unclaimed Property Without A Will?

Unclaimed property may be escheated to the state if no legal heirs or beneficiaries are identified through a will.

9. Is Probate Required When There’s No Will In Pennsylvania?

Yes, probate is still required when there’s no will. The court will oversee the administration of the estate and ensure assets are distributed according to the law.

Terry L. Crump

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