According to a 2015 Rocket Lawyer estate planning survey by Harris Poll, 64% of Americans do not have a Will. That follows several Gallup polls with similar results. According to Gallup, 48% of Americans had Wills in place in 1990, declining to 44% in 2014. When someone dies without a Will in place, the person is characterized as dying “intestate.”
The question becomes, what happens to a person’s assets when there is no Will? In effect, unless the person was able to somehow designate how those assets would pass after death, without executing a Will, that person has left it up to the government to direct how a large part of the legacy passes.
Each of the states settles this issue by having an intestacy statute as part of its statutory code. Pennsylvania is no different. In enacting the statute, the legislature and governor attempted to, as best they could, step into the shoes of the person who died without a Will, and disperse the person’s estate as he or she would have probably wanted.
Pennsylvania’s statute concerns all or any part of the estate of a decedent not effectively disposed of by Will or otherwise. The statute then looks to the surviving spouse. If there is one, with the decedent having no surviving descendants of parents, the surviving spouse gets the entire intestate share. If the decedent had a surviving spouse and children with the surviving spouse only, the surviving spouse would receive the first $30,000 of the estate, plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate; the children would receive the rest. The statute goes through various family permutations, moving further outward from the decedent to any descendants, parents, siblings and their descendants, grandparents, and finally to uncles, aunts and their children and grandchildren. If the decedent had no family that is specified in the statute, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the default choice, receiving the entire intestate share.
In addition, there is often more complexity and cost during the estate administration process if the estate passes according to the intestacy statute. In order to best streamline administration and to make sure that intentions of the decedent are recognized and carried out, it is best to avoid any intestacy and to have a valid Will in place.