Estate planning, including Will preparation, is important. However, despite the best intentions to have a serious conversation with aging parents about estate planning, including preparation of or updates to their Wills, Pittsburgh residents can get caught up in the holiday season and forget to deal with these important issues. When estate planning matters are left open, a person may end up dying without a Will and the family has to deal with the aftermath. So, what happens after the death of a loved one who does not have a Will?

The Pennsylvania Code lays out the distribution of assets in cases of intestacy, which is dying without a Will. If there is a spouse and issue, such as children or grandchildren, who are also issue of the surviving spouse, the spouse gets the first $30,000 of the probate estate and one-half of the remaining balance with the issue receiving the other half. Where the deceased spouse’s issue are not issue of the surviving spouse, then the spouse only gets one-half of the probate estate and the issue receive the other half.

If there are no issue, then the surviving spouse inherits the first $30,000 of the probate estate plus one-half the balance with the other half going to the parent or parents of the decedent. If the spouse and parents do not survive the decedent, the siblings (or their issue) receive 100% of the probate estate. If there are no siblings (or their issue), then the decedent’s paternal and maternal grandparents would inherit, followed by aunts, uncles and their issue. If there are no such individuals, then the whole probate estate may go to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Understanding the distribution of assets for a person who dies without a Will can be complicated and vary depending on the situation. In an ideal world, Pittsburgh residents would engage in estate planning while they have the opportunity; but if this does not happen, Pennsylvania law determines the inheritance rights of various family members, which may not be what the decedent would have wanted. An experienced estate planning attorney may be able to guide Pittsburgh residents through the estate planning process.