Getting into the estate planning process in Pittsburgh can be downright intimidating for some people. One reason is the concern that your decisions could upset some of those set to benefit from your estate. Because of this, some put off doing their estate planning.

Indeed, some might even tell you it’s best to just avoid it altogether and leave it up to your beneficiaries to divide your assets. Yet, does the law allow that?

Understanding intestate succession

Unfortunately, it does not. On the contrary, each state has laws that dictate the dispersal of your estate if you die intestate (without a will). You can find them in the Chapter 21 of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code of Pennsylvania’s Consolidated Statutes.

For a married person, the primary beneficiary of your intestate estate would be your spouse, provided you die without any surviving issue (direct descendants such as children or grandchildren) or parents. If you do have surviving issue (that are also the issue of your spouse), your spouse’s share reduces to the first $30,000 of the estate’s assets plus one-half of its remaining value. Your issue will receive the other one-half.  If your issue are not the issue of your spouse, then the estate divides equally between your issue and your spouse. If you have no issue but your parents are still living, your spouse again will receive the first $30,000 of assets and then half of the remaining estate (with the other half going to your parents).

Intestate interests when you have no surviving spouse

If you never married (or if your spouse preceded you in death), your estate would on in the following order:

  • Surviving issue
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Next of kin, such as uncles or aunts or their children and grandchildrenIf you have no surviving relatives, your estate assets would pass to the state, which is why it is better to make an estate plan so that you can determine who inherits your assets, not state law.