Dying Without a Last Will and Testament in Pennsylvania

The Laws of Intestacy Succession in Pennsylvania

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NOTE: State laws change frequently and the following information may not reflect recent changes in the laws. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney since the information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.

When a Pennsylvania resident dies without having made a Last Will and Testament, the intestacy succession laws found in Chapter 21, Title 20 of the Pennsylvania Code will dictate who inherits the deceased person's probate estate.

Below is a summary of the Pennsylvania intestacy succession laws in various situations.

Deceased Person is Survived by a Spouse and/or Descendants

Here is what will happen if the deceased person is survived by a spouse and/or descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.):

  • Survived by a spouse and descendants, all of whom are descendants of the spouse - In this case, the surviving spouse will inherit the first $30,000 of the deceased spouse's probate estate plus one-half (1/2) of the balance and the descendants will inherit the remainder, per stirpes.
  • Survived by a spouse and descendants, some of whom are not the descendants of the surviving spouse - In this case since some of the deceased person's descendants are not descendants of the surviving spouse (in other words, the deceased person had children from a prior marriage or relationship), the surviving spouse will inherit one-half (1/2) of the probate estate and the descendants will inherit the remaining one-half (1/2), per stirpes.
  • Survived by a spouse and no parents or descendants - In this case, the surviving spouse will inherit 100% of the probate estate.
  • Survived by descendants and no spouse - In this case, the deceased person's descendants will inherit 100% of the probate estate, per stirpes.

Deceased Person is Not Survived by Descendants

Here is what will happen if the deceased person is not survived by any descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.):

  • Survived by a spouse and one or both parents - In this case, the surviving spouse will inherit the first $30,000 of the deceased spouse's probate estate plus one-half (1/2) of the balance and the parents will inherit the remainder in equal shares or the surviving parent will inherit the entire remainder.
  • Survived by siblings and no spouse or parents - In this case, the deceased person's siblings will inherit 100% of the probate estate, per stirpes.
  • Not survived by parents, siblings or descendants of siblings - In this case, the probate estate will pass to grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, cousins of any degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a predeceased spouse.  In the unlikely circumstance that the deceased person is not survived by any family members as described above, then the entire probate estate will escheat to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What Will You Inherit From a Pennsylvania Intestate Estate?

So what will you inherit if your relative dies without leaving a Last Will and Testament and the relative was a resident of Missouri or owned real estate located in Pennsylvania?  Even if you determine based on the information presented above that you are entitled to an intestate share of your relative's estate, you may very well not inherit anything.

Why? Because your relative may have left all non-probate property or the debts your relative owed at the time of death may exceed the value of the probate estate which will make the estate insolvent.

If you are not sure of your legal rights as an intestate heir in Pennsylvania, then consult with a Pennsylvania probate attorney to be sure.