My husband and I have three (3) children together. Suppose despite our best intentions (life is busy after all!) we just haven’t gotten around to doing our Wills yet. If I passed tomorrow, everything I own would just “automatically” pass to my husband, right?
Clients are surprised to learn that in Pennsylvania, if you are married with children, and die without a Will, your spouse would not automatically receive your entire estate. In fact, Pennsylvania law has an entire section in the Probate Code which provides for distribution of an intestate estate, meaning the decedent died without a Will.
So how would my intestate estate be divided? In the case of an intestate decedent who dies with a spouse and children, the surviving spouse receives only the first $30,000, plus one-half of the decedent’s estate. The remaining one-half of the decedent’s estate is equally divided among the decedent’s children. What’s more, if any of the decedent’s children were from a prior marriage, the surviving spouse receives only one-half of the decedent’s estate (and not also the first $30,000).
To further complicate matters, children under the age of 18 cannot inherit property outright in Pennsylvania. Therefore, the Orphans Court will need to oversee distributions to minor children inheriting from an intestate estate.
In almost all estate planning meetings with clients who are married with children, the spouse wants to see their property pass to their surviving spouse, and then only to their children when both spouses have passed. This outcome is absolutely attainable by putting in place a valid Will. Life gets busy, I get it. Please take the time to set up your Will, don’t leave your spouse to deal with the complications of your intestate estate.
Kristen R. Matthews works closely with individuals on a wide variety of estate and trust planning and administration matters. She is an experienced elder law attorney and assists clients with matters including advance and crisis Medicaid planning, guardianships, special needs trusts, and Veterans Pension benefits.