If a friend or family member has passed without a will, their estate still needs to be handled through probate. Instead of deciding how their estate will pass to their heirs by looking at their last will and testament, Pennsylvania’s “intestacy statute” governs how their money and assets will be dispersed instead. This is also the same process the estate will go through if a will is invalidated after will challenges. For help ensuring you receive your share of a loved one’s estate, talk to the Pennsylvania probate attorneys at Herr Potts & Potts today.
Estate Administration Without a Will in PA
In Pennsylvania, there are two primary options to decide how most of your estate will pass when you die. You can either write a will or remain “intestate.” Intestacy merely means passing away without a will. When this happens, Pennsylvania’s intestacy statute will step in and decide how your estate is passed on.
Property that passes through a will or intestacy rules must go through a legal process called probate. This process involves taking the will to court or filing for intestate succession with the local court. The estate has an “executor” appointed, which is either a person listed in the will or determined by the intestacy statute and a judge. After the executor is appointed, it is their duty to gather the decedent’s property. Court orders give them the legal authority to access accounts move funds, pay debts, and assemble all the property so that the court knows what assets to pass on. The court and executor then determine who should take shares of the estate.
The intestate succession rules in Chapter 21 of Pennsylvania’s Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries Code dictates which family members receive what share of the estate after someone dies intestate. This law puts different people at different priorities, giving them access to the full estate or shares of the estate based on their relationship with the decedent. Intestate succession without a will distributes the estate as follows:
- If the deceased has no children or spouse, their parents take the estate.
- If the deceased is married but has no children, their spouse takes the estate.
- If they have children but no living spouse, the children share the estate equally.
- If they are married and have children, the spouse takes a certain share, and the rest is given to the children.
If these people are not able to take their share because they have already passed away or are otherwise disqualified, their share might pass to someone else. There are additional rules that dictate who can take if none of these parties are available, such as siblings, nieces/nephews, aunts/uncles, grandparents, stepchildren, etc. If no one is available, the deceased’s estate passes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Complex family structures often make intestacy more complicated. In situations where the deceased has children from another marriage or a mix of children and stepchildren, the spouse and different children may take different sized shares.
Challenging a Will in Probate
During the probate process, potential heirs can challenge a will in Pennsylvania. If they succeed in proving that the will is invalid, the estate may pass through intestacy instead. If there is a former will that is still valid, that will takes over; if there is no valid will, the intestate rules take over. Wills may also be invalidated in part. If there is a section of the will that is stricken, the intestacy statute will take over how to distribute just that portion of the estate.
The intestacy statute doubles as a list of potential heirs who have the right to challenge a will. In some cases, a will may have mistakes from the estate planning process or intentional decisions that block certain children or other family members from receiving a share of the will. If the will is invalidated, the intestacy statute may give them a share regardless. Because of this, those listed in the intestacy statute can challenge a will.
Challenges often slow down the probate process significantly. There needs to be enough time for a potential challenger to read the will, talk to a lawyer, and take their claim to court. Once the claim is in court, it could take weeks or months to resolve the claim.
Call Our PA Will and Estate Administration Attorneys Today
If a loved one passed away without a will or has an invalid will, their estate may pass through the terms of PA’s intestacy statute. This still requires taking the estate through probate, which can be a complex process. For help administering a loved one’s estate or getting the share of the estate you deserve, contact our law offices today. Call Herr Potts & Potts’ Pennsylvania estate planning lawyers today at (610) 254-0114.