Residents of Pennsylvania have the right to bequeath their property, assets and personal belongings to whomever they choose. When someone does not provide instructions through a will or trust, however, and he or she dies intestate, the Keystone State may distribute the deceased’s property through its default method.

Generally, and as noted by Pennsylvania’s Chapter 21 Intestate Succession laws, a spouse stands to inherit the entire estate if there are no children and the deceased’s parents are no longer alive. This default distribution may — at first — appear as the easiest method for someone who intends to leave everything to his or her spouse. An individual may not believe that a will or trust is necessary because the expectation is that a spouse will receive all of the intended property and assets. Complications may arise, however, when the state requires a spouse to go through the probate process in order to transfer property titles to his or her own name.

What happens when an Individual passes away intestate with a spouse and children?

When a couple has children together and they are alive, state law entitles them to split the estate with the deceased’s spouse. In Pennsylvania, an individual who dies intestate leaves the first $30,000 worth of property and half of the balance of the entire estate to their spouse. The surviving children then divide the other half of the balance equally.

What occurs when an intestate individual has children from a previous marriage?

When there are other children from a deceased’s previous marriage, Pennsylvania’s intestate distribution system considers them also. The deceased’s spouse generally inherits half of the entire estate, and the deceased’s children, whether they are from a previous marriage or a final marriage, divide the other half equally.

It is not uncommon for siblings to contest a property division if they believe a larger portion of the estate rightfully belongs to them. Some may argue that the deceased purchased certain properties long after the former marriage. They may also assert that the deceased did not have a relationship with the siblings from their previous spouse.

Without creating a will or trust, a deceased’s property may end up in the hands of an unintended individual. A well-constructed strategy for estate planning might help prevent rightful heirs from facing troublesome and potentially costly issues later.