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Intestate Succession

By Raymond M. Roberts, Esq.

Surviving Spouse

If you do not have a Will, the State will decide how your assets will be distributed by means of the Laws of Intestate Succession.  So, how does this law work? As complicated as the concept may seem, the law is laid out quite simply. If the decedent is survived by a spouse, the amount he or she will receive varies depending on which other relatives of the decedent also survive. The law controlling what portion of the decedent’s estate the surviving spouse receives can be found at 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2102. It can be summarized as follows:

No surviving children. 

If the decedent was survived by his or her spouse and had no surviving children or parents, the surviving spouse receives the decedent’s entire estate. However, if the decedent was survived by his or her spouse and one or both parents, but had no surviving children, the surviving spouse would be entitled to the first $30,000.00 of the estate, plus one-half of the remaining estate, if any. The decedent’s parents’ share is dependent on other factors discussed below.

Surviving children.

If the decedent was survived by his or her spouse and had surviving children, all of whom were also the surviving spouse’s children, the surviving spouse will receive the first $30,000.00 of the estate, plus one-half of the remaining estate, if any. However, if the decedent was survived by his or her spouse and had surviving children, at least one of whom was not also the surviving spouse’s child, the surviving spouse will only receive one-half of the estate. Under these circumstances, the surviving spouse would not be entitled to the first $30,000.00. The reason for the difference in these two scenarios is that the law presumes that the surviving spouse will care and provide for children of his or her own, but does not make the same presumption for children that are not his or hers. Regardless of how the child was treated by the surviving spouse during the decedent’s lifetime, the legislature did not want to take the chance that that child would not be provided for after the decedent’s death.

No Surviving Spouse

What if there is no surviving spouse? What about the portion of the estate that is not going to the surviving spouse? The laws of Intestate Succession can be found at 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2103, provide for the share of the estate, if any, that is not going to the surviving spouse or which passes if there is no surviving spouse. This section of the statute regulates the passing of the remaining share.

  1. Children. First, to the children of the decedent.
  2. Parents. If no children survive the decedent, the decedent’s parents share the estate equally; if only one parent survives, the surviving parent takes the entire estate. Recall that, if the decedent was survived by a spouse, the spouse will take the first $30,000.00 and one-half of the remaining estate. So, in the event there is a surviving parent of the decedent, the surviving spouse will get $30,000.00 plus half the remaining estate and the surviving parent will receive the other one-half of the remaining estate. If both parents survive the decedent, they will share the remaining one-half.
  3. Brother, Sister, or their Children. If no children and no parents survive the decedent, then the estate will be distributed to the children of the decedent’s parents (the decedent’s siblings and their children).
  4. Grandparents. If no siblings survive the decedent, then the grandparents of the decedent shall receive, one-half to the paternal grandparents and one-half to the maternal grandparents, and their children.
  5. Uncles, Aunts, and their Children and Grandchildren. If no grandparents survive the decedent, the estate is distributed to the decedent’s uncles, aunts, and their children and grandchildren.
  6. Commonwealth. If no one mentioned above survives the decedent, then the estate passes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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