What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Pennsylvania?


More than likely you’ve heard some version of the phrase. “Nothing is certain but death and taxes” is often attributed to Philadelphia’s own Ben Franklin. With that in mind, estate planning deals with the inevitable. Therefore, you really need to know what happens if you die without a will.

First, you should know that you may decide to adjust your will at different times throughout your life. Parents with young children will want to make guardianship arrangements in the event their children become orphans. Meanwhile, you could decide to change the individual charged with managing your estate. Additionally, you might want to reconsider your beneficiary choices.

Truth be told, without a will – or some other estate planning tool – you have no control over what happens to the things that matter most to you. Instead, state laws determine who administers your assets and pays off your debts. In many cases, it might not be someone you would have selected. The same is true when it comes to passing on your inheritance.


Intestate is the legal word for dying without a valid will. Meanwhile, there’s a common misconception that the state becomes your beneficiary if you didn’t take the time to develop an estate plan. Instead, there are laws of intestacy – also known as intestate succession.

Notably, nothing can be done with your estate without naming someone in charge. The title of your car can’t be transferred to anyone else –nor can anyone access your funds to pay your bills. These are just some examples of what can become a headache to those left to deal with your estate when you leave this life.

When you leave a will behind, you select the executor or executrix who you feel is most qualified to take on the job. In the absence of a will,  an administrator is named –following the guidelines listed in the Probate, Estates and Fiduciary Code.

The person selected as the administrator doesn’t necessarily inherit all of your estate. In fact, it might not be as clear as you would imagine. Once again, the laws of succession – found in 20 Pa.C.S.A. Sec. 2101 et seq. provide the framework for who gets what if you die intestate.

Could this be different than your intent?  Absolutely. For example, you might be under the impression that your surviving spouse inherits everything if you pass away. You should know that it’s a bit more complicated. Did one of your parents outlive you? What about your children? These are all individuals who might rightfully have a claim to some portion of your estate if you die without a will.

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As much as it might make you uncomfortable to even discuss your death, you should make your wishes known. Preparing an estate plan benefits both the person making the will – and those placed in charge after death. Have questions? Contact us at Fellerman & Ciarimboli to learn more.

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