Married without a Will in Pennsylvania? Do you think your surviving spouse will inherit everything? Think Again. For those assets that are not disposed of by Will, or by a beneficiary designation (i.e., 401(k), insurance proceeds, IRA) or by survivorship rights (i.e., tenancy by the entirety, joint tenancy with right of survivorship), Pennsylvania’s intestate law may determine the person who will receives those assets. I use the word may, instead of shall because if the asset is an employee defined benefits plan governed by ERISA rules, those rules will determine the beneficiary, and that is a conversation for another time.
For many married individuals, this may not be an issue because all of your assets are either titled jointly as tenancy by the entirety or joint tenancy with right of survivorship or your spouse is the primary beneficiary of your retirement benefits. Good for you, you may not have an issue under Pennsylvania’s intestate laws. But, what if you are the sole owner of real estate? Or what if you own a business? Or what if you forgot to update your beneficiary designations? Or what if you are the sole owner of bank accounts or brokerage accounts? Ooops… without a Will your spouse may not inherit those assets.
Yep, that is right… many states, including Pennsylvania, have laws called “intestate laws” that determine who receives your assets and the amount that those people receive. So for example, if you are married, your surviving spouse does not receive all of your assets. Instead, the intestate amount may be divided between your spouse and your descendants or your spouse and your surviving parents.
Let’s take a look at the diagram below…