While I recommend that everyone have a Will, the law understands that many will pass without one.

Alfonso Gambone
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A Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer representing accused persons throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Many people believe that if you die without a Will the government takes your property and that is simply wrong! While I recommend that everyone have a Will, the law understands that many will pass without one. In these situations each state, including Pennsylvania, maintains intestacy laws which control who receives your property if you die without a Will. If you have a Will the intestacy laws won’t normally effect your estate’s distribution but there are situations where a person’s Will fails to mention certain assets. In these cases the law of intestacy would determine which one of your heirs receives the property in question. See 20 Pa.C.S. 2101(a).

Passing Without a Will :  Who Receives Your Property - It Depends 

If you are married, your spouse will inherit your entire estate under Pennsylvania’s Intestacy Law if you pass away without any children and both of your parents are deceased. If you have no children but a surviving parent your spouse is entitled to the first $30,000.00 of your estate plus half of the remaining balance of it. If you have children with your surviving spouse, they are entitled to your estate minus the first $30,000.00 and half of the remaining balance which would go to your surviving spouse. If you have children not from your surviving spouse (ie: another marriage or prior relationship) those children receive half of your estate and the other half would go to your surviving spouse. If you have no spouse or children, your estate passes to your parents. If you have no parents, no spouse, and no children your estate passes to your surviving brothers and sisters or their children.

When you die without a Will, one of you heir’s will be appointed as the administrator/ix of your estate.  This person performs the same functions as an executor (ix) in your Will.  The major difference is that you select the executor while an administrator is appointed.  In some cases, family members may need to agree on who will be the administrator and the selection is usually approved.  In a situation where a family can’t agree, a court will decide who is appointed.      


Other Estate Planning Documents:  Living Wills, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Generale Durable Power of Attorney 

The purpose of estate planning is to eliminate or at least minimize misunderstandings among your survivors after your die.  Even siblings who have a very good relationship sometimes argue when attempting to understand the wishes of a deceased parent who failed to properly document his or her final intentions. A Will only handles a person’s affairs after death.  Prior to death, most people will experience at least a short period when they are unable to make decisions due to their inability to communicate.  Our law firm recommends the following three (3) documents in addition to a Will:


  1. Living Will

This document indicates your wishes after a doctor determines that you are permanently unconscious.  It allows you to refuse or accept life-sustaining treatment such as artificial feeding, artificially providing water, mechanical breathing machines, surgery, certain diagnostic tests, kidney dialysis or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).


  1. Healthcare Power of Attorney


This document lets you appoint a person to make healthcare decisions when you can’t communicate.   These would be situations in which you are not permanently unconscious but are nevertheless unable to speak or communicate.  Many people often use a healthcare power of attorney and a living will because each document applies to a different situation. 


  1. General Durable Power of Attorney


This document lets you appoint a person to handle day to day decisions pertaining to financial matters which would include your banking, insurance, and investments; it does not cover healthcare decisions.  Many people use this document when they have difficulty performing day to day activities, such as going to the bank, because of an illness or a condition.  You should never give a general durable power of attorney to someone unless you absolutely trust that this person will act in your best interests.    

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