Michael Jackson's Will presents an interesting illustration of wills and estates principles. The Will, which names as beneficiaries only his children and their mother, was challenged by his siblings because he was allegedly in New York when his will was being signed in California. If the challenge succeeded, then they would be able to invalidate his will, which would then lead to the application of intestacy laws.
In Pennsylvania, your estate can be divided using a will, and if you do not have a Will you are said to die "intestate" which means that you are subject to state intestacy laws. If you die with a Will, then your estate may be divided in pretty much any way that you choose. If, however, you die without a Will, then your estate will be divided according to Pennsylvania's intestacy laws.
The intestacy laws are designed for the purpose of protecting the surviving spouse and children of the decedent. If someone dies with a spouse, but no children or surviving parents, then the spouse inherits the entire estate. If the decedent has a spouse and children who are all the surviving spouse's and the decedent's, then the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $30,000 plus half of the rest of the estate. If the decedent leaves behind a spouse and children (not all of whom are also the spouse's children) then the spouse is entitled to only half of the estate, not the $30,000. This is because there is no presumption that the spouse will take care of children who are not theirs. Therefore, children who would not be provided for by the spouse would need more money to get along after the death of their parent.
In the case that there are no children, but there are surviving parents, then the spouse gets $30,000 plus half of the estate, and then parents inherit the other half. If there are no spouses and only parents surviving, then the parents would inherit the entire estate. Following the parents come the siblings, the grandparents, then aunts, uncles and their children. If there is no one in a sufficiently close relationship to inherit then the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would inherit.
Estate planning can be extremely confusing, and apart from intestacy concerns there are also concerns with timing and distribution that you must discuss with your experienced estates attorney. Contact our team of estate planning attorneys today!