This is a question we often hear when speaking with people about estate planning. It is surprising that many people are under the impression that if they die without a will in PA, all of their property will go to the state, which can then sell it for a profit. This is simply not true. It is possible that so many people hear the term "estate sale" and assume the state is selling the property of a deceased person that did not have a will. However, it is highly unlikely, although not impossible, that the state will be taking a person's property after death, even if that person did not have a will.
When a person dies without a will, that person is said to have died "intestate." There is a whole set of laws in Pennsylvania related to this exact issue called intestacy laws. These laws direct where the property of a deceased person will go if they die without a will. Although the states can have slightly different laws, they all follow the same similar idea. One way to think about these intestacy laws is to imagine that they set up a queue for people who could possibly inherit the deceased person's estate. For example, if the deceased was married, his or her spouse would be at the front of the line. If the person died young, his or her parents could be first.
These laws do not stop at just parents, spouses, or children, but rather, they extend the line to cover almost every group of people that a person has a blood relation to. So, later in the line, we would find aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and cousins, even the distantly related ones. After going through all of these people, at the very end of the line, is the state. The state cannot cut the line, or move past any family member; rather, the state is always last. That is why it is pretty rare that the state gets to administer a person's estate. It is really a last stop for people who do not have surviving family, or if the family members cannot be located or renounce their inheritance.
There are few reasons that the state is in line at all. One major reason is to prevent waste. After all, if there is property left behind from a person who has no heirs, it would not make sense for everyone to just let it sit there and decay. Rather, the state will step in and sell off the property. If you are concerned about who your property will go to when you are gone, the best way to ensure it is directed properly is to have a comprehensive will in place. For more information about estate planning, or to have us write a will for you, please contact our office today.