In Pennsylvania, If You Don’t Write A Will, Your Spouse May Not and Probably Won’t Get Everything
We hear clients say all the time: “I don’t need a will. After all, I married, and when I die, everything goes to my spouse anyway, so why bother?”
The answer is simple: If you die without a Will and are legally married to someone else (even if you have been separated for years), the spouse does not automatically get everything.
If you don’t have a Will when you die, you are considered to have died “intestate.” When that happens, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania determines who gets what from your estate. However, if you have a Will, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not determine who gets what. The Will determines who gets what. But in Pennsylvania, there’s also a catch that is slightly different from what you might have thought.
If you have a Will and you have a spouse, that is, you are married, you can leave everything you own to your spouse. That’s what most of our clients who are married and draft Wills do.
What happens if I am married and die without a Will?
In Pennsylvania, there are a few scenarios that can occur if you die without a Will and are married:
- If you have no surviving children or parent(s), then your spouse gets the entire estate.
- If you have no surviving children, but you are survived by a parent(s), then your spouse takes the first $30,000 from the estate plus one-half of the balance of the remaining estate. The rest of the estate goes to the surviving parent(s).
- If you have a spouse and children, and all of the children are from the surviving spouse, then your spouse takes the first $30,000 from the estate plus one-half of the balance of the remaining estate. The rest is divided among the children.
- If you have a spouse and children, and all of the children are not from the surviving spouse, then the spouse takes one-half of the estate, and the balance is divided among the children.
What happens if I am married, but my Will leaves nothing to my spouse?
If you draft a Will and leave nothing to your spouse, even if the spouse is someone from whom you have been separated for years and don’t particularly like, that “disowned” spouse can take one-third of the entire estate regardless of the language in the Will. Unless you are divorced, your spouse can get one-third of your estate.
The bottom line is simple. Whether married, single, separated, or divorced, it is always better to draft a Will. You may not be able to disown your spouse, but you should know what they can receive.
Our office regularly assists clients with drafting Wills and other estate planning documents. Give us a call at (610) 446-3457, click here to send us an email, or fill out the form below. We will work with you to ensure that your Will reflects your intentions and complies with Pennsylvania law.