Estate Law Blog

Dying without a Will: the most significant difference between Pennsylvania and New Jersey

In mind of the fact that estate planning is a significant part of my firm’s practice, it’s surprising how often I’m asked: what happens if I die without a Will?

We are a few miles from the Delaware River separating New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and of course the answer to the question depends on which side of the river you happen to live on. I think it’s fair to say that the rules of intestate succession represent each State’s best guess as to what most people would want if they had left a Will. Pennsylvania and New Jersey guess differently, and one area seems especially critical in my practice.

While there really is no “typical” family as far as I can tell, I am thinking about the married couple who have children together and no children by anyone except their spouse. If one spouse dies and leaves no Will, what happens?

In New Jersey, the surviving spouse (or domestic partner) inherits 100% of the Estate. The children receive nothing. In Pennsylvania, the surviving spouse receives the first $30,000.00 and 50% of the balance of the Estate, and the remainder goes to the children.

In mind of the fact that younger couples are even less likely than older ones to make a Will, this distinction can have a dramatic impact on the lives of the survivors.

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