Estate Law Blog

Dying without a Will: the most surprising intestacy law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

My office is nearly on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and I recently posted about what I consider the most significant difference between the intestacy rules in the two states. The intestacy law most likely to surprise a client is another matter.

What happens if I die without a Will? When I’m asked that question, there’s one group of people who will almost always call for appointment the following day. Married couples, or domestic partners in New Jersey, with no children and living parents, are very often shocked to discover that the parents will inherit if one of them dies without a Will.

Pennsylvania nearly divides the Estate equally between the surviving spouse and the parent or parents of the decedent. The spouse receives the first $30,000.00 plus one-half of the balance of the Estate, and the rest passes to the parents. If most of the couple’s worth ends up in the Estate of the deceased spouse, the survivor may be left with a considerable financial hardship.

New Jersey is more measured but does not exclude the parents entirely. The surviving spouse or domestic partner receives the first 25% (subject to certain minimum and maximum amounts) and then 75% of the balance of the Estate. So, for instance, if the total Estate assets are $250,000.00, the surviving spouse or domestic partner receives $62,500 as the first 25%, and then $140,625.00 as 75% of the balance. The parents of the decedent receive the remaining $46,875.00

Measured just by the reaction of my clients, neither scheme is what most couples intend. And when the newly motivated couple does come in to have a Will prepared, it’s quite uncommon for them to leave any part of their Estate to their parents.

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