What Happens If I Don’t Have an Estate Plan?

by | Apr 16, 2021 | Estate Planning

Death can be a terrifying thing to face. However, planning for our own death is one of those difficult things we must face before we pass away to better prepare those who will survive us. One action we can take is to prepare an estate plan.


What is an Estate Plan?

Creating an estate plan means systematically preparing your personal and financial affairs should you become mentally incapacitated or die. The primary document necessary for your plan is a Last Will and Testament. This document is what your loved ones will look for to learn how to follow through on your wishes after your death.


What If I Don’t Have a Will or Estate Plan?

Simply put, should you not have a will before you die, a state’s intestacy laws will determine how your estate will be inherited. Intestate means to pass away without having a will. Each state has different intestacy laws, Pennsylvania’s Intestacy succession depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here is a quick overview:


If you die with:Here’s what happens:
Children but no spouse- Children inherit everything
Spouse but no descendants or parents- Spouse inherits everything
Spouse and descendants from you and that spouse- Spouse inherits the first $30,000 of your intestate property, plus ½ of the balance
- Your descendants inherit everything else
Spouse and descendants from you and someone other than that spouse- Spouse inherits ½ of you intestate property
- Descendants inherit everything else
Spouse and parents- Spouse inherits the first $30,000 of your intestate property, plus ½ of the balance
- Parents inherit remaining intestate property
Parents but no spouse or descendants- Parents inherit everything
Siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents- Siblings inherit everything


What Is a Last Will and Testament Comprised of?

A Last Will and Testament will provide a set of instructions for you Executor to follow after you have passed.  Some provisions that may be included in your Last Will and Testament are as follows:

  1. How your final debts will be settled;
  2. How you plan to deal with the cost of settling your estate and pay any estate taxes or inheritance taxes;
  3. Who your Personal Representative or Executor is, and their specific powers;Your Executor will oversee the settling of your estate.
  4. Should you have children who are still minors, this document will indicate who you intend to be responsible for raising the children; and
  5. Who will get the balance of your estate along with the method in which they’ll receive it, and if there are any restrictions to the distribution.


Are There Any Alternatives to a Will?

Even though having a Last Will and Testament is a good plan, there are other alternatives. If you have a Will, upon your death, your property will go through probate. Probate can take a long time, usually 6-9 months, but could potentially last several years.

One alternative to a Will, is a revocable living trust. A revocable living trust is a written document stating how you wish your property to be managed while alive and remains in effect after death. This document allows you to avoid probate only if you fund the trust.

Assets that have been funded into the trust no longer need to be probated after your death because the property is owned by The Trust, not the individual. There are different ways to fund assets into the trust depending on the asset. For example, for bank accounts and real estate, your name will be taken off the asset, and the name of your trust will be inserted in its place. Upon becoming fully funded, you will no longer own the assets; your trust will.



Whether you decide to go the route of a revocable living trust to avoid probate or not, it is always best to be prepared and understand your options.

In need of an experienced and trustworthy estate lawyer in Wormleysburg, PA? Contact Cherewka Law! We provide highly personalized planning services in four primary practice areas: estate planning, business, nonprofit, and real estate.

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