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Estate Planning Misconceptions

A common misconception for residents in Pennsylvania is that people do not need a Will because they think when they die their spouse will get everything anyway. Another misconception is that the property of the person who passes will go to the State, if they die without a will.

Fortunately, neither of these is particularly accurate. If a person dies without a Will in Pennsylvania that person is said to have died “intestate.” The state has laws that guide the disposition of a person’s property if he or she dies intestate. If the decedent was married but did not have any children and is survived by his or her parents, then the law says that the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $30,000.00 of the estate plus half of the remaining estate, and the parents will get the other half.

If the decedent is married and does have children, then the spouse receives the first $30,000.00 plus half of the remaining estate and the children will receive the other half when they turn 18 years of age. If the children are the decedent’s, but not the surviving spouse’s children, then the spouse does not receive the first $30,000.00, rather she or he splits the estate with the children.


How do you avoid all of this confusion? Draft a Will. By doing so, you can ensure that your property is distributed in the way you intend it to be. As an example, rather than having an 18 year old obtain a check that he or she can do with whatever they want, an option would be to set up a trust until the child is of an age when he or she is more responsible.

A properly executed Will will first distribute any specific property that you choose to specific individuals. Items such as jewelry, tools, or sports memorabilia are commonly passed this way. These are called “specific bequests.” The remainder of the estate assets are added to the “residuary estate” and is usually left to the surviving spouse or children of the decedent, but can be left to anyone of the decedent’s choosing.

A Will also will allow you to designate a guardian for minor children if you and your spouse both pass. This will eliminate any questions about who is caring for your minor children if the unthinkable happens.

Ultimately, everyone in Pennsylvania has an option: allow the courts and politicians to make the decisions about who raises your children and how to distribute your estate, or take the time to execute a well thought-out Will that reflects your intentions for after you pass. Giving you the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have the control and your family will be taken care of.

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