What Happens If You Die Without A Will?

Karen B. Arthur |
Posted on Aug 01, 2017

If you die without a will in Pennsylvania, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” laws. Dying intestate means that you effectively have no legal will in place at the date of death to state who should receive your possessions. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Pennsylvania.

It is a common misconception that if there is no will, the decedent’s property will be left to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The truth is that, if you die without a will and don’t have any family, your property will “escheat” into the Commonwealth’s resources. However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to direct your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For instance, your property will not escheat or revert to the Commonwealth if you leave a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews or cousins.

It is also important to note intestate succession laws affect only assets that would have passed through your will. Usually, that includes only assets that you own alone, in your own name. Many other assets have a designated beneficiary or beneficiaries to receive those funds directly. Below are some examples of assets that would not pass through a will:

  • funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account,
  • property transferred to a living trust,
  • payable-on-death bank accounts,
  • securities held in a transfer-on-death account,
  • fe insurance proceeds, or
  • real estate property owned with someone else by joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.


Anyone who owns property should create a will. Further, a will directs important decisions such as who will be the guardian of any minor children that survive you. It also directs who will administer your estate as executor and who will serve as trustee of any trusts created in your will. Lastly, creating a will enables you to give property in-kind to a designated person or charity, or to make other specific bequests.

Although estate planning is somewhat complicated because it involves many thought provoking-decisions, it is important to have a detailed plan to provide for the future of your family and loved ones after your death. Working with a trusted attorney and other professionals allows you to make the most appropriate decisions about the terms and beneficiaries of your estate. Doing this will prevent your estate from being directed by the intestate succession laws of the Commonwealth, assuring your estate is distributed in the way that meets your wishes.

Like other financial institutions with trust powers, ACNB Bank often serves as executor or trustee for individuals in our community and maintains the specialized skills necessary for estate settlement and trust administration.

Karen B. Arthur
First Vice President/Senior Trust Officer for ACNB Bank