How Does Probate Work In Pennsylvania When There Is No Will?

Jul 4, 2022 | Probate

Nearly half of the people who die in the U.S. die without a will. Their deaths are not just emotionally difficult, but also legally difficult for the families they left behind. In the state of Pennsylvania, most estates have to go through probate after a person passes away. Probate is already time-consuming and expensive, but when there was no will, probate becomes even more stressful. For one thing, it is more likely that family conflict will arise on how the estate should be divided up, because no clear wishes were left in writing; conflict can lead to costly litigation and to relational strife at an already difficult time. For another thing, probate without a will is governed by Pennsylvania intestate laws, which can be complicated.  If you have lost a loved one who did not have a will, allow us to express our sincere sympathies for your loss. Having to face the legal and financial side of your loved one’s death is probably the last thing you want to be dealing with, but it’s important to know what your responsibilities are and what to expect so you ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.  As a firm that Pennsylvania residents frequently turn to when they need the guidance of an experienced probate lawyer to guide them through the process, Daly Law Offices has extensive knowledge of Pennsylvania probate and intestate laws. We can help you understand your options and next steps, and lead you every step of the way to a successful probate resolution, even if there was no will. 


Probate is a formal legal process that usually needs to take place when a person passes away, regardless of whether or not the decedent had a valid will. The court-supervised proceedings entail the analysis and distribution of the property, money, and possessions previously owned by the decedent; essentially, probate is how a deceased person’s assets pass to their beneficiaries. In cases where there is a will, the estate assets will be distributed according to the directions laid out in the will. Probate begins with submitting the will to the court, and then the estate executor named in the will (usually a close family member) follows a series of steps to close the estate.  When a person passes on without a will, however, they are said to have died intestate. Their estate will still need to undergo the probate processes, and all of the above steps will still need to be completed, but when there was no will to list who inherits what assets, Pennsylvania’s intestate laws will come into effect and decide how the property will be distributed. In this case, the probate process begins with filing for intestate succession with the local court. 


Generally, the procedures for transferring an intestate estate will depend on the size of the decedent’s estate. Smaller estates can go through a simplified probate process. On the other hand, if the value of the estate is more than $50,000, the estate will have to go through a formal probate proceeding that involves the following:

1.    Filing for intestate succession: The surviving spouse or an adult child of the deceased person will file a petition for probate in a local probate court, requesting the court to open a probate case. 

2.    Appointing a personal representative: The court will review the petition and appoint either the applicant or someone else as the personal representative, and issue Letters of Administration. 

3.    Giving notice: The administrator will send notice of probate to designated heirs, beneficiaries, creditors and the public. Next, the administrator will assemble the estate assets.  

4.    Paying the estate’s debts and taxes: Once the personal representative gathers the relevant information, the court will supervise the payment of all debts and taxes owed by the decedent’s estate. 

5.    Distributing the estate assets: The probate court will then determine how the remaining assets will be shared among the people who inherit them. 

6.    Concluding the estate administration process: Lastly, the personal representative will prepare a final accounting and the court will issue a final discharge order. 


When no will is present to clearly state who gets what, Pennsylvania intestate succession laws specify how and to whom the estate will be distributed. The laws also dictate the order in which family members will have access to the estate or shares based on their relationship with the decedent. Below is a brief summary of the intestate guidelines regarding how assets will be distributed in different situations in a Pennsylvania probate without a will.  •    Where there is a surviving spouse, but no surviving descendants or parents, the entire estate will be passed to the spouse.  •    Where the deceased person is survived by their spouse and descendants from the decedent and the surviving spouse, the spouse will receive the first $30,000 of the intestate property and half of the remaining estate. The descendants will inherit the remaining half of the intestate property.  •    If there is a surviving spouse and descendants, but at least one of the surviving children is not a child of the surviving spouse, the spouse will get half of the estate. The surviving children will receive the remainder of the estate. •    If the decedent had a spouse and descendants from the deceased person and someone other than the surviving spouse, the spouse inherits half of the estate while the remaining half is shared among the surviving children.  •    Where there is a surviving spouse and at least one parent alive, the spouse will get the first $30,000 of the estate and half of the balance. The surviving parent or parents will inherit the other half of the remaining property.  •    Where the decedent is survived by their children but has no spouse, then the children of the decedent will inherit everything. •    If the deceased person is survived by their parents but has no spouse or children, then the entire estate will be passed to the surviving parents. •    If the decedent has no surviving spouse, children or parents, then the estate will be inherited by the decedent’s siblings. •    Where there is no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings, the property will be passed to the decedent’s grandparents. One half of the estate will be received by the paternal grandparents while the remaining half will go to the maternal grandparents. •    In cases where no grandparent survives the deceased person, the intestate estate will be passed to the uncles, aunts and their descendants.   •    If none of the family members mentioned above is still living, then, and only then will the intestate estate become the property of the state. In such cases, the property will pass to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

Confused About Intestate Laws? Need Probate Guidance? Call Our Pennsylvania Probate Attorney For A Free Consultation.

If you are facing probate, and your loved one did not have a will, contact Daly Law Offices today to schedule a free consultation and learn about your next steps. Our Pennsylvania probate lawyer can guide you every step of the way through the process, effectively saving you time, money, and stress, and leading you to the quickest and most efficient resolution possible. We’ll work with you to explain your options and handle everything for you so you can focus on moving forward with life after loss. If conflict arises over the way the estate is administered, we can defend your interests. Our firm can also help you plan for the future so that your family doesn’t have to endure this same struggle one day.  Our lead attorney, Joshua N. Daly, is a lifelong resident of the Lehigh Valley. Over his 15 years of practicing law, he has developed a passion for guiding grieving families through probate, with or without a will. Let Mr. Daly be your legal advocate – call his office today to request a free consultation, get your questions answered, and get started working towards the best resolution.
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