Families in Pennsylvania may wonder what happens to an estate when a loved one dies without making a will or trust. Some people assume that the estate will be split evenly between heirs, but what happens to the land, property and money varies from state to state.

When an individual dies without leaving a will or trust, the estate is known as intestate. The estate goes to the state probate court, which assigns an administrator. In most cases, the estate administrator is the spouse or eldest descendant. If descendants feel that the person assigned to be the administrator should not have this responsibility, they can petition to have the administrator changed to a different descendant or a third party. This petition must be made within 30 days of the individual’s death.

The administrator then oversees the division of assets according to state laws. In Pennsylvania, the surviving spouse receives the first $30,000 and half of the estate balance. Descendants then receive the remainder of the portion. If there is no surviving spouse, the estate is divided among the descendants.

It’s important to make a last will to ensure that an estate is divided per the wishes of the estate holder. For example, an older man may have recently married a woman. He doesn’t have a will written up and has been diagnosed with dementia, so he is no longer able to make a will. The descendants are concerned because they feel the new wife won’t handle affairs as their father wanted. Upon his death, the spouse will most likely be appointed as administrator by the probate court. The children may petition to have her removed as an administrator. The money would then be divided among the spouse and descendants according to the laws of the state. A lawyer with experience in estage litigation may be able to help family members of the descendant file the petition and get their inheritance.