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Under Pennsylvania probate laws does the estate automatically go to the surviving spouse

Bentleyville, PA |

in penna, does the remaining spouse automatically inherit his deceased spouse's estate, or only, one half, with the other half going to whomever the deceased spouse wishes

Attorney Answers 3


  1. Inheritances in Pennsylvania are first and foremost controlled by the Will of the Testator (i.e. someone writing a Will) can disinherit (i.e. give nothing to) anyone they want, except their spouse. If a spouse is disinherited (i.e. left nothing) that surviving spouse can "take against the Will" an amount equal to 1/3 of the Estate.


  2. It is a commonly, but mistakenly, believed that the surviving spouse automatically inherits the entire estate of the deceased spouse. This is frequently the case because most married couples have all the assets titled in both names and the spouse as the named beneficiary on non-probate assets, such as life insurance, IRA's, etc. As indicated above, the will, if there is one, will determine to whom the probate estate is distributed, although the surviving spouse has the right to elect to take against the will. If there is no will, the distribution of the probate estate is determined by PA law. In situations where there is no will the surviving spouse may be required to divide the probate assets with surviving children of the deceased spouse. The surviving spouse needs to consult with an attorney experienced in estate administration to review the assets held by the couple and deceased spouse and determine what his or her rights are with respect to those assets.


  3. No. The estate does not automatically go to the surviving spouse under Pennsylvania's Intestate Act. However, any assets that are jointly held by both spouses as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or as tenants by the entireties will pass by operation of law to the surviving spouse even where there is no will. Insurance policies, IRAs and 401(k)s will also pass to a spouse if she is the beneficiary.

    Where there is no will and no beneficiary designation, the first thirty thousand dollars will go to the surviving spouse and then a fraction of the balance of assets - depending on wether or not the children are of the marriage or by separate marriages.

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