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If there is no will, what do I stand to inherit if my spouse dies before me?

Pittsburgh, PA |

My husband has everything in his name - house, cars etc. and we have separate bank accounts. He won't put my name on any of them. He says that if anything should happen to him, I will automatically get everything. Is he right? We have a young child together.

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The prior answer is correct in that the laws of intestacy (what happens if you die without a will) in PA would provide: $30,000 to surviving spouse, then 1/2 of what is left to surviving spouse with the remainder to the child (if the child is a minor, it would be held by the court). For that reason alone it is probably a good idea for him to have a will. Most married couples with young children would want the surviving spouse to get everything before anything goes down to a child.

I do not agree that having separate property means anything. It could, but I have seen couples with all types of arrangements with their money which may or may not be indicative of marital strife. That does not mean that you both do not need proper planning. If you husband wants a portion of his estate to be available to your minor child when he/she reaches 18 and wants that money poorly invested and to not have someone he knows as trustee of that money, then by all means he can decline to make a will....otherwise it is a good idea. Not to mention issues with powers of attorney and incapacity as well as guardianship for your child should you both die.

This is not legal advice nor intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided here is informational in nature only. This attorney may not be licensed in the jurisdiction which you have a question about so the answer could be only general in nature. Visit Steve Zelinger's website:


No he is not correct. He is being foolish by not having a will. In addition, he needs other estate planning documents like a financial and healthcare power of attorney and living will. So do you for that matter.

Did your husband own any of these things prior to marriage? Having everything in his name raises some issues. If you acquired those things after marriage then regardless of whose name is on it, those things are marital for divorce purposes. However, if your husband acquired the house and cars before marriage, then they are separate property for divorce purposes. By sticking your name on them he would be converting it into marital property.

Divorce law and estate law are different but the only reason why he would be so reluctant that I can see is he thinks that the marriage is on shaky ground and he does not want to convert separate into marital property. However, if these things were acquired after marriage, then your husband's reluctance makes no sense. Joint ownership of property is a good idea for reasons other than probate and I don't understand why he is so recalcitrant unless he has a secret will and is planning on leaving everything to his girlfriend and love child or something like that.

If he dies a s things stand now, you do not inherit everything. If he does not have a will, then your husband's assets would pass under the intestacy laws. You would inherit the property along with any biological or adopted children of your husband. So they would also share in your husband's estate.

If your husband would put your name on the marital home and you would own it as husband and wife, then the house would pass to you automatically as of the moment of your husband's death. Depending on what kind of car there is and its value, the car could be assigned as part of the family exemption. If your husband had a joint bank account with you, then it also would pass outside of probate to you.

By my post I do not intend to suggest that your husband is unfaithful to you. I simply do not know why he is reluctant to do things and the fact that he is reluctant gives me pause for concern. It must give you concern as well or you would not be posting here. This suggests that there is some discord in your marital relationship. If possible you and your husband need to sit down and talk about your estate plan, if for no other reason than that you have a young child. As I said, you both need wills and other estate planning documents to name a guardian and trustee over your child and your child's assets if something happens to both of you. It does not require much imagination for me to conjure up scenarios where your child could be left without either parent and with a good amount of assets.

If your husband is still reluctant, then maybe you and he would benefit from marriage counseling of some kind. However, you need to find out why he objects to having your name on things and why he does not wish to make a will, as this really makes no sense.

Good luck.


Attorney Zelinger has given you an excellent explanation of the intestacy laws in PA, and why it is important to have a will. If your husband wants to ensure that you get everything, then he needs to make a will. You should also have a will, especially since there is a young child involved.

I would not assume that there is any marital strife. People have various reasons for not adding a spouse's name to property, such as a fear that it will be a hassle and cost a lot of money. Many people do not have wills or other estate planning documents for these same reasons. However, many attorneys draft basic wills and other documents for a reasonable fee and without any hassle.

I would suggest that you tell your husband about the PA intestacy laws, and how the court will hold onto your child's share until he is an adult. If either of you would like to draft a will or speak with an attorney in Pittsburgh, please feel free to call my office at 412-221-1116. I wish you all the best.

This answer is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship and may not be relied upon as legal advice. A careful examination of the facts is necessary before a legal answer may be relied on. You should consult your own attorney before taking or refraining from any legal action.