Who Gets Your Stuff If You Die Without a Will?


Who Gets Your Stuff If You Die Without a Will?

It’s complicated:

Ownership Title

You can pass property to someone after your death by titling it properly before you die. If you own property jointly with right of survivorship, or by the entireties (which is joint ownership between spouses) and you die, the property passes to your surviving joint owners automatically by operation of law, without a will.

You can designate certain of your assets to be paid to a preferred recipient after your death by designating that person as a beneficiary, e.g. life insurance, and securities accounts.


You can open a bank account in your own name in trust for another person. That person will receive the account upon your death. This is sometimes referred to as a Totten or tentative trust. It’s tentative because you retain the right to withdraw the entire balance of the account during your lifetime. In fact, some would dispute that it is a true trust. However, regardless of whether it should be regarded as a true trust or not, it is recognized in Pennsylvania as an effective means of leaving an account to someone after your death.

If you’re so inclined, you can also create a more complicated trust to convey assets to others after your death. However, such would entail the creation of a trust document which would likely be as complicated as a will. Accordingly, before creating a trust to convey assets after your death, you will probably want to consult an attorney.

The Law of Intestate Succession

If you die and leave behind property which has not been disposed of by a will or by any of the means described above, it will be distributed to your survivors pursuant to the terms of a rather complicated Pennsylvania statute, depending on which of your relatives survive you and how they are related to you. Precedence is given to spouses:

Share of surviving spouse

Shares of others than surviving spouse

If you wish to discuss these or related matters with me, please call me at 814-283-5788. Your initial consultation is free.