What happens if I don’t have a Will?

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Many times we are asked by clients, “Why do I even need a Will?” The answer can be simple or complex depending on the client’s assets, family and goals. Perhaps most importantly, however, if you do not have a Will, state law determines how your assets will pass upon your death.

Our firm works with clients in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and New York. Each state has different rules for who inherits an estate. We provide below a summary of each state’s rules, for our clients’ informational purposes only. If you have any questions regarding the following, please contact our office.

*Note: the term “per stirpes” indicates that a deceased child’s share of an estate will pass to that child’s own children, if any.

Maryland

– If you are married at the time of your death and your spouse survives you by 30 days:

  • and you have no children or parents living, your spouse inherits your entire estate.
  • and you have no children, but your parents survive you, your spouse inherits $15,000 and ½ of the remaining estate. Your parents (or the survivor of them) inherit the remainder.
  • and you have minor children, your spouse inherits ½ of your estate and your children inherit ½ of your estate.
  • and you have children who are not minors, your spouse inherits $15,000 and ½ of the remaining estate. Your children inherit the remainder.

– If you are not married at the time of your death, but you have children who survive you by 30 days, your children inherit your entire estate, per stirpes.

– If you have no surviving spouse and no children, your parents inherit your estate.

– If you have no surviving spouse, children or parents, your siblings inherit your estate, per stirpes.

– If you have no surviving siblings, ½ goes to your paternal grandparents or the survivor and ½ goes to your maternal grandparents or the survivor, or to your aunts and uncles, per stripes.

– If you have no surviving grandparents or aunts or uncles, ¼ goes to each set of your paternal grandparents and ¼ goes to each set of your maternal grandparents, or to their children, per stirpes.

– If none of the people listed above survive you, your estate will go to any stepchildren that you had, or to their issue, per stirpes.

– If you have no stepchildren and none of the people listed above survive you, your estate goes to the local board of education.

District of Columbia

– If you are married at the time of your death and your spouse/domestic partner survives you by 120 hours:

  • And you have no children or parents living, your spouse/domestic partner inherits your entire estate.
  • And you have no children, but your parents survive you, your spouse/domestic partner inherits ¾ of your estate and you parents inherit ¼.
  • And you have children who are all children of your spouse/domestic partner and your spouse/domestic partner has no other children, your spouse/domestic partner inherits 2/3 of your estate and your children inherit 1/3 of your estate.
  • And you have children who are all children of your spouse/domestic partner and your spouse/domestic partner has children of his or her own, your spouse/domestic partner inherits ½ of your estate and your children inherit ½ of your estate.
  • And you have children who are not children of your surviving spouse/domestic partner, your spouse/domestic partner inherits ½ of your estate and your children inherit ½ of your estate

– If you do not have a surviving spouse or a domestic partner at the time of your death, your children inherit your entire estate, per stirpes.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children, your grandchildren inherit your estate, ­per stirpes.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, domestic partner, children or grandchildren, your parents (or the survivor of them) inherit your entire estate.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren or parents, your siblings inherit your estate, per stirpes, or if there are no siblings, your nieces and nephews inherit your estate, per stripes.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings or nieces and nephews, your surviving grandparents inherit your estate.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, or grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your grand-uncles and -aunts, your great-grand-uncles and -aunts, grand-nephews and -nieces, great-grand-nephews and -nieces, your first cousins and first cousins once removed (relations within the fifth degree), who survive you, inherit your estate.

– If you have no relations within the fifth degree, your cash passes to the Department of Human Services for emergency assistance grants, and your other property passes to the Mayor of the District of Columbia for the benefit of the poor.

Pennsylvania

– If you are married at the time of your death and your spouse survives you by 5 days:

  • And you have no children or parents living, your spouse inherits your entire estate.
  • And you have no children, but your parents survive you, your surviving spouse inherits $30,000 plus ½ of the remainder and your parents inherit ½ of the remainder.
  • And you have children who are all children of your spouse, your spouse inherits $30,000 and ½ of the remainder and your children inherit ½ of the remainder.
  • And you have children who are not all children of your spouse, your spouse inherits ½ of your estate and your children inherit ½ of your estate.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, your children inherit your entire estate, per stirpes.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse or children, your parents (or the survivor of them) inherit your entire estate.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, children or parents, your siblings inherit your estate, per stirpes or if all of your siblings have predeceased you, your nieces and nephews inherit your estate, per stirpes.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, nieces or nephews, your grandparents inherit your estate.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, nieces or nephews, or grandparents, your aunts and uncles inherit your estate, per stirpes. If all of your aunts and uncles have predeceased you, your cousins inherit your estate, per stirpes. If all of your cousins have predeceased you, your cousins’ children who survive you inherit your estate, per stirpes.

– If none of the people listed above survive you, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania inherits your estate.

New York

– If you are married at the time of your death and your spouse survives you by 120 hours:

  • And you have no children, your surviving spouse inherits your entire estate.
  • And you have children and a surviving spouse, your spouse inherits $50,000 and ½ of the remainder and your children inherit ½ of the remainder.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, your children inherit your entire estate, per stirpes.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse or children, your parents (or the survivor of them) inherit your estate.

– If you do not have a surviving spouse, children or parents, your parents’ children inherit your estate, per stirpes.

– If you are not survived by a spouse, children, parents or parents’ children, your grandparents (or their issue, down to their grandchildren) inherit your estate, per stirpes.

– If you are not survived by a spouse, children, parents, parents’ children, grandparents or their issue (down to their grandchildren), your grandparents’ great-grandchildren inherit your estate, per capita.

– If you are not survived by any of the people listed above, the State of New York inherits your estate.