Over the years, many of our Pennsylvania clients have asked this question. Certainly they are not the only ones who believe that wills are merely necessary for those with children. In fact, one study done in 2008 by PNC Wealth Management discovered that as many as 30 percent of adults with significant assets of at least a half-million have never drawn up wills.
Lack of this most basic estate document is even more rampant in the general population. One Harris poll commissioned by an attorney's group showed that 58 percent of adults never took the time to draft their wills.
Dying intestate: What happens next?
It can get a bit complex. This site provides a breakdown of the estate distribution for Pennsylvanians who die intestate, or without a will to specify their wishes. Various scenarios in descending order of relationships and consanguinity are formatted. Below is one fictional example.
Rowan was an unmarried professor of English Literature at Penn State who died at age 70 with a total net worth of $250,000. She did not have any children, and her only sibling, a brother, died as a child in a car accident. Rowan's parents and grandparents have long been deceased. She has no living aunts or uncles, and her only first cousin predeceased her by nearly a decade.
However, her first cousin, whom she had not seen in a half-century or more, was the mother of two adult sons living out on the west coast. Rowan had never met her two first cousins once-removed, yet because she died without leaving a valid will, each of these distant relatives will receive $125,000 from her estate.
Make your intentions known in your lifetime
While there is nothing inherently wrong with two distant relatives whom you have never met inheriting your life's savings and assets - it's the stuff of windfalls from out of the blue and Monopoly games - many, if not most, people prefer to have some discretion as to where their assets wind up.
Considering that if our fictitious client had no living relatives at all, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would absorb all her assets, it is perhaps even more important that someone without heirs states his or her intentions in a legal will.
Using our hypothetical example once more, let's surmise that as a lifelong educator, Rowan may have desired to set up a trust to fund scholarships for English majors coming from inner-city high schools all around Pennsylvania. She may also have been a devoted pet lover who wanted to make a behest of $50k to her local animal rescue group. She could have begun the process by writing her will, and her estate planning attorney could have devised a trust that would allow her estate funds to keep generating income for the trust to last generations.
Cover your assets with a will
Regardless of your situation in life, a will gives you a measure of control over the disposition of your assets, whether they be vast or merely the personal artifacts of your life. Don't leave this important decision to chance. Talk to a Pennsylvania estate planning attorney today.