When a Pennsylvania resident dies without a Will, they are said to have died “intestate.” This means that their estate will be distributed pursuant to Pennsylvania’s intestacy law, which is a set of rules that applies when a decedent did not have a will and dictates which individuals have a right to act as the Administrator of the estate, as well as who will inherit estate assets. An Administrator of the estate must be appointed by filing a Petition for Grant of Letters with the Register of Wills for the County in which the decedent was a resident at the time of their death.
Pennsylvania law permits a resident to make a Will that overrides the intestacy law and determine for themselves who will administer their estate and who will be their beneficiaries. When a Pennsylvania resident dies with a valid Will they are said to have died “testate.” The Testator (creator of the Last Will and Testament) can name individuals as beneficiaries but can also name a trust(s) or charitable institutions. Similar to intestacy, the Executor (the person named in the Will to administer the estate) must submit a Petition for Grant of Letters, along with the decedent’s original Will, to the Register of Wills for the County in which the decedent was a resident at the time of their death. Both the Executor and Administrator are often referred to generically as the “Personal Representative” of the estate.