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As of Sunday, at least 104,300 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the U.S., according to data released by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine. But what happens if someone dies “intestate,” or without having established a will or estate plans.
“There are laws in every state that have to do that basically control what happens if you die without a will,” explained Pennsylvania-based attorney Amanda DiChello, who works for Cozen O'Connor. ”Pennsylvania has laws that say who receives upon your death if you die without a will. For example, your spouse, your children and then other folks that are otherwise in your bloodline – your parents and your siblings and so on and so forth – but the first stop is always the spouse and the kids.”
DiChello, who also practices trust and estate law in New Jersey, said it is unusual for the government to claim a deceased person’s estate. While it might be allowed in some states, it’s considered a last resort.
“There are some states where the government would take, but very, very, very, very far down the line. You'd have to have zero blood relatives for that to happen, and it depends on the state,” she said. “So, no, the government doesn't take it. There are people that will take it. But the problem really is, are those people that you want?”
DiChello recommends anyone whose loved one has died without a will seek legal counsel for advice regarding the next steps.
“The world is such that nowadays, families are, you know, sometimes they're close, sometimes they're not, sometimes they're disjointed. So to have something that you can have in place that works is better, I think, than the alternative, which might be to die intestate and not have those receive who you intend to receive,” DiChello said. “Or actually, for some people to have some people that they don't want to receive actually receive.”