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On death, dying and intestacy laws

Cultural critics often accuse Americans of trying to avoid talking about death. It's a line of argument that dates to at least the 1940s, when the British novelist Evelyn Waugh published a satirical send-up of the funeral industry called "The Loved One."

And it is true, to a certain extent, that age-denying tactics like Botox and other forms of cosmetic surgery are popular in a culture that can seem obsessed with youth.

But there are also countervailing trends. The publication of "On Death and Dying" in the 1970s by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was very influential and continues to enrich the national conversation about those subjects.

As we noted in our recent article on intestacy, it is not only important to have a basic will to transfer property in the event of your death. It is also good to know what would happen if you were to die intestate - i.e., without a will.

In our article, we explain how the various who-gets-what intestacy scenarios can affect estate-planning decisions in Pennsylvania.

We also emphasize the point that even if you have a will, it doesn't always mean you can simply ignore what would happen if you don't have one. This is because courts are sometimes forced to invalidate wills that don't meet the formal legal requirements for a valid will.

Intestacy laws can also affect other types of inheritance issues, such as survivor benefits available under Social Security.

In short, even in a death-denying culture, there are more reasons than most of us realize for recognizing the role of intestacy laws.

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