Understanding What Happens to Real Estate After The Owner Passes Away

Understanding What Happens To Real Estate When The Owner Passes Away

In the state of Pennsylvania, if you or someone you know dies, any left behind real estate will be passed down to one or more beneficiaries named in a will. But what if there is no will? Who inherits the real estate? Is it passed down to the next of kin, or does the government get to take ownership? Let’s go ahead and take a close look at the specifics of real estate inheritance in Pennsylvania as well as some common misconceptions.

Understanding Real Estate Inheritance

First of all, it should be noted that if someone dies without a will, his or her real estate does not automatically become owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Instead, there are certain laws that guide the disposition of the estate. In legal terms, these laws are referred to laws of Intestate Succession. The laws explicitly state who inherits what and the processes that have to be completed for the inheritance process to be legally official.

The main purpose of the laws of Intestate Succession is to protect any surviving children and/or spouse of the person who dies. In the event that a person dies, Pennsylvania has taken proper steps to ensure the kids and spouse are taken care of. In some cases, depending on the exact details of a case, the law of Intestate Succession will sometimes provide inheritance to a deceased person’s parents, aunts/uncle, cousins, grandchildren, etc.; however, the ending result of an inheritance case is determined by a person’s relationship to the deceased person.

Understanding the Complexity of Real Estate Inheritance

Now, moving on to the more complicated part of understanding real estate inheritance in Pennsylvania. As said before, if the deceased individual leaves behind a will, his or her real estate will be left to whomever he or she states in the will specifies. Sometimes, this will include more than one person depending on the number of people the deceased person instructed his or her real estate to be passed on to.

If, however, there is no will, this is where things get a bit complex. First of all, if a person has no family and no will, then the real estate would become owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and it would be up to the state as to what happens to it. If the deceased individual owed money on the estate, the state would sell the home and pay off the debt; however, any funds left over would then be spent or saved however the state deemed necessary.

For deceased individuals who have no will and no children but leave behind a spouse, his or her entire estate would be passed on to the spouse. If money is owed on the estate, it will be the spouse’s responsibility to take over the debt. In some instances, if the deceased person still has one or more parents who are living, the parent(s) will be entitled to a part of the real estate. If the spouse and parent(s) cannot come to terms on how to split the real estate, the property would be sold. The spouse would receive the first $30,000 of the real estate as well as half of the remaining estate, if any. The surviving parents would then have access to any funds left over.

Family Photo

Things become even more complicated when children are involved. Legally, the spouse and any children over the age 18 will inherit a portion of the real estate. If all beneficiaries agree to, the real estate will be sold and the spouse will get the first $30,000 as well as half of the remaining funds left over, if any; however, this only applies if all surviving children are the surviving spouse’s biological children. If there is one or more child who is not the biological child of the surviving spouse, the spouse does not get the first $30,000 once the real estate is sold. Instead, he or she would get half and that’s it, and the remaining funds would be evenly distributed between all surviving children.

In the event that there is no surviving spouse, inheritance of any real estate goes in the following order:

  • Children
  • Parents
  • Brother, sister or their children
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles, aunts, cousins
  • Commonwealth

If there is more than one child who inherits the real estate, both would have to come to some type of mutual agreement as to what is to take place with the estate. If one child wanted to live in the home and the other wants to sell it, the child wanting to live in the home would have to buy out his or her sibling’s portion of the estate. This applies to brothers, parents, sisters, uncles, etc.

Because real estate inheritance in Pennsylvania can become so complex, it’s always best for a person to take proper precautions as to how the real estate will be passed down. The best way to do this is by creating a will.

About Max Beier

Maximilian F. Beier is a partner at Beier, Beier & Beier. He joined the law firm in 2001 as an associate after a two-year clerkship with Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge, John P. Hester. He was made a partner in 2007. Max is experienced in litigating personal injury claims and product liability issues in the state and federal courts of Pennsylvania. Additional litigation experience includes business disputes, contract actions, real-estate and domestic matters. Max and wife Michele reside in the Shadyside section of Pittsburgh, and are the proud parents of Maximilian Finley “Finn," and Braxton Beier.