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What should you know about inheritance laws in Pennsylvania?

On Behalf of | Jun 20, 2023 | Probate & Estate Planning |

When it comes to matters of inheritance, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has specific laws in place to govern the distribution of assets and the responsibilities of beneficiaries. Inheritance law ensures a fair and smooth transition of property after the death of a loved one, while still protecting the rights of the survivors.

Identifying heirs

The first step in inheritance law involves identifying the rightful heirs. If the deceased left behind a will, the court will follow the will unless the court receives a valid challenge to it.

The will may receive a challenge under the following circumstances:

  • Undue influence: You can prove that the deceased was coerced, manipulated, or influenced by another individual.
  • Lack of testamentary capacity: You can prove that the deceased did not have the mental capacity to understand the terms they agreed to when they signed the will.
  • Improper Execution: Wills may face challenges when they do not receive the proper signing or witnessing.
  • Fraud: Forgery of signatures may make the will invalid.

Lack of a will

When an individual passes away without a will, probate courts will distribute the decedent’s property according to the state’s intestate laws. Distribution of assets follows a predetermined hierarchy of beneficiaries that involves the following:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings

If the deceased did not leave behind any relatives, the court may distribute the property to the estate. Proper estate planning, including a will or trust, prevents the court from being responsible for determining your beneficiaries.

Executor duties

The will should name an executor (otherwise known as the “personal representative”) of the estate. This individual manages assets, pays debts, files tax returns, and distributes the assets.  Executors commonly hire estate or probate attorneys to assist them in their duties. If you have questions about Pennsylvania inheritance laws, estate planning, or probating a will, contact an experienced estate attorney for a consultation.