All About Inheritance in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania inheritance process
Elizabeth Weiss

By Elizabeth Weiss | Feb 10th, 2020

Administering an estate in Pennsylvania is no more and no less difficult than any other state. The matter is pressing, sometimes confusing, and for some beneficiaries, expensive. Here are the basics when it comes to inheritance in Pennsylvania.

The Process

A will is a legal document that lays out how a person wants their estate to be managed or minor children cared for upon their death. The person given the job of distributing these assets is the will’s executor. Beneficiaries are the individuals or entities named in the will who receive portions of the deceased’s estate. 

Any assets not named in the will but in the deceased’s name are subject to probate, a process that falls to the responsibility of the executor, including filing the will in probate court, notifying heirs, taking care of debts, and itemizing property.

If a Pennsylvania resident dies intestate – without a will – their estate is managed by the state and assets distributed the way an average person might elect to have their assets handled. Trusts and other non-probate assets like retirement accounts, insurance policies, investment accounts, payable on death (POD) accounts, and joint property are passed to the beneficiary as named or any surviving co-owner(s), whether a will is in place or not.

Intestate Succession in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, if someone dies without a will, their assets go to their closest relatives under state intestate succession laws. While this seems like a straightforward process, things can get a little muddy, especially when there are multiple descendants and heirs.

Eligible heirs include:

The estate of a person who dies intestate without any heirs reverts to the state, though this is an uncommon occurrence. Laws are designed for even the most distant relative to inherit property upon a person’s death, no matter how many times removed.

Estate and Inheritance Tax in Pennsylvania

Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes and, as it turns out, taxes apply even after death. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that collect a state inheritance tax on certain property owned by the deceased Pennsylvania resident, including real estate. When property transfers from the deceased person to a living individual, the inheritance tax applies whether there is a will or not.

An inheritance tax is levied against every share of the decedent’s estate. Each beneficiary is on the hook to pay this tax, though the estate can sometimes be used to pay the fee, particularly if the deceased person’s will instructs accordingly. A few caveats: Any transfer to a surviving spouse is entirely exempt from the Pennsylvania inheritance tax. There is also no inheritance tax on the estate of a child age 21 or younger, or transfers to charitable organizations or exempt institutions.

Estate Planning Attorneys in Pennsylvania

If you have become the executor of a will in Pennsylvania, are a beneficiary of a significant sum, or have lost a loved one intestate, an estate planning attorney can help you deal with the financial and legal matters you now face. 

Liquidating an Estate in Pennsylvania

If you come into an inheritance, an estate appraiser can let you know what items or property are worth. Estate liquidators can help heirs unload their inheritance through estate sales, charging a percentage of the gross profits.

Always give extra thought to selling inherited jewelry in Pennsylvania. Costume jewelry is a big draw at estate sales. If you have inherited a few pieces of valuable jewelry you would like to sell, however, it is always wise to have the jewelry appraised to determine its value and the most lucrative way to liquidate these items.

Elizabeth Weiss

Elizabeth Weiss

Elizabeth Weiss is a freelance writer and content marketing writer living in Maryland. Learn more about her at


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