North Wales, PA asked in Probate for Pennsylvania

Q: Can an individual refuse to accept an inheritance per a relative's will? If so, how is the total distributed?

The person is in Social Sec. Disability and wants the other relative in the will to receive the remainder as she will be there to assist him in the future. He has paranoid schitzophrenic issues.

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1 Lawyer Answer
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Cary, NC
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: Yes under 20 PACSA § 6201. There are certain time limits to disclaim for federal and state tax purposes. See a probate attorney.

However, your post indicates that the person who is making the will is still alive. In that case, you cannot renounce. A will only becomes operative at death and for you to renounce then a person has to have died for you to be able to inherit under a will or otherwise.

A person can make a will up until the time of death. Notwithstanding his paranoia, if he has sufficient mental capacity to make a will (the standard is fairly low - all that must be shown is that the person making the will knows what he owns and who his relatives are). Why doesn't he just make a new will leaving his assets to the other relative?

What will happen, assuming the man dies without making a new will, is that you have 6-9 months following his death to renounce any inheritance. In that case, you would have to see what the will says as to who gets the assets. By renouncing, the court would pretend that you died before the testator (the man making the will). The court would then look to see if the will said anything - when I draft wills for clients, some clients have me say something like "I leave my property to Jane Doe and if Jane Doe does not survive me I leave my property to John Doe." So if the will has something like this then the will is going to control. The will might also contain what is called a residue clause. The residue clause is a catchall provision which says "I leave all my other property as follows ..."

If the will is silent as to what happens and contains no residue clause, then a partial intestacy may result. In such case, the law would look and see who the intestate heirs would be. Its usually spouse and children. If there are no lineal descendants and no spouse, then it might be siblings or nieces and nephews. Since you would be treated as dead if you renounced, the property would pass to any surviving relatives and possibly any children of yours if you have them as they could inherit your share.

Its really a whole lot simpler if the man just makes a new will. If he is on SSDI that cannot be inherited (SSDI would cease at death) but any other assets could be inherited, like cars, bank accounts or land.

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