Asked in Estate Planning and Real Estate Law for Pennsylvania

Q: If someone dies without a will and owned a house with two of her children will grandchild by a 3d deceased child inherit

House is in Pa. No will can be found. House Owned jointly by deceased and two surviving children. Third child died many years ago, never on the deed. Do the deceased daughter's children inherit anything?

2 Lawyer Answers
Mark Scoblionko
Mark Scoblionko
  • Allentown, PA
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: No.

Nellie T Schulz
Nellie T Schulz
  • Philadlephia, PA
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: There are specific laws in Pennsylvania regarding many less typical circumstances which affect the inheritance of or forfeiture by the deceased’s (called the “decedent”) spouse, stepchildren, adopted children, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and the children of aunts and uncles and other matters.

I will assume in responding to your question that the decedent’s spouse predeceased him by more than 5 days, that his 3rd child was not named in the deed, and that that none of the unusual circumstances apply.

Section 2103(5) of the intestacy laws (found in Chapter 21 of Title 20 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes) provides:

“5) Source of ownership.--Real estate shall pass under this chapter without regard to the ancestor or other relation from whom it has come.”

What this means is that the deed controls who inherits the decedent’s title to real property (by “owner”, I mean the person or persons named in the actual recorded deed as the “Grantee” or “Grantees”).

When a deed names more than one person as a Grantee (and none are married to one another), the deed should describe the type of title each Grantee owns, most commonly as “tenants in common” or as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship”. (Using the word “tenants” in the deed does not mean the Grantees are anything like tenants of a landlord under a lease, but is an ancient description of the owners of real property).

If all the Grantees are described as “tenants in common”, when an owner dies without a will, his percentage ownership interest automatically passes to his heirs equally according to the intestacy laws, so the 2 surviving children named in the deed should inherit the decedent’s portion of the property.

If all the Grantees are described in the deed as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship”, when an owner dies (with or without a will) his ownership portion automatically passes equally to the surviving owners (I.e., Grantees).

It is, however, possible that the deed says that the ownership interest of some of the Grantees are as “tenants in common” while the other or others are “joint tenants with rights of survivorship”. The resulting ownership is more complicated. Also, the deed may contain no description at all of the Grantees’ type of ownership. (If the deed has no description or an ambiguous description of the Grantees’ type of ownership, the courts typically construe the ownership as being as “tenants in common”, but this is uncertain. The deed may also have granted a “life estate” to one or more of the Grantees, which would or may substantially affect the ownership of the property.

I urge you to engage a local attorney who practices in the areas of Wills and Estates and can give you an accurate answer to your questions and help you with probating the decedent's estate, preparing and recording the appropriate type of deed, and related matters.

Michael Cherewka agrees with this answer

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