What Happens to Property When There is No Will?

Who receives property when a loved one passes without a will?


Some people are surprised to learn that if they die without a will the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has an intestacy law which decides who gets what in probate. How a property is distributed can become complex depending on how many heirs are involved. A common question family members ask us is what happens to property when there are multiple heirs involved?



How is an estate settled without a will?


First, a person must be appointed to serve as the administrator of the deceased’s estate. The administrator is the person with the duty to open and settle the estate according to Pennsylvania’s intestacy law.


When there is no will, all of the heirs must sign a document called a “renunciation” which permits someone to be appointed as administrator. It is important to know that a renunciation does not waive any rights of inheritance – it only waives the right to serve as the administrator.


If any one of the heirs does not cooperate in signing a renunciation, then a petition must be filed with the Register of Wills seeking authorization to proceed.


The first step in opening an estate is to file a petition for probate with the Register of Wills. Only after proper authorization is issued to a proposed administrator can the probate process proceed.


What happens to the property?


If the estate includes real estate, the heirs must decide whether to sell the property or transfer it to the heirs. If the heirs do not agree on whether to sell or keep the property, it may be necessary to arrange financing for a buyout.


All heirs must sign the deed transferring the property. If any heir refuses to sign the deed, the sale may be at risk of becoming overturned or falling into litigation.


Once the deed is drafted and the heirs have signed, the last step is to submit the deed for recording at the Recorder of Deeds.


As a probate law firm for estate executors, we help settle estates efficiently and reduce stress. If you know someone faced with a probate process or roadblocks to an estate property sale, please have them contact us for a free evaluation at:


Phone: (215) 918-4242 

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If you are not quite ready for a consultation, download our probate handbook HERE. We’ll send you helpful probate guides and resources so you know how to handle the estate.