From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My wife passed recently. We own a house together in Philadelphia in both names. She died with no other assets aside from our joint checking account. We have three children from our marriage and she has three children from her prior marriage. Does her half of the house go to my stepchildren?
First, Pennsylvania has no requirement that you leave your children any portion of your estate. So if your wife had a will, she could leave her entire estate to you and the children would have no claim. Assets can also be left at death by contract. For example, you had a joint checking account, which means that you had a contract together that the surviving member had the right to claim the entire account. It is not perfectly clear, though, how you owned the house when you say that you owned it “in both names.”
Spouses can own real estate together in three ways. Look at the deed and see if you can find the language “jointly with a right of survivorship” or “tenants in the entireties”. If you owned the house in either of these ways, then you had the right, by contract, to claim her one-half interest at her death and the children would have no claim. If instead you see “tenants in common”, then you had no contract. Owning land this way means that you own half and your wife owned half and you have no right to claim her share by contract. Her interest will pass under the terms of her will, or if she had no will, the Pennsylvania rules of intestacy. If so, the children may get a portion of this land. To be sure I would need to review the deed.
If you have any other questions about probate in Pennsylvania, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.