Pennsylvania Estate Planning Differences: You Can Go Home Again

October 5, 2010
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I am pleased to announce that I have renewed active status as a Pennsylvania attorney.  While I have done so mainly due to a familial circumstance, I spent most of my first 21 years there, and also worked there as an attorney for an additional 5 years.  It is still home to me in many ways, and I am excited to be reconnected in this way.

In the meantime, the following is a brief survey of certain differences in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland estate planning law.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

Intestacy.  As we have discussed, intestacy occurs when a person dies without a will or trust.  Without these documents, state laws specifically designate to whom assets will ultimately end up.  In general, it is highly recommended that you get your estate planning started to avoid such laws.  Just the two following examples illustrate the archaic and sometimes unusual intestacy rules in place in the three states:

  • Surviving Spouse – In Virginia, the survivor receives the entire estate if he is the parent of all of the deceased person’s (“decedent’s”) children.  In Pennsylvania & Maryland, the survivor will split the estate with either the decedent’s children or surviving parents.
  • Minor Children – In Maryland, the survivor will receive less of the estate if the decedent had any surviving minor children.  In Pennsylvania & Virginia, the survivor instead receives less only if he is not the parent of all the decedent’s children.

Will Formalities.  Technically, Pennsylvania does not require any witnesses for a will to be valid (however, it is still highly recommended that you have at least two so that the will can be “proven”).  Maryland & Virginia do require two witnesses.

Holographic Wills.  This type of will is one written entirely in the handwriting of the testator.  Pennsylvania is the rare state that will recognize such a will without any witnesses.  The idea is that the testator’s own handwriting is enough proof of his own signature.  Virginia requires two witnesses for handwritten wills.  Maryland allows holographic wills if a person makes it outside of the U.S. while serving in the U.S. military.  However, such a will is only valid until one year after discharge, with certain exceptions.

Removal of Personal Representatives.  We discussed the grounds for removing an executor or trustee in Maryland & Virginia in this post.  Like Virginia, Pennsylvania allows some discretion for removal as well.  Pennsylvania state law allows the court to remove a personal representative in situations related to:

  1. Waste or mismanagement of the estate.
  2. Incapacity.
  3. Representative’s Removal from Pennsylvania.
  4. A voluntary manslaughter or homicide charge against the representative.
  5. Any other reason where the interests of the estate would be put in jeopardy.

Tenancy by the Entirety.  We discussed property held as tenancy by the entirety in Virginia and Maryland in this post.  Pennsylvania differs in that the courts tend to presume a tenancy by the entirety whenever a husband and wife hold property together.  Cases even presume a tenancy by the entirety if held in the form “John Doe and Jane Doe, his wife”.  See Plastipak Packaging v. Depasquale, 2007 Pa. Super 348 (2007).

State Estate & Inheritance Taxes.  Maryland assesses an estate tax on assets in the decedent’s estate after an exemption for the first $1 million.  Pennsylvania and Virginia do not have an estate tax.

Maryland and Pennsylvania assess inheritance taxes.  These are imposed on certain individuals after inheriting assets from a decedent.  In Maryland, surviving spouses and descendants are exempt from this tax, whereas only surviving spouses are exempt in Pennsylvania.  Virginia does not have an inheritance tax.

I look forward to sharing other Pennsylvania laws and developments with you.

 Pennsylvania Estate Planning Differences:  You Can Go Home Again
 Pennsylvania Estate Planning Differences:  You Can Go Home Again


Scott R. Zucker, Esq. is the owner of The Zucker Law Firm PLLC, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Annandale, within five miles of the City of Fairfax, the county seat of beautiful Fairfax County, Virginia. The firm focuses mainly on estate planning services for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania clientele, and seeks to do so in an affordable and approachable way. People interested in learning more can contact Scott by phone or email.

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