On July 8, 2016, a number of changes were made to Title 20 of the PEF Code, as SB 1104 became Act 79.
Amendments to §3546: Determination of Title to Decedent’s Interest in Real Estate.
In the instance where the decedent dies leaving an interest in real estate and either:
- Letters are not granted in the estate for more than one year; or
- Letters were granted but an account was not filed for six years, persons or entities claiming an interest in the real estate as an heir, devisee, decedent or through an heir or devisee of the decedent may petition under §3546 to a terminate the interest in real estate of other heirs of devisees (after giving proper notice); or
- Have declared as void, unenforceable and cancelled of record any fraudulent conveyances of the decedent’s interest in the real estate subject to proper notice.
Additionally, §3546(d) sets forth the ordering where two or more petitions regarding the same real estate have been filed. In all instances, the petition shall be filed in the orphans’ court of the county where letters were granted; the principal residence of the decedent was located (if no letters were granted); or any of the real estate is located (if the decedent was a non-resident of the Commonwealth).
Further, §3546(f) provides that notice shall be given to all persons reasonably identifiable as eligible to file a petition claiming the subject real estate; all creditors; and all other persons and parties in interest reasonably known to hold or claim a lien, title, claim or other interest in the property. Notice shall be given by (a) a publication once a week for three calendar weeks in the legal periodical, if any, and in a newspaper of general circulation published at or near the location of the real estate; (b) posting a copy of the petition on the most public part of the real estate; and (c) such other methods as deemed appropriate by the court. Notice shall also be given to the personal representative if letter have been granted. Lis pendens notice shall be given in each county per §3390.
Comment: §3546 has been considered by some as the orphans’ court counterpart to the civil division’s quiet-title action. In instances where real estate title has not been addressed, perhaps for generations, the opportunity to quiet title by means of §3546 can be invaluable. Situations have arisen where generations of relatives have lived in the property without conveyance of title, and even without changing utility invoices. As a consequence, legal title has become obscured (and title possibly vesting in multiple parties, again, over several generations). In these situations, §3546 has often been seen as the only means by which title can be re-vested in a party in interest.
Unfortunately, §3546 has stood somewhat in isolation receiving little attention and little or no case law supporting the statute. The amendments of §3546 contained in Bill 1104 sets forth detailed procedures and, hopefully, places greater focus on this important statute.
New Section Added: §3163: Submission to jurisdiction
3163 codifies that which many believe has always been the law, i.e., upon appointment by the Register of Wills, the personal representative submits, personally, to the jurisdiction of the orphans’ court division of the county where letters are granted as that jurisdiction relates to the personal representative’s duties as personal representative. An important caveat is provided at §3163(b) in providing that, notwithstanding the submission of the personal representative to the jurisdiction of the orphans’ court, no personal representative may be held in criminal contempt absent the prior issuance of a citation and service of process.