Actually, none of these answers are entirely correct. The confusion is largely due to the fact that the vast majority of attorneys do not engage in the collection or ‘execution’ process of judgments, and the fact that there are different time periods associated with the revival of judgments, the preservation of the lien on real property, execution, and the duty to satisfy judgments.
To understand your rights as a judgment creditor, there are some basics that you should know:
First, a money judgment is what the average person thinks of as a judgment. It is simply a debt created by an award or order of court for a specific amount of money, and recorded in whatever county the judgment was entered. If the plaintiff wins, she becomes a ‘judgment creditor’ and the defendant becomes a ‘judgment debtor.’
If the judgment debtor does not pay the judgment off willingly, the creditor will have to hire an attorney to engage in the ‘execution process,’ which is how you enforce a money judgment.
Generally, there are two types of property that the judgment creditor can go after: real property and personal property.
In Pennsylvania the entry and docketing of a money judgment will automatically act as a lien upon all of the judgment debtor’s real estate in the county. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4303. (Judgments can be transferred from county to county after they are entered). A judgment creditor may force a sheriff sale on the judgment debtor’s real property.
Also, the judgment creditor can direct the county sheriff to execute on and sell the personal assets or seize bank accounts.
Once the judgment has been paid in full, the judgment creditor has a legal duty to mark the judgment as ‘satisfied’ by filing a document with the court. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8104.
So, how long does a money judgment last for?
There are three statutes of limitations associated with money judgments. The “five year period,” “ten year period” and the “twenty year period.”
The five year period is only applicable to the lien on the judgment debtor’s real estate in that county. If the judgment creditor does not file a document with the court called a ‘writ of revival’ every five years, the lien on the real estate lapses. A judgment may be revived every five years, indefinitely, and the lien will forever maintain its position ahead of other lienholders. However, if the judgment is revived more than five years after the docketing of the original judgment, or the judgement creditor forgets after one of the five-year periods runs, the judgment will still act as a lien upon the real estate but it will lose its position in accordance with the requirements of 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8141; See Home Consumer Discount Co. of Wilkes-Barre v. Hashagen, 35 D. & C. 3rd 668 (1985; Cusano v. Rubolino, 351 Pa. 41, 39 A.2d 906 (1945). At that point, the lien has lost its priority against liens filed before the latest revival. Popatek v. Evans, 26 Pa. D. & C. 4th 244 (1995). A late revival is not effective against a terre-tenant, or a person that subsequently bought the home. Ricci v. Cuisine Management Services, Inc., 621 A.2d 163 (Pa.Super.1993). If the judgment is not revived with in ten years of docketing, or the last writ of revival, the lien is lost forever. U.S. v. Shadle, 16 Pa. D. & C 4th 297 (1992).
The twenty year period is applicable to money judgments for purposes of determining the statute of limitations for execution against personal property. Under PA Statute, “[a]n execution against personal property must be issued within 20 years after the entry of the judgment upon which the execution is to be issued.” 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5529. In other words, the 20-year statutory period for execution against personal property prevents judgment creditor from executing against personal property of debtor more than 20 years after judgment was entered. Shearer v. Naftzinger, 747 A.2d 859, 560 Pa. 634, Sup.2000. The 20 year period has no bearing on the judgment creditor’s lien on real property. Id. (“the twenty-year statute of limitations in § 5529 regarding execution against personal property does not constitute a defense to a writ of revival”).
In short, judgment creditors must file a writ of revival every five years to preserve their lien on real property. See, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4303, 8141. They may do that indefinitely. Shearer, 747 A.2d 859. But they only have 20 years to execute on real property, until that right is lost forever. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5529.After the twenty year period, there is a rebuttable presumption that a judgment has been paid. Rosenbaum v. Newhoff, 152 A.2d (Pa. 1959). However, the presumption vanishes at the introduction of any evidence sufficient to support a finding to the contrary (including an acknowledgement of the debt).
Under Pennsylvania law, a judgment may not be “collectible” via execution upon personal or real property by operation of the statute of limitations, but that does not mean that the judgment creditor has a duty to satisfy the judgment. The judgment creditor does not have a duty to satisfy the judgment until the judgment debtor has paid in full the appropriate amount of the judgment. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8104; see also, Hanover Plumbing Supply, Inc. v. Russell, 680 A.2d 1181, (Pa.Super.1996). 2 The result is that a judgment, although not collectible, may indefinitely remain unsatisfied and of record.