Category Archives: Estate Law

How do I get my half of our inheritance back from my abusive, manipulative sister?

Q: My sister said she’d help me while going through a trial for assault by my husband. She’d never been kind before and I couldn’t understand why she was doing it now. Before I moved into her apartment she began telling me I owed her for the care of our parents. We’d never discussed money before but suddenly after our parents passed she decided I owed her my 1/2 of the inheritance. I’d lost everything during my divorce trials, used all my retirement and cashed in my CDs to pay my lawyers. She had no problem taking the money and leaving me with nothing. She said I’d get some back but so far, it’s been $1,000 from what she said was the sale of our mother’s jewelry. I’m in desperate need of that money, 64 years old & just had a heart attack. I’ve been on disability for more than 15 years and live from check to check. What can I do to get what she took by coercion, duress, bullying, guilt and flat out verbal abuse? I’m extremely distraught and am medicine since I’ve had my heart attack. (New Stanton, PA)

A: I know you are looking for a quick answer but there is no way any attorney can answer your question within the confines of email. You really need to sit down with a local estate attorney and bring all the documents and information you have. The attorney can look up to see if there was a will, if an estate was opened and if so, who the attorney was and possibly the extent of the probate assets if your county published inventories on line. Much more specific information is needed. I suggest talking to an attorney first over the telephone to see if you can get some guidance on how to find out as much as you can on your own, and then when you do, make an appointment for a consultation.

Does a will have to be notarized to be valid? Multiple wills?

Q: My dad wrote a will leaving his entire estate to me and my brothers several years ago. Since then he remarried. I’m not sure if he wrote another will or not. I’m just curious if the will he gave us is valid since it isn’t notarized and what happens if he wrote another will leaving everything to his wife acting as if that was the only will to exist. Would the latest one be the valid one? Would it come down to an ugly court battle if something ever happened to him?

A: A will does not have to be notarized to be admitted into probate, however, it makes the probate process easier. It is likely that the witnesses to the will, will need to appear in court to attest they witnessed the will, or provide an affidavit to the effect. Normally, the new will is the one in effect as the new will presumably preempts the prior wills. Most wills have language which states that all prior wills are revoked.

My aunt will not give back grandma’s house and cars in Ohio

Q: Aunt was over seeing my grandparent’s accounts and house. She was screaming at them and mocking them. Eating their food and spending their money. They asked to be rescued. I got them out of state back to PA from Ohio. Now my Aunt doesn’t want to relinquish house or cars. The police in Ohio won’t help, they say it’s PA’s problem. PA police here say they cannot force her to give up the keys in Ohio. Please give me a next step. Grandma had dementia but Grandpa has full faculties. (New Castle, PA)

A: Way more information is needed to answer this thoroughly. Is the aunt acting under a POA from grandfather or grandmother? If not, she should not be able to exercise custody of another person’s home or personal property. I think you should take your grandfather to an OH elder law attorney and have him execute a POA to you or someone trustworthy to handle business in OH. Perhaps you can find an OH lawyer who is licensed in PA. Once this is done, the Agent on the POA can go to OH, change the locks on the house and get the police involved. I think a letter from an attorney in advance to the aunt providing notice that she is in violation of the law and providing fair warning will help. If the aunt continues these actions, she is a trespasser in the home and an unauthorized user of the vehicles.

My grandmother bought me a home, but did not leave it to me in her will

Q: As I stated above, my grandmother bought me a home to live in, which I have been in for almost 4 years. It is not stated in her will that she leaves the home to me and now her children want to kick me and my kids to the curb. What are my rights to stay in the home? Also, I’ve only paid all the utilities, not the property taxes on the home in the 4 years I have been here. (Indiana, PA)

A: I would have an attorney look at the will and the deed to this house. Generally, if you are not on the deed, you would have no rights to this property when she passes unless she included you in her will. Unfortunately, paying the utilities will not arise to any property rights

Can I do anything about her keeping my dad’s funeral money?

Q: My step-mom held a benefit and called it a “benefit for the family of Jack Allen”. She used her churches tax ID number for benefit donations. My dad did not have life insurance and was not able to save money. It was my understanding per her that the money was going to bury my dad’s ashes and the costs along with that. Now after the benefit and she has all the money she says she is not burying him. His ashes are still in an urn under her cellar steps. Instead she is keeping the money for her and my 24-year old meth addict brother. Is she breaking the law keeping the money? Can we make her spend the money on him? I do not care if some money is left and she keeps it. I want nothing to do with the money except for it to go towards my dad’s burial. (McKeesport, PA)

A: If the clear purpose of the event was to raise money to bury Jack Allen, and the money is not being used for that purpose, there is an appearance of fraud or misrepresentation. You might want to call the District Attorney in your County to see if they would want to be involved. You might also want to see a lawyer. If he did not have a will, you may have standing to petition the court to be executor and open an estate. If you were executor, you would have standing to petition the orphan’s court to be involved in seeing that the money is used for his burial.

Are the kids responsible for mother’s medical bills?

Q: Mother accrued a lot of medical bills throughout her lifetime due to illness. She didn’t own anything but a vehicle and some personal belongings so her estate will not have much to pay back her debt. Her estate would mainly be medical bills prior to her getting on Medicare and Medicaid. Will her kids be responsible to pay those bills now that she has passed? Can they garnish our personal assets? (Beechview, PA)

A: Generally, person A is not liable for person B’s debts when person B dies, unless person A signed as a guarantor on a contract. However, PA does have a filial statute that holds next of kin liable for the debts of an indigent family member. However, in my practice, I have not seen it enforced. You may or may not want to open an estate. I would consult with an attorney with whom you can share all the facts before making that decision.

Can I get my property back if I’m not allowed on the property?

Q: My girlfriend lived with her grandfather for a few years and when she moved out two months ago she left a few large items on the property with permission. Around one month ago however her mother died and an argument over the funeral plans caused the grandfather to bar her from the property and he is refusing to allow her to collect her things. He is asking for an absurd amount of money to collect the items, to the tune of $40 a day since she moved in or roughly $78,000 in back storage fees that were never agreed to. He also refuses to allow her to collect the items from her mother’s estate as she lived with him at the time of her passing. The items value at around $2,000 to $3,000 but some of them are extremely sentimental and there are also textbooks that she needs for college. I need to know my legal options to retrieve these items or to sue him for the value. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: He sounds like a real pill. Perhaps multiple trips up the Courthouse steps is what he needs. Seriously, regarding her property located in the old geezer’s house, have her file a civil suit with the local District Justice under a conversion or theft theory of law. Before she does, provide him a demand letter via certified mail to prove to the court that he was given notice of suit and did not respond. As far as her mother’s estate, she should review that with an estate attorney. More information would need to be known, such as was an estate opened? If not, why? If an estate was opened was this personal property you describe listed on the estate Inventory? If not, why? Etc. etc. Consult with a local estate lawyer.

I need a lawyer to help me with my husband’s 401K, Pension, social security.

Q: My husband passed away 50 days ago at age 66. He took care of everything in the house. I have no idea about his 401K, pension, social security. He passed at age 66. He worked for Rockwell International for over 30 years. I was in huge shock. He almost handled everything in the house. I need a lawyer to help me sort it out.

A:  It is not unusual to need a lawyer in your situation. Most people do. At least you know that you need one. All you need to do is locate an estate attorney in your area. Ask around for a referral, talk to people who have used attorneys in these situations. What you describe should not be that complicated or expensive to handle. Rockwell should be able to help you identify his employee benefits, pension, etc., and assist you in at least getting started with the paperwork. An attorney can assist you further and with related inheritance tax and income tax issues. I am sorry for your loss but am confident you can get through this.

In PA what happens if someone dies with no will and no relatives?

Q: In other words, he only has relatives by marriage such as nieces, nephews and their offspring. Would these be valid heirs according to the intestate succession law?

A: The PA intestate succession statute, http://www.legis.pa.us/WU01/LI/CT/HTM/, comprehensively covers the lines of familial lineage. It dictates who inherits from someone who dies without a will. A reading of this statute and a genealogical search should give you a good start, not to mention keep you very busy. There are blood relatives somewhere. There are numerous companies that do genealogical searches. Just google them. You can also hire an estate attorney.

I am a beneficiary to my uncle’s large estate. Executrix is silent.

Q: My great uncle died just over 9 months ago in Allegheny County, PA. The estate is in probate as we speak. The inheritance and estate taxes were paid a week or so ago (estimated inheritance tax paid 3 months after his death was 1,700,000.00!) This would indicate that his estate is quite large, correct? He had a condo that is just sitting there. Can a distribution be made prior to the condo being sold? Not sure why they are just letting it sit instead of listing it for sale instead! Can distribution be made and then another distribution made after the condo is sold? What if the executrix decides NOT to sell it but instead allow one of the heirs to live in it? Would that heir have to purchase it from the others? Also, don’t the beneficiaries have a right to know the approximate amount they may receive and the approximate time frame in which they may receive it? The Executrix isn’t sharing ANY info and seeing as how this estate is quite large, this inheritance could possibly be life-changing and the opportunity to plan ahead would be helpful. What is the protocol as far as letting the heirs know the approximate amount they may receive and when they may receive it? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Before you start spending your inheritance, I would check to be certain that you in fact are an heir. The Executrix has no duty to give you information, nor does the estate attorney. After nine months, an estate Inventory is due to be filed with the Register of Wills and an inheritance tax return must be filed with the Department of Revenue, unless there have been extensions. If there was a will, it will be on file with the Register of Wills. You could go to the Register of Wills and look at the Will to verify that you are an estate heir. You could also look at the estate Inventory to see what assets the estate is comprised of. This sounds like a lot of money, so my thought is that not all the money may be in the estate. There may be a trust or trusts involved. If you were an heir of an estate or a trust, you would have received a Notice in the mail. You might also want to hire an attorney to look up these documents and assist you in ascertaining your status as heir and verifying the amount of assets you stand to inherit.