Category Archives: Estate Law

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.

How do I get the deed in my name?

Q: My husband and I lived in this home over twenty years. He passed away in 2016. His named is the only one on the deed and I I’m trying to get it in my name so I can refinance it. What do I do? (Forest Hills, PA)

A: If your husband had a will and left the house to you, or everything in his estate to you, you need to file the will and open an estate. As Executor, you can easily transfer the house to yourself unless it is an insolvent estate or there is a mortgage in which case you will need approval of the mortgagee. If there was no will and you have children, or he has children from a prior relationship, PA intestate law dictates who inherits and it would be you and the children. The best case for you is if you are sole heir in his will or there is no will and no children, there is no mortgage and sufficient cash in the estate to pay the expenses. Make an appointment with an estate attorney.

What information must a beneficiary provide to the administrator?

Q: I am the named beneficiary and I inherited my friend’s life insurance and 401k. The estate administrator is requesting I provide him with information regarding those accounts/policies so that he can add them to the estate accounting list. Am I required to provide him with that information? (Bethel Park, PA)

A:  If you are listed as a beneficiary, neither asset is considered part of the estate as they pass outside the estate directly to you. The insurance policy is not subject to inheritance tax, but the 401 K may be. If the decedent’s will states that the estate pays inheritance tax on all assets, including those that pass outside the estate, then the attorney may need the information on the 401 K in order to prepare the estate inheritance tax return. If the estate is paying inheritance tax on an asset for which you are beneficiary, that is to your benefit. Therefore, unless the estate is obligated to pay the inheritance tax, I would think the attorney does not need them. These are not required to be listed on the Inventory. Perhaps the attorney just want to confirm exactly what type of asset they are. In my practice, I would rather actually see financial statements for the decedent’s assets than to take an heir’s word that they are not part of the estate and therefore nothing for me to be concerned with.

Can someone change anything on a will that was signed?

Q: My mom’s not going to be here much longer she’s being released to come home under hospice care. I have the will. The house goes to me and my sister but my sister is power of attorney over my mom my mom doesn’t trust her anymore. I my mom able to change anything on the will? (Lawrenceville, PA)

A: To change the content of a will, normally, a new will must be drafted. One cannot simply make changes to a will by writing on it, or crossing things out. Codicil’s (additions or addendums to wills) were used at one time, before the advent of word processing when wills were handwritten or typewritten. Rewriting the entire will to change one thing was unduly time-consuming and burden. However, the legal requirements for a will and a codicil are the same. The codicil must be executed with the same formality as if it was an original will. Thus, in modern times, most people just draft an entire new will. As long as your mother is competent, I would suggest having her make an appointment with a lawyer who can consult with her and draft a legal document that suits her testamentary wishes.

I received 1099-S from the sale of mom’s home. Is this a requiring 1041 filing?

Q: The county valued the house at $131,100 and it sold for $129,900. Doesn’t this count as a loss and therefore not income? (West Mifflin, PA)

A: Form 1099-S is used to report gross proceeds from the sale and exchange of real estate and certain royalty payments. A 1099-S form must be provided to the recipient and a copy mailed or emailed to the IRS. Just as you would list it and attach it to a personal return, you use it on the 1041 Schedule D (decedent’s fiduciary return). You will list the stepped-up value of the house based on what the fair market value was at death. So, if you sell it within in a year of your mother’s death, it is doubtful there will much of a capital gain or loss. There are other factors needed to be known here before I could conclude that the estate will not face a capital gain. It is also relevant as to whether you received the house as a beneficiary, or sold it from the estate as executor. I would suggest that you consult with an estate attorney.

When is it necessary to file an estate when father passes away? Three children are only heirs.

Q: Father passed away 2/22/17 (predeceased by our mother who died in 2002). The only assets would be a 2012 Jeep Patriot with $5,000 still owed, and a home with an $18,000 mortgage balance in a depressed area. There was a $7,000 life insurance policy which went entirely to pay for funeral, with three children also paying about $1,000 each towards funeral. Basically, we already know there are more debts than assets, and are hoping to avoid having to pay estate fees, etc., but we are not sure if an attorney is necessary or what we are required to do. (McKeesport, PA)

A: You would need to open an estate if you want to transact his property-sell his house and transfer any other asset in his name. The question you are facing is, is it worth the time and expense to do this, given the fact that it looks at this point to be an insolvent estate? I would need to know more of the details to properly advise you. However, I have advised clients over the years to walk away from situations like this. The home will just go to Sheriff’s sale. There is a chance that the taxing bodies-school and borough especially, could sue for a deficiency judgment in the tax sale. Although it is rare, I have seen that happen. I would gather all your information-statements, bills, the deed, the mortgage documents and consult with a local attorney.

What happens when one heir is bequeathed the title of a house and another heir an equity stake?

Q: My grandmother recently passed away. My grandfather passed away a few years ago and my mother, also the executor of her will, is her only child and has always lived with my grandmother in her house. In her final will my grandmother left my mother the title to the house with a 40% equity stake bequeathed to me. If my mother has zero intention of selling the house (which is paid in full), does she have to “buy me out” of the 40%? How exactly does this play out? I know that my mother inherited more than enough to cover my portion from my grandmother’s retirement accounts but she is so absolutely outraged that she wasn’t left the house 100% that she won’t include me or inform me of anything that’s going on with the estate/probate process. The estate lawyer never returns my phone calls either. I can only seem to find information when inherited houses are split equally among heirs. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A:  As mentioned, you need your own lawyer to look at the deed and the will. If the estate lawyer will not give you a copy, you can get a copy of the deed in Department of Real Estate in the County Office Building and a copy of the will, assuming it has been filed, in the Register of Wills which is in the City-County Building. Both are in downtown Pittsburgh. Based on what your limited information, it sounds like there will be a deed coming from the estate to your mom and you, 60% to her, 40% to you. I will assume the new deed will list both of you as tenants in common. Yes, unless the will directs otherwise, for example, a life estate to your mother, then you have a divisible interest in the house and can therefore try to force her to buy you out. If she will not agree to a buy out, you can file a partition action which is expensive and time consuming and should be a last resort. I think you need a lawyer as there may be other options. For example, she can grant a deed to you reserving for herself a life estate. This would allow her to live in the house until she is no longer able to or dies, then full title would pass to you. More information is needed to fully advise, but you should seek a legal opinion.