Category Archives: Estate Law

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.

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.