Category Archives: Estate Law

What legal recourse do I have as Co- Executor with my disagreeable sister?

Q: I live in Pittsburgh and was my dad’s primary caregiver for past 2 years. My sister, who lives across the country, and I are named co-executors and equal 50/50 beneficiaries of the estate. I am anxious to get probate started, will filed and wrapped up as quickly as possible so my wife and I can move on with our life. Two years of caregiving and working full time have me and my wife exhausted. There are No debts or creditors. Cut and dry, but my sister, who has been estranged from our dad for 10 years, is preventing probate from getting started because she doesn’t like the attorney I consulted with (who was very good but did advise us if we wanted the process to go faster and cheaper, because she is out of state she could renounce executorship. Well my sister had a fit and got highly offended refusing to allow us to use that attorney. The two other attorneys I contacted suggested the same. Sister is also disagreeable to how I remove trash that she and I bagged up together from our dad’s home. And she opposed the amount flowers cost at the funeral. I am starting to resent her attitude and how controlling she is trying to be–for no reason as we are both equal heirs.

A: It is more efficient to have a local executor. Your sister doesn’t need to renounce her right to serve as Co-Executor, just because she lives out of town. The attorney may charge more if he must send her copies of everything and get her signatures by mail, but if she understands that, it should not be a problem. If she doesn’t like your attorney, you and she can pick a few local ones, then pull names from a hat. If she is totally disagreeable and continues this course of conduct, you can petition to remove her as Executor through your attorney.

Do we as joint tenants with right of survivorship now owe an inheritance tax/penalty?

Q: My mom is still alive at 83, but 12 years-ago gifted her home to me and my four sisters all individually named on a deed as joint tenants in common with right of survivorship. 10 months-ago one of my sisters passed away. We have been told we now owe an inheritance tax for my sister who passed, portion, plus we had 9 months to have done that, and now owe a penalty for a month as well. We had no idea any of that needed to be done! Is this accurate and how is this inheritance calculated?

A: This sort of thing happens a lot. Somebody was in my office yesterday with the same issue. The four remaining joint tenants will owe inheritance tax on one-fifth of the market value of the home. The value of the home will be based at date of death value of the home at the time your sibling/joint tenant died. Interest begins to accrue on unpaid inheritance at a very small percentage rate after 9 months from the date of death. You can go to the PA Department of Revenue website and calculate interest due on delinquent inheritance tax. I doubt if at only 10 months out, penalties will be incurred. You will need to file an inheritance tax return as soon as possible. More importantly, you should promptly make an estimated payment toward inheritance tax to the Department of Revenue so that interest will stop accruing. This can easily be done by an attorney and I suggest you consult with one.

If my father is in a nursing home and dies what will become of his financial assets?

Q: My father is sick and is no longer able to take care of himself. He moved in with his sister in Ohio. He has saved money to leave for his children but did not make a will and not understanding are willing to make one. What can we do as a family to secure his money? (Moon, Twp.)

A: With no will, his assets will pass to his spouse or spouse and/or children, depending on Ohio intestate law. If your father enters a nursing home and it turns out that he does not have sufficient funds to pay for his care, he, or his next of kin or guardian, on his behalf, may have to apply for Medicaid. If that should happen, all transfers (sales, gifts, etc.) from him to others within 5 years prior to his Medicaid application, done without consideration, may make him ineligible for Medicaid. Before you have him enter a facility, I advise you to speak with an experienced elder law or estate attorney.


Can my sister charge 65K for caring for my father?

Q: Can a person pay themselves for care giving when the person being cared for lives full time in a care giving facility? My sister paid herself $60,000.00 as a caregiver to our father retroactively for 2011 and 2012 while our father lived with her. She had him sign a POA (revoked to herself only) in October 2010. Most of that time, he was self-sufficient and allowed to come and go as he pleased. They left a key for him outside of their house. She works full time. He has Alzheimer’s and caring for him did become harder. He was moved to a home in April 2013. She has paid herself a total of $64,000.00 for 2013, 2014 & 2015. At this point it would be my contention that she is only performing duties of a POA and not providing care giving services. How can she when he is receiving around the clock care in an Alzheimer’s facility? She is not doing very much that I can see. (Scott Township, PA)

A: You should speak with an attorney. If the POA appointed her as caretaker and authorized payment at the going rate, or if she was operating under a legal caretaker contract, then she meets the first hurdle in my opinion. She would need to justify her payment by showing a record of the hours she worked, services performed and costs paid out of her pocket to. If the POA did not authorize her caretaker services and she over billed, you can challenge this in court. It will require the services of a lawyer to examine the POA and advise you about filing for an accounting. The sooner you act, the better, as she may burn through the money and then collecting it from her may be a futile effort. Also, you can call adult services if you think father has been financially exploited. Also, here is a potential Medicaid issue here your father ever needs to qualify, which you should discuss with the attorney.

How can a lawyer file a quiet lawsuit against me over a property I sold that belonged to me?

Q: A family member gifted their home to me. We went through the whole process legally…the house was appraised; contracts were signed and a new grant deed for myself was recorded at the county recording office. Since then I have sold this home (was cash owned) and purchased a new home. The family member is now angry at me for a personal reason and is saying she wants the house back…which means the new house I bought. I received a letter from her attorney stating that she should have been on the title to the new home because I sold her home. The attorney is also saying that I am responsible for elder financial abuse because the home that was sold was hers. This sounds ridiculous! I sold the home when it belonged to me. That is my legal right. Grant deed recorded and papers signed over. She was in no part of the selling process for purchase of the new home. The attorney is threatening to file a quiet title, financial elder abuse and duress lawsuit. How is that possible? After my grandmother gifted the home to me and I received the grant deed she gave up all rights to the home I’m assuming. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: There is no easy answer for this without you sitting down with an attorney and going over all the facts and reviewing all the documents. This attorney may be alleging things that he cannot prove. I hope the prior deed to you from grandmother was done by an attorney, as the attorney would have made sure the law was complied with and this was a gift/transfer for no consideration and grandmother was of sound mind as evidenced by her notarized and witnessed signature. So, if all those measures that you stated were done, it sounds like you have protection. Again, gather all your documents and sit down with an attorney, preferably the one who handled the original transfer from grandmother to you.

Do I need both signatures?

Q: I have been living in a mobile home with my mother for the past six years. She just recently passed away and the mobile home is in both her name and her ex-husbands. He wants to pay off the mobile home and sell it. Are both their signatures needed to sign the title over? (West Mifflin, PA)

A: You need an attorney to look at their divorce papers as well as the title to the mobile home. The divorce papers can be found in the Department of Court Records in the City County Building or you may be able to access them at the Allegheny County DCR website. Many divorces end with a settlement agreement which spells out each party’s rights in regards to property. If there is no such agreement, then the answer lies in how the mobile home was titled. If it was titled as husband and wife, it would have been held by the entireties (survivorship) up until the divorce. The divorce would have severed the entireties and then the mobile home by operation of law would have been held as tenants in common. Tenants in common is a joint interest with no survivorship. Therefore, if this is the case, the ex-husband and your mother’s heirs now own it. The ex-husband needs the signature of your mother’s estate. Again, the paperwork needs to be looked at before this advice can be followed.

Can I inherit my mother’s mobile home?

Q: My mother passed away suddenly and the mobile home I currently live in it and it is in her name. She left no will but may have wrote something. I am also concerned with medical providers putting a lien on the home.

A: If you have no other siblings, or, have siblings that have no interest in the mobile home and will waive it over to you, you may be able to inherit it with some sort of small estate petition. Under PA law, mobile homes are not considered to be realty, but are viewed as personal property, like a motor vehicle. Small Estate Petitions can be used to settle an estate when the property is not real estate and does not exceed $50,000.00. You may want to check if there are any liens on it, or judgments against your mother that would attach to this asset before you get involved with it. I would talk to the trailer park people or association for information and take any paperwork you can to a lawyer. (West Mifflin, PA)

Am I responsible for my spouse’s credit card bills when he dies?

Q: If either spouse passes away is the surviving spouse responsible for credit card debt the deceased spouse rang up?

A:  Usually not, but more information is needed. Is the surviving spouse’s name on the card? Did the surviving spouse make purchases that can be attributed to him or her, or were the purchases for the benefit of both spouses or for the marital home? Did the surviving spouse sign anything or ever use the card? A consumer lawyer or even an estate lawyer may be able to advise you with more information. If the above questions favor the surviving spouse, then these debts are owned by the estate of the deceased spouse.