Category Archives: Blog and FAQ

How to go about getting Letters of Appointment in PA?

Q: I am trying to receive unclaimed money from my mother’s and father’s estate. The unclaimed amounts are not yet with the state, but are being held by Wells Fargo. I am told I need Letters of Appointment for each. Where and how do I get them? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A:  Banks and financial institutions often tell people to “get letters”, or “get a short certificate.’ It sounds like a simple process as if every attorney has a stack of them on file that he can hand out for the asking. What these terms actually mean is that an estate needs to be opened in court. This is usually because the asset is titled in the decedent’s name and can only be passed on to another person from the estate of the decedent. Opening an estate involves preparing and filing a Petition for Probate, estate advertising, Notice to Heirs, Certification of Notice to Heirs, an estate Inventory, an inheritance tax return, possibly income tax preparation and closing of the estate. You should not do this on your own and will need an attorney. My advice is to consult with an attorney. There may be a way to get this money without opening an estate. Some companies accept Waiver of Estate Affidavits, especially if the company is based in another state with different or more liberal probate laws. Also, you may be able to accomplish obtaining this money by a Petition for Small Estate. It has some formality and must go through court but generally should involve less legal fees and time.

Will my son go to jail for simple assault?

Q: Back in March my son who has an anger management issue donkey kicked me down the basement steps and I sustained a fracture of my right heel. It was a very significant fracture necessitating surgery and the physician feels that I will continue to have issues the rest of my life because of it. He and his five-year-old daughter had been living with me and now that he was arrested he refuses to let me see my granddaughter. Will he have to pay the medical costs that I have incurred? Will I be awarded any pain and suffering? Will he be forced to let me see my granddaughter or will he get jail time? (Glassport, PA)

A: He is in criminal court. The only decisions will be if he is guilty and if so, does he get jail time or probation. Criminal Court can make anger management counseling part of his probation. Criminal court can order him to pay back restitution (in your case, out of pocket medical expenses) over the course of his probation. Criminal Court can order him to have no contact with you. Criminal Court cannot award pain and suffering. Criminal court cannot do anything with custody of visitation of your daughter. If he gets jail time, unless the mother of the child is able and willing to parent, you may be eligible to be awarded temporary custody in Family Court. You may want to contact a Family lawyer to ask in the event your son is incarcerated, or a no contact order is invoked, if you have standing to file for custody or visitation with your grandchild.

Borough won’t let me sell my house

Q: I am selling a rental house. The borough won’t let me sell it until I get a building inspector to check it for dye tests, taxes, etc. It is now costing me $5,000.00 more when the buyers said they would take it as is and would pay for it since I’m selling it so cheap. Can a municipal borough stop my sale and make me pay for the things before I sell the house? The borough has held us all up for three months. Is this legal when it was already checked two years before I sold? Also, my borough is deep into debt and just got a new building inspector who is a part-timer, third party paid assassin. The new owner doesn’t understand this either. (West Mifflin,PA)

A:  Generally, when you sell a home, the seller must bring the house “up to code” (safety codes to ensure there are safety violations). You can obtain a list of what the borough requires before the municipal inspector comes for his inspection. If everything is up to code before the inspection, a certificate of occupancy is issued by the borough, and there is no reason for the inspector to come back a second time. The purpose of this is to ensure that every time a house is sold it is safe in that it meets all electrical, fire and structural safety standards. Normally, the expense of obtaining the permit is on the seller. However, the seller can negotiate with the buyer to bear this responsibility. I do not know what you have negotiated with the buyer or what your sales agreement says regarding this issue, but you might want to see if the buyer will pay for this expense.

When someone runs a criminal record what shows up?

Q: I’ve always heard after 7 years your criminal record means less. I’m just wondering why? Thank you in advance! (West Homestead, PA)

A: You have heard wrong. There is no expiration date for most criminal records. Under the recent amendments to PA law, you can now expunge a misdemeanor 2 after 10 years of arrest free behavior and a misdemeanor 3 after 7 years of arrest free behavior. Also, summary (Disorderly Conduct, Harassment, etc.) convictions can expunged after 5 years of arrest-free living. Please remember that the arrest record remains in the system even if your case was dismissed, withdrawn or you were not found guilty.

How can points be removed from a driving record even if you plead guilty?

Q: I have recently received a traffic violation for improper passing in a no passing zone (3307) which is correct. I’m pleading guilty and getting ready to pay the $25 fine along with the other costs that come with citations. I’m worried about the points that will end up on my driving record and if I will lose my license. Is there a way to get rid of the points? I’m a graduate student doing a clinical placement and this is my first traffic citation and I’m wondering if it’s even worth trying to get rid of the points since my placement is five days a week.

A: A violation of 3307 of the Motor Vehicle Code carries three points. If you plead guilty, this is what will happen. I would advise to plead “not guilty” and request a hearing. Unless you argued with the officer, he or she may work the case out to a lesser offense. It is common for attorneys to do this. It is quite possible that your charge could be amended to another offense that carries no points. Under the PA Motor Vehicle Code, 3 points come off your record for every twelve consecutive months in which you are not under suspension or revocation.

Does a home equity line of credit count as a “contract under seal” in PA act like a mortgage?

Q: Lender is considering foreclosure however no payments have been made in almost 5 years. Owner recently passed away and the beneficiaries want to keep house but the amount owed on the home equity line of credit would put the house too far under water. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: I am not sure of the significance of “contract under seal” here. I would have to see the mortgage papers or look at the on-line docket. This sounds like an estate issue to me. If the home is in the name of the decedent, this is an estate debt and no one else’s debt. If the mortgage balance exceeds the market value of the home, the heirs must decide how bad they want to keep the home. If there is enough liquid cash in the estate, the heirs may be able to pay the lien off or interest the bank in refinancing. If not, this may be an insolvent estate and therefore let the bank foreclose. You may be able to negotiate a deed in lieu of foreclosure with the bank and avoid a messy foreclosure and more fees and charges. You need to be asking these questions to the estate attorney. If you do not have one, you need to get one.

Is it true that if a victim no shows for three court hearings, the case is tossed?

Q: The alleged “victim” in my case has not shown twice at the magistrate to testify against me. The cops are trying to put a felony on me for aggravated assault. The victim started the fight and was only in the hospital overnight. If he fails to appear, will the judge throw the case out? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: There is no such rule but since I began practicing it is a generally accepted way of operating. The only exception I have seen is where the DA can show some compelling reason.

Home is in sheriff sale for back taxes. How long do I have to vacate?

Q: My home is being sold at sheriff sale for back property taxes. How long after the sale do I have to vacate? If no one bids on the property, does the home revert to the school district? Do I own everything in the house beyond personal items (i.e. water heater, electrical fixtures, doors… etc.), can I take these items out of the property before the sale?

A: If someone buys it a Sheriff’s sale, and you are still living in the home, the new owner will have to file an eviction proceeding against you. This will give you some time. A potential buyer may try to buy it for less than taxes owed and the three taxing entities can either accept or reject the offer. If no buyers come through, you can make an offer if you really want the property. You may want to research rentals versus what you will pay the bank. If the house is sold, the house is seized as collateral for the loan and you are not personally liable unless the loan agreement allows the lender to seek a deficiency judgment against you and they are willing to pursue it. You cannot take fixtures from the house-lights, water heater, doors, etc. You can take appliances if you bought them.

Why does the state board of pa have my misdemeanor still listed when my name is Googled?

Q: I received a misdemeanor under the Drug and cosmetic Act for Pa State Board of Nursing. For my first offense, I was offered an ARD. I checked my criminal court record numbers, they stated NO RECORDS EXIST. I am job seeking, worried about my record and decided to Google myself. There it is, my name, license number, offense, and punishment of 1-year suspension listed. WTF? This will prevent me from getting a job and now I must explain my misdemeanor. Isn’t that what the auto expungement was for as stated.  I paid my fine in full, finished my probation of 3 months. It is over, the 1-year probation as well starting 4/20/16 to 4/20/17. Why are they listing it still? What gives? I do realize the state board and criminal court are two different entities. I just don’t know what I didn’t’ do correct. Will it go away ever? Please advise. Thank you. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: It sounds like you successfully completed ARD in Allegheny County and the DA expunged your record for you. Your expungement removes all records from criminal data bases such as Allegheny County, the Bureau of Criminal Information, the Uniform Judicial System, the PA State Police and the FBI. There is no way for the expungement order to reach the hundreds of criminal record search websites proliferating the internet. It is possible that one or more than one of them have your arrest record posted. You can send them a certified letter demanding them to remove it or correct it. It is most likely that a future employer in PA will run your record through the PA State Police and not rely on any of the hundreds of rogue websites that provide this “service.” You can always answer, I was never convicted of a crime, truthfully. If asked were you ever arrested, you will have to say yes. Additionally, if the state board took some action against you, that has nothing to do with criminal court. That information is controlled by whatever board you are licensed by. If their disciplinary action against you was posted on the internet, you must ask them why so and how to remove it.