Can an elderly relative change their will if demented?

Q: My Aunt’s property was left to a nephew and his wife and family. Other family members have been talking to the aunt who has dementia and now she has changed the will. Is this legal? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Your aunt can only change her will by executing another one, a new will, which is in compliance with the law. Plus, she can only execute a new will if she is competent. Dementia does not necessarily mean she is incompetent. There are varying degrees of dementia. If she executed a new will and you are suspicious of the circumstances, you should review all the facts with an attorney.

What can I do to gain ownership of my home of 11 1/2 years?


Q: I rented a home from my grandpa. Upon his passing he made sure verbally to let everyone know what he wanted done with said house. I already pay water, sewer, garbage and power, the only thing I don’t pay is insurance. Upon his passing there was no will to be found. When his two sons who admitted to knowing what their dad wanted and the rest of the family had a meeting, his youngest son, informed us that he will not do what my granpa wanted if I get the house. He stated he would fight. Not only have I lived there for almost 12 years, but I was also taking care of my grandpa in his home. (West Mifflin, PA)

Q: If your grandpa had no will and is not survived by a wife, his estate passes under intestate (no will) law. Assuming he is on the deed with your grandmother who is deceased, the house will pass to his children under PA intestate law. There is not much you can do legally, that I know of. You might investigate if you can buy out the interest of the son who won’t cooperate. Perhaps you can get a mortgage on the home to pay him off. I would consult with an estate or real estate lawyer for a definitive answer.

What if I get slapped with a PFA because ex lies?

Q: She contacted my father stating I’m calling and texting her, threatening her and stalking her. None of this is true. I am working a full-time job have a girlfriend. This is being thrown on me and I’m innocent. I believe she is either upset or a close friend is doing this. What can I do to protect myself? (Munhall, PA)

A: Avoid her like the plague. Do not have contact with her in any form, not even telepathically. Save all communications from her-texts, calls, emails, Instagram’s, postings, snap-chats, etc., and lay low. Try not to go anywhere alone. Change up your routine-eat at different restaurants, drive another route to work. If anything happens, call an attorney. That is all you can do. Batten down the hatch and hope the nor’easter blows over.

Do I need a new deed now that my wife died?

Q: I recently lost my wife to brain cancer and our house is in both names. Do I have to do anything to remove her name or wait until I sell the house? She had no will or anything and wondered does everything just get put into my name as far as any belongings in the house? Wife’s family brainwashed our son who filed a false police report in hopes to have me arrested but because that did not work and DCP was called in, in-laws and son took me and wife to court while she was on hospice. I can’t trust them with anything at this time. They did not even visit my wife when they live a mile away and cared less about her after she was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago. I now live alone in house but always think something can happen when I am not home. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: In PA, deeds titled in the names of husband and wife are held as tenants by the entireties. This means that both spouses hold an undivided interest in the whole, as one. Unlike with joint tenants, where on tenant dies, and the survivor tenant inherits their half, the surviving entireties tenant still owns the whole as he did before, now only in his name. It is confusing but if your deed lists you as tenants by the entireties, or as husband and wife, you probably are now the sole owner. And generally, there is no reason to execute and file a new deed. A deceased’s spouse name can remain on the deed until the house is sold by the surviving spouse. As far as any other property held in your wife’s name only that was not real estate held by the entireties with you, there could be concerns. If she died with no will that left everything to you, then property held in her name only, passes in accordance with PA intestate (no will) law. This means that the first 30k of her estate passes to you, the surviving spouse, and the balance is shared 50/50 between you and children of you and your deceased spouse. As for your son and in-laws, you may want to consider getting a security system or a Pit Bull or Rottweiler, as a roommate.

How can I pass an interest in my house to my children if my wife is on deed with me?

Q: I recently refinanced my home and deeded it as tenants in the entirety with my second wife. I have two adult children. I would like to have my children have interest in the property if I die before my wife. What is the best way to do this as she has no immediate family and I do not want the property to go to the state upon her death. (Valencia, PA)

A: Consult with a lawyer with whom you can share all the facts. If the house is now titled by the entireties, as husband and wife, the entireties tenancy can only be severed if the wife agrees to sign another deed, one of you dies or by court order. As tenancy by the entireties, your wife will inherit it from you when you die, and it will not pass to your estate. Therefore, you cannot pass it to your children in your will. The only way to pass an interest to your children is to draft another deed. I cannot advise which type of deed will be best for your situation, but the options would be to execute a new deed with or without your wife on it. Your children could have a tenant-in-common interest with you or you and your wife, or joint interest with you and your wife. You could also do a deed to your children with a life estate in the property granted to your wife. If she has a life estate, she can live in the property until she vacates the property or dies, then her life estate is extinguished, and your children’s interest becomes free and clear. You really need to consult with a lawyer who can advise after understanding all the facts. Additionally, you should seek approval from your mortgagee whenever you change the deed if there is a mortgage or HELOC in place.

Can I get in trouble for not giving presents back?

Q: My friend got me a few pieces of clothing and an Apple Watch for Christmas this past year. We’re are not friends anymore and he wants everything back and says that if I don’t he’ll press charges against me. Can I get in trouble? (Rostraver, PA)

A: They sound like gifts. Gifts are gifts and are different from loans. Gifts are unconditional. If there was no condition attached to the gifts, they are yours. The fact that the Apple watch was given at Christmas sounds like a gift. Unless he has use for your clothes or can return them, the clothes sound like a gift. I don’t know what the other person’s story is, but as you describe it, they sound like gifts. Nonetheless, if he can convince a police officer that these were stolen, or on loan, you could be charged, but I don’t see it happening. If you are contacted by police, do not make a statement and call an attorney.

How can I get power over my mom’s finances if she is incapacitated?

Q: My mom has fallen ill. They put her in a coma. How can I take charge of her bills to keep her house going? There is no living will or power of attorney. She receives social security and pension checks. (Ligonier, PA)

A: If she is not competent to sign a POA, your only recourse is filing to be her guardianship. You should review all the details with an attorney.

My brother as former POA is not releasing funds. What do we do?

Q: My mother revoked his POA. He was refusing while fiduciary and now that it’s revoked continues to refuse her physical property’s return to her. She was deemed fully competent by her doctor. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: If she is competent and has revoked her prior POA, your brother should not be acting on her behalf. If he is doing so and she is opposed, it could constitute a crime or be actionable in Civil or Probate Court. I would consult with a local WV lawyer. In the meantime, if this hasn’t been done already, send the brother a copy of the revocation by certified mail and make sure all persons or entities (banks, financial institutions, etc.) have a copy as well.

I found out my boyfriend set up his old cell phone in my bedroom

Q: I found out my boyfriend set up his old cell phone in my bedroom and has been remotely accessing it through his new Samsung galaxy phone while working out of town. I found out for sure it’s a live feed type of situation because I could hear background noise on his phone when everything was silent at my house. I confronted him eventually after recording myself calling him was blocked on my home phone twice and you could hear him say hello through the planted phone and then the noise his phone makes when a call is dropped because I hung up. Right after that he messaged me and asked if I called & hung up. Is that enough to prove he accessed it? Should I give that cell phone back to him or do I need that phone in hand. I have three minor daughters in adolescence and one under 10yrs old. He is a malicious and vindictive type of person who has been threatening and blackmailing me threats of exploiting intimate materials of myself. (Uniontown, PA)

A: What he is doing, at least from what you posted, sounds like a crime. I would talk to the police. Save all evidence you can including texts and calls. If you have his phone, save that as well for the police. If he was recording you without your knowledge, you may also have grounds for a civil suit, but I would get the criminal started first.

If someone punched my van can I get arrested for pushing them?

Q: This week I pulled over in a school parking lot to try and figure out my GPS and someone was yelling. This man came out yelling that I had to move, and he punched my new van leaving a dent in it. I pushed him, now the police called me saying I need to come in for an interview. Can they arrest me for pushing him and what can they charge me with and what can I charge him with? (Monroeville, PA)

A: Yes, the police can file charges against you. They could file anything from a misdemeanor Simple Assault down to a summary level Harassment. It is highly advisable that you not discuss what happened with the police. However, you can cooperate in making yourself available to receive charges. Tell them on advice of counsel, you cannot talk to them, but tell them you will accept papers in the mail or turn yourself in if necessary. You also should report this incident to your insurance company. You can ask the police to file criminal mischief charges against him for damaging your van. They may or may not take your charges against him. Police hate to file cross criminal complaints and therefore usually file charges on behalf of the first person who contacts them. This isn’t fair but that is the way it has always been.