Q: My family owns 52 acres. The property was my dad and uncles and my dad’s part went to my mom when he died. I lived there for over 23 years in the main house but moved into an RV on the property so my mother, sister, and her husband and kids could have the house. I alone paid the 2-year delinquent property taxes. Before that we had all pitched in on them. Then recently, my sister and I had a falling out and my wife and I left for a few weeks to let things calm down and in our absence my sister sold my RV, kept the money, and told my mother that if she allows me to come back to the property, that she will move away and no longer provide care for her. Don’t I have some legal right to be there since I paid the $10,000.00 in back taxes? Can I file charges against my sister for selling my RV?
A: Based on the facts you have given, if your mother and uncle are on the deed to the property, your mother and uncle are the only ones who can exclude you from the property. The only way your sister can legally exclude you from the property is if she is acting under a Power of Attorney for one or both, or gets a court order which bars you from the property. The fact that you paid real estate taxes for them alone gives you no right to be on the property without your mother or uncle’s consent. And yes, if you owned the RV, and have proof your sister sold the RV, you may have a civil claim against her, and she may have even committed a crime. If this was someone else’s RV, like your mothers, and you don’t own it, your sister may be liable for your belongings inside. She basically evicted you without following the law and converted your personal property inside the RV.
Q: My mother was recently diagnosed with late stage cancer. Two years ago, she divorced her husband and remarried. Before remarrying, she placed her divorce settlement in a savings account with me (her only child) as the sole beneficiary. My mother’s new husband is not named on the account and the money was all hers before they married. My mother wants me to get all the money in this account. Does she need a will to state this or is me being the sole beneficiary enough? Does her new husband have any claim to the money? How does she make sure that her wishes are carried out? (Greentree, PA)
A: I am sorry to hear about your mother’s diagnosis. If you are a named beneficiary, the money passes to you upon the death of your mother and does not become estate/probate property and therefore does not pass to the heirs in her will. In Pennsylvania, her estate or you, depending on how the will reads, would pay inheritance tax on this. In Pennsylvania, a spouse who believes he or she was disinherited by the will, or not left enough money by the will, can challenge the will by “electing” to take against the will. This election must be filed in the Register of Wills within 6 months of death or 6 months of probate. This means the disgruntled surviving spouse who elects to do so, may choose to not inherit through the will but instead take a percentage, one-third, of certain non-probate assets. The PA statute on this is arcane and convoluted and difficult to understand. If you think it is a possibility that your stepfather would challenge your mother’s will, you may want to consult with an attorney now. The attorney would need to know the extent of your mother’s present assets and do the math on what potentially her husband would be entitled to under PA law. Keep in mind that as your mother owns this account, you have no right to it while she is alive, and she may liquidate it as needed to pay for her care as her needs increase with age.
Q: On Monday, November 4th , on my way home from work, I entered a traffic circle and was immediately blinded by oncoming headlights. I felt a very slight bump and felt I may have bumped a reflector pole in the circle. At home, I checked the car and there was a scratch on my right front fender. That evening an officer arrives to let me know I bumped another car and he needed my insurance, license and registration to share with the other driver. Tuesday the officer calls to tell me I need to come in for fingerprinting due to a hit and run charge! It was a minor hit and run charges with little damage and no injury! Can it be dismissed. How would I try to do that? (Mt. Pleasant, PA)
A: Try to get an experienced criminal defense attorney. Most people are not aware of the laws applied to these circumstances, but they are strict. Section 3743 of the Title 75 of the PA Motor Vehicle Code requires you to remain at the scene and exchange information when there is an accident involving property damage. Section 3744 basically says that if you cannot locate the other driver or property owner you need to go to the closes police station and make a report. A misdemeanor 3 can stay on your record for years, and there is a hidden driver license suspension with this offense. Believing that you hit a reflector pole, if damaged, would require such reporting to the police. However, your defense of not knowing you hit another vehicle and you being fully insured and hopefully not having a bad driving record, may help in negotiating this down to a summary leaving the scene or even another less harmless traffic offense. An attorney will know every angel of this. Do not try it on your own.
Q: My mother has Parkinson’s Disease and father has Alzheimer’s disease. My niece just had paperwork sign giving her power of attorney. I’m one of three sons. Is their anything I can do to claim some of her estate? (South Hills, PA)
A: Their Last Will and Testaments determine to whom their property passes upon death. A Power of Attorney does not empower an Agent (your niece) to make a new will for the Principal (your mother and father). A Power of Attorney does not permit an Agent to make gifts to themselves or others, change beneficiaries, or take a fee for services unless the wording of the document specifically allows them to do this. If your parents POA does not have such language, their money can only be used to pay for their own needs. After the survivor of them passes, what is left of their estate, after taxes, debts and taxes are paid, will pass to the heirs named in their Will, or if there is no will, to the heirs under PA intestate law. If you have evidence your niece is taking advantage of your parents, consult with an attorney about becoming their court-appointed guardian.
Q: My father’s banker told me after my father passed away my father left his checking account solely to me after I paid all his bills. My brothers think that I should have to split up this account with them. My brothers left my father at the hospital and I took care of him for the remainder of his life. Do I really have to split the money that he left solely to me according to the banker? (Baldwin, PA)
A: If your father has your name on the account as a joint owner it is likely that you are a joint tenant with right of survivor. This means you own the account the minute your father died. Your brother’s have no right to this account, and you can do what you want with it. You will need to pay inheritance tax on half the value of the account.
Q: I am getting older and want to add my son to the deed. How do I do it? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: It is easy to do. You just hire an attorney to prepare a new deed with your son’s name on it. You can put him on the new deed with you or you can leave him on the deed alone. All you would pay is an attorney fee to prepare the deed and the filing fee. However, a word of caution before you do this. Please consult with an attorney with whom you can share all the facts before doing this. This may or may not be advisable for you and an attorney can only make the determination if he has information on your other financial assets, your health, your health insurance, your potential of needing Medicaid, your income and the stability of your son.
Q: I was joyriding with some of a few old friends and state troopers had flashed their lights, but I didn’t see them until they were behind me completely. Once I had announced to everyone in the car that they were behind us, the friend in the passenger passed back a black hat which unbeknown to me, had a gun in there. So eventually I see an exit ramp and try to come off, but I was going too fast and lost control of the car and crashed. Now I’m and being charged with fleeing or eluding an officer, firearm not to be carried w/o license (no crim-violence) and reckless endangering another person. (Butler County, PA)
A: Lawyer up, immediately! Gun cases (Uniform Firearms Act) are taken seriously by the DA and not often bargained down. There is always reasonable doubt for an attorney to work with when there is a gun or drugs found in a car with multiple occupants. You need a good attorney to develop that “black hat” defense. It will be easier for everyone in the car if someone admits to possessing the gun. A good attorney may be able to spin the fleeing and eluding into a summary traffic offense like reckless driving or careless, but it will be a challenge. You need to hire a private attorney or sign up with the PD, now.
Q: I got two citations in the mail for disorderly conduct and endangering others and myself I got a citation for $400. Is it better for me to pay the citation or fight it? Will itgo on my record permanently and my background checks I get to work? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Of course, it will! If you plead guilty and send in the money by mail, it will register as a conviction of a PA Summary Non-Traffic offense, which will show on your record. Under the expungement statute you can file paperwork to remove the convictions after five years of arrest-free behavior. Under the new PA Clean Slate Act, perhaps the government will remove the convictions but there is uncertainty as to when. If you are a first timer in court, an attorney may be able to have these dismissed, or at a minimum waive them to the Court of Common Pleas and enter the ARD program for first offenders. You will not have a conviction and your record will be expunged if you complete ARD. I would plead not guilty and speak with a private attorney or public defender asap. Additionally, I am unaware of an ‘endangering” charge that is a summary offense. Recklessly Endangering Another Person is a misdemeanor or felony-more reason to see an attorney, now.
Q: I went for massage because I was having a lot of back pain. I could not get an appointment at my regular spot. I called around and found a place with decent google reviews. They told me to come in at 3. When I arrived, everything was normal. For a while. I got down to my boxers which I thought was standard. The woman came back and told me to lose the boxers because she doesn’t want the lotion to get on them. So, I did, feeling very uncomfortable but I rolled with it. She then asked me roll over and worked on my legs. She asked me if I wanted something more. I laughed and said “how much” she responded no charge and she tried reaching for my you know what. I screamed at the top of my lungs, No! I jumped off the table. She told me calm down. She then said let’s finish the massage no more funny business. So, I did the rest of the massage was fine. She let me put my boxers on everything was fine after that. I’ll not return. But do need to report this? Or am in anyway will I get in trouble for this? All over the inside of this massage place it had warning signs reading “ this is a professional business do not ask for sex favors”. At no point was I “turned on” or did her hands acutely touch my area. (Moon Twp., PA)
A: Hmmmm. If there is something more to the story than you are sharing, I suggest that you consult with a criminal defense attorney. If this is the whole story, you probably need not worry about being arrested. I would let go of this and not call the police. However, if you do, you must be aware that you may end up as a defendant, a government witness or on the Six O’clock News. You have no moral duty to report this. A legal duty to report a crime? Maybe, but probably not.
Q: A friend of mine just recently got into an accident. He moved slightly into the adjacent lane going about 25-30 mph and hit the side of another car. His BAC was about .11 on a breathalyzer. No one was hurt, and everyone was very accepting of his apology. Unfortunately, he is on probation and only had 2 and a half months left. He is in jail now waiting for the blood work to come back and waiting on a court date. What can we all expect for him as far as sentencing? Is house arrest a possibility? Or are we looking at months of incarceration? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Too little information here to advise. Like, why didn’t he make bond on his DUI? Is there a probation detainer? If it is a probation detainer holding him in jail, it is for a prior DUI? Is this a first, second, third DUI? Does he have a prior record? You should see that he is represented by either a private attorney or a public defender. The fact that he was in accident will likely raise his DUI penalties. If this is a 3rd or 4th DUI, his case will go to DUI court. He will likely not have a jail sentence, but DUI court requires strict compliance and monitoring.