Q: My uncle is about to have surgery for cancer, and he doesn’t want his children to have his assets as they are estranged, and I have taken care of him for the last several years. How can we avoid paying inheritance tax if we transfer his house to me? (McMurray, PA)
A: Have him consult with an estate planning lawyer as soon as possible. Transferring real estate is easy to do, however, the person making the transfer must be fully advised of the consequences. If he deeds his house to someone and survives one year after the transfer, there will be no inheritance tax. However, he really needs to be apprised of whether this transfer is right for him. He may need his house to sell to pay for nursing assistance or institutional care in the future, among other future scenarios. The attorney will need to know or determine. What is his immediate medical situation? How likely will your uncle need Medicaid in the future? If he transfers this house and within the next five years applies for Medicaid, he may be penalized by Medicaid which could force the sale of the house. Does he have long term disability insurance? Does he have other assets to liquidate in order to sustain medical treatment?
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: 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: 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: My sister will NOT talk to me and behind my back put my mom in a nursing home. My sister went got POA health and financial from my mom. Now she wants me to pay half of all debts. My mom told me she put me and my sister as beneficiaries on her life insurance policies. Now that my sister is POA can she remove me as beneficiaries from those polices and not tell me? (Jefferson Hills, PA)
A: Under the new enactments to the Power of Attorney statute, effective January 1, 2015, an Agent can only change beneficiaries on a life insurance policy if specifically granted that power in the “Powers” section of the Power of Attorney document. Under the prior Power of Attorney Act, effective in the year 2000, an Agent may be able to do this if there is similar language giving such authority. Your question depends on when the document was signed and how it was drafted. You should get a copy and consult with a lawyer.
Q: Mom still lives at home. We have someone come in throughout the day but my three siblings and myself stay with her overnight and do 24 hour shifts on weekends. We’ve been caring for her for 3 years and have never paid ourselves because we didn’t know if we can do that. Also, if we are allowed, can we pay ourselves back? In the event she needs to go into a home and runs out of money and goes on Medicaid, will they come back on us to recoup the money that we paid to ourselves for her care? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Yes, as it stands now, if you have no written caretaker contract in place and you pay yourself as you go along, or try to pay yourself retroactively, this could potentially make your mother ineligible for Medicaid if she applies within the next five years. Medicaid would look at these payments as transfers for no consideration or fair value unless they are made pursuant to a written caretaker agreement signed by your mother if she is competent or by her Agent under a valid Power of Attorney.
Q: My brother moved in with our mother to help take care of her 17mths ago. He didn’t have to pay any bills, grocery’s or maintenance in this time-period. She’s now in a nursing home. He said he can no longer care for her. Now he refuses to pay rent or help with the bills for the nursing home. He is living in our mother’s home and driving her car. He verbally said he would pay $500 monthly. I supplied him with deposit slips for this money to go directly into our mothers account to help pay for the nursing home. Can I evict him being I have power of attorney over our mothers estate? (Penn Hills, PA)
A: If your mother is mentally competent and wants your brother to stay in her home and drive her car, that is her decision, not yours. If she is incompetent, you can act in her best interest, if your POA complies with state law and permits you to manage her real estate. If so, you may have to evict him through court since he has been living there so long. You would start this process at a District Justice office. If your mother is receiving funding such as Medicaid, rental payments to her may disqualify her. I would review all the details with an attorney.
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.
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.