Category Archives: Estate Law

Can my mom sell the house if dad’s name is still on it, but they divorced?

Q: My parents bought the house in 1977 and divorced about 10 years ago. Mom’s name was never removed from deed and dad passed away 4 months ago with no will. I am the only child and am ok with my mom selling the house. The deed doesn’t state anything about survivorship or tenants in common. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: If there is no written divorce settlement agreement that address how the house is to be distributed, upon the divorce decree, it changes from husband and wife tenants by the entirety’s property, to tenants in common property. As tenants in common, they each own a divisible equal share. This means your father’s share passed into his estate and will be inherited by the heirs he named in his will or if he had no will by his intestate heirs. If he did not remarry, then his intestate share of the house would pass to his child or children in equal shares. Your mother can only sell her 50% share. If you and your siblings if you have any, wish to sell you can sell if you wish. If you do inherit one half, you need to pay inheritance tax and should speak with a lawyer. I would check your mother’s records and if not check their divorce file with the Allegheny County Department of Court Records.

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.

Can a house be taken from you by the executor? if left to you in a will

Q: My husband was left his grandmother house in a will. But his father is the executor or person in charge of everything. One minute he wants to give us the house. Then, the next minute he wants to rent it out. It will be one-year next month. We are paying the bills to keep the lights on, water bill, and just started two months ago paying the taxes and house insurance. We are not sure if we should move in because we are scared he might put us out. (West Mifflin, PA)

A: You are not saying if grandmother died yet. If she did not die, she and only she can draft another will changing the disposition of her property. If your husband’s father does not like the fact that you will inherit the house, he is stuck unless he commits fraud by destroying the will, or has grandmother execute another will which can only be done if she is competent. He could also sell the house through a legal Power of Attorney, assuming she has one naming him as agent in which he is authorized to sell her home. Different story if grandmother has died. If there is an estate opened for grandmother, your father-in-law must follow the directives of the will and the estate attorney should be advising him to do so. Since it sounds like the house was specifically devised (given) to you, the only way that gift could be thwarted is if there are not enough estate assets to pay debt which would require the estate to sell the house. If that is not an issue, you may want to consult with an attorney. If grandmother has not died and her will is in your father-in-law’s custody, you need to be careful. You should get a copy and consult with an attorney. There may be a legal procedure whereby a petition can be filed in court to produce the will and hold it in escrow. You want to make sure the will is preserved.

Who has legal rights to the home?

Q: If there are three siblings and one sibling is deceased, and she was married. Dad had a house but died and left no will. Does the one deceased sibling’s husband have any rights to the house along with the remaining siblings? The husband also has Alzheimer’s and in a nursing home. (Plum Borough, PA)

A: I will assume that the sibling died prior to the passing of your father, your father owned the home and as you said, he had no will when he died, and your mother predeceased him, or they were divorced prior to his passing. If this is correct, his home will pass under the intestate laws (no will) of PA. Under your facts, his 3 children, and the child or children of a deceased child (if any) will inherit his estate property, which will include the house, in equal shares. If the deceased child (your sibling) had a child or children, that child or children will inherit the share of their deceased parent (your sibling) which would be one-quarter.

Can my parent’s signed letter be considered a will upon their death?

Q: My mother is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. My father has power of attorney over her. They are 85 years old. My sister and I do not live in PA. He doesn’t want to do a will. He sent me a letter in the mail which listed of all his assets and properties that are all paid off. He added in the letter that he wants me to be the executor, I get 3/4 of their estate and my sister gets a 1/4. He is afraid that everything they worked hard for will be given away (he has a lot). He insisted that I sell everything and not give it away. But he won’t get a will. Any advice will be appreciated. If I had some facts like how long it would go through probate? Meanwhile properties sit not maintained. How much will go to the state. If you don’t have a will do you pay more in death taxes or probate court? Thank you! (Alexandria, VA)

A: You need to tell him that his worst fears could be recognized by not having a will done by an experienced attorney which is in full compliance of the law. A bad will can cost his estate and heirs more money in the long run. In PA, a handwritten will, called a “holographic will” signed by the testator and witnessed by two persons who sign as witnesses, is admissible. A handwritten document signed at the end by the testator even if not witnessed by two persons is also admissible. However, in these cases, where the will is not “self-proving” through the notarization process, the witnesses themselves must come to court or their affidavits be obtained, The later instance (not witnessed) will involve a hearing in which the witnesses must be able to testify that the signature is in fact the testator’s signature and the directives in the will are in fact his testamentary wishes. It is a difficult standard to prove and the result would be that the will is inadmissible. If your father wants to give your more of the estate than the intestate laws (no will) provides, he should do a will through an attorney. If he refuses, have him write a document titled “Will”. He will need to write out to whom his property will pass and choose an Executor. Have him sign at the end, then have two witnesses sign beneath him. Make sure these witnesses are disinterested and will be available in the future to come to court or sign affidavits if needed.

Can I be evicted from heir’s property if I am an heir and have paid the taxes for 14 years?

Q: My 83 and 91-year-old aunts are trying to sell the land. Neither one has ever paid taxes on this property nor have they lived here since the 50’s. I inherited the mobile home on the property after caring for my 76-year-old dad who died in 07 I moved to care for him after my mother died in 04 when I became an heir. I am 66 years old, never delinquent on taxes for property or my inherited mortgage for this land. I paid taxes, my mother paid them before, my grandmother paid them since the ’50’s. I am a veteran and a retired CPS worker and suffer from PTSD and anxiety. Can my aunts evict me just because they are older heirs? On my retirement income I can’t afford to move, and my mobile home is bricked in. Thank you for any advice that you can give me. (Lucerne Mines, PA)

A: There is not enough information for me to answer this. I suggest you gather the deeds, wills and any other documents you can and see a lawyer. It will likely come down to who at this time owns the property. If your aunts are the only heirs, they own it and I don’t understand why you had been paying property tax on it. If you are an heir along with your aunts, you have options. In that case, the three of you will need to reach an agreement. If they want their money, you may be forced to buy them out. If they don’t want their money out of the land, perhaps they will agree to execute a new deed which has your share pass to their heirs after their death and give you a life estate to live on the property. If they are agreeable to letting you live there, and do not want money, you have some options.

I am the borrower on a vehicle loan but not the owner

Q: I am the borrower of a $21,000 Jeep loan. My ex-boyfriend passed away and he is the owner-he is on the title. Where does this leave me and how can I get paid back??  Am I able to trade in his vehicle if his mother or wife sign off on it? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: If he is on the certificate of title to the Jeep, and you are on the bank loan, the Jeep is owned by his estate and will pass to the heirs in his will, or if no will, to his intestate heirs. It is not a good situation to be contractually bound to pay for something that you do not own. I would need to know what the facts were that led this arrangement-his bad credit and he was the principle driver? If you were the one paying for this for his benefit, hopefully the mother and wife will be agreeable and sign it over to you. If not, and they want to liquidate the vehicle, you may be able to file a claim against his estate if one is filed. I suggest a consultation with an attorney with whom you can share all the missing facts and documents.

Can IRA value be estimated on the PA-REV-1500 or need to be exact?

Q: Our father passed last June, and my brother is executor. My sister handled disbursing the IRA split 5 ways. The executor filled out the PA-REV 1500 inheritance tax form and put an estimate which was $260 under. Is that a red flag? Also does the executor need to have a separate bank account from which to pay the inheritance tax or can it be paid from his personal bank account? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: The correct way to value assets on the PA inheritance tax return is to obtain the correct date of death value from the financial institution. When the PA Department of Revenue audits the return, it is possible that they will detect the difference and when they issue their Notice of Appraisement, they will require extra tax to be paid, if the asset is in fact undervalued. There is a bit of confusion as to what is going on here. Are there other estate assets? Is there a will and if so does it permit inheritance tax owed on non-probate assets to be paid from probate money? If this IRA is the only asset, inheritance tax can be paid by one heir, two heirs, or all heirs from their personal accounts. As long as it is paid, the DOR does not care by whom. I would pay for a consultation with an estate attorney to make sure you are doing this correctly and if it is determined that you are not, let the attorney handle this. You have potential income tax issues with any IRA. It may be beneficial to the heirs to pass the income tax on this IRA to the heirs to report on their individual income tax returns instead of accounting for income on the estate 1041 and paying the much higher tax rate.

Can we use inherited money as down payment to buy house from estate?

Q: My mom inherited a beach house in Avalon NJ with her 4 other siblings. She wants to keep the house, but they want to sell it. She doesn’t have the funds to buy out all 4 siblings, so to keep the house in the family I was looking to purchase the house, using her inheritance money that she would give to me from the house as a down payment. Can this work? (Murrysville, PA)

A: It would be up to the other 4 siblings to agree on a sales price that is fair to all. If you agree with that price, I do not see why this could not work if everyone wants it to. This happens from time to time during the administration of estates. One heir wants to buy the family home using their inheritance as part of the consideration. It can work.

Will I pay inheritance tax as a spouse?

Q: My husband, deceased Aug 2017, had some property in his name only, this property was purchased before we were married, and one piece was purchased after marriage, is this property taxed as inheritance tax for me (spouse). Is there anything taxable to me (spouse) as inheritance? I live in Allegheny County, in Pennsylvania. (Verona, PA)

A: If the property is in his name only and not in his name and yours, as husband and wife, it will pass to the heirs named in his will. If he has no will it will pass in accordance with the PA intestate succession statute. As applicable to spouses, the first 30K will pass to the spouse and the balance will be shared by the spouse (50%) and the children of both (50%). Spouses are subject to a PA inheritance tax rate of 0% and children, 4.5%. This means that if the house is worth 100K, 65K passes to the spouse but is taxed at 0% and the spouse will therefore pay no inheritance tax. 35K passes to the children and is taxed at a lineal rate of 4,5%. Permissible deductions may apply to further reduce tax liability. I suggest you meet with an attorney to prepare the inheritance tax return.