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 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: 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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.