Q: My grandparents were both part of a lawsuit. They both died from Mesothelioma and aunt was the power of attorney. My mother and her siblings have only received two small payments totaling less than $8000 each. There are 8 heirs including my mother. We’ve seen that these lawsuits have large amounts of money and we want to find out if our aunt has been stealing from them. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: You could call the law firm who handled the settlement and see if they will tell you. If they will not, you will have to do a little investigating yourself. The POA has no effect after the death of the grandparents. There is a good chance an estate was opened. You could look in the Register of Wills in the county your grandparents died to see if an estate was opened. If there was, it might list the beneficiaries or heirs. You could also check the inheritance tax office to see if there is an inheritance tax return on file. It may also list the beneficiaries. If you get nowhere, you can hire an attorney to see if he can get the information from the law firm or the company that paid. It may involve a subpoena or records request.
Q: Mom is about to be placed in a nursing home. I want to do the action to be completely out of the situation. I would like to make sure Mom gets any and all that I would be getting in the sale. My siblings need money. Everything I feel should be Mom’s as it is hers to begin with. They made sure the nursing home could not get it. I was not there when all was drawn up, the other siblings were. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: There is too much information missing here to advise. For example, does mom have a will, a testamentary trust, a revocable trust or an irrevocable trust? Is anyone on the deed with mom? When was the deed executed? How is mom paying for nursing care? Is there a Medicaid issue? Do any of her children still live in the home as her caretaker for 2 years prior to her Medicaid application? (if there is one). I suggest that you sit down with an attorney and review all the details and the will or trust or whatever documents you have. There are ways to divest yourself of your inheritance. Your mother can execute another will and you can file a renunciation of inheritance once her will is filed, but this is tricky, and you need an attorney to advise you fully before doing so.
Q: It’s been a year since mom and dad passed. My sister moved in with them uninvited, several years ago, and has controlled and abused the house and their finances since they became ill. She hasn’t had any intention of moving so we can go thru their things, to set up sale of the property. My brother is executor, and is very soft spoken, and still paying the utilities from the parent’s savings. Paying for car repairs and new tires for her to drive parent’s cars! It is not right . She has always taken advantage of my parents, even when she has her own money. Never paying or calling pay utilities, car gas, etc. She is driving the wheels off their cars. And, now my brother is still enabling her to continue this behavior. She also won’t move out of their house. It’s keeping us from getting the house and contents ready for auction. Can she keep us from going in the house, to prep for sale? And should my brother still be paying all her utilities and upkeep on mom and dad’s cars for her to drive? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Assuming the home is part of the residuary estate, and not specifically gifted to someone by the will, an executor has a strict duty to take control of estate real estate and prepare it for sale. This includes in a prompt and efficient manner, the cleaning of and preparing the property for sale, maintaining the property, listing it for sale and depositing the net proceeds in the estate account. This duty can become a little murky when family is involved such as in your case, with a sister living in the home. The duty still exists but can be extended or modified if all heirs agree. If not, the duties of the executor can legally be invoked.
Q: I am being court ordered to sign my half of 2 vehicles I own with my mom who is deemed incapacitated. The court fined me $2000.00 for a contempt charge I should be able to purge. The court did not state any statute or Pa. Code in the order. To me this is a seizure of property unjustly. The guardian of the estate wants the title signed and if I don’t there will be more sanctions. This seems to be illegal seizure of property. The court is saying if I sign over two vehicles to the estate ( not the court) then the fine is vacated. I could sell my half for more than the fine and pay it that way, but PennDOT says if I sign the title there is not much that can be done. Does this court order have to cite a pa code or statue allowing this title being taken from me? PennDOT has never done this before.
A: Not sure what is going on with your situation. My guess is that you are in Orphan’s Court and an Orphan’s Court judge ordered you to sign back over property which he or she believes, and opposing counsel as well , that you misappropriated from an estate? I think you are fighting a losing battle, without me researching this issue to be certain. Generally, Orphan’s Court is a Court of Equity and can order titled to be changed, deeds to be changed and property awarded to a party or an estate. For a definitive answer one would need to research the equitable powers of an Orphan’s Court judge and get a grip on the details of your situation.
Q: My son was killed in a single car accident in Pennsylvania, where he also was a resident. He had no will. The auto insurance paid for the car (he owed nothing on it) payable to the “estate of (his name)” in the amount of $11,200. I was not going to open an estate for such a small amount. Can I use the Small Estate Affidavit under the 3101(d)-probate code to have the insurance company make the check payable to me? He had no wife or children. I realize 3101(d) just covers up to $11,000. I would be willing to ask the insurance company to forego the $200 if they will reissue the check to me. The insurance company says they can only make the check payable to whoever the car was titled to. Any suggestions on how to handle this situation? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I believe the statute reads, accident, life, etc. so I am not sure why they will not pay up to $11,000.00. Sometimes, claims people at insurance companies, especially if they are not in PA, are not familiar with the statute. You may want to send a copy to them and highlight the applicable portions of Section (d). Whether the issue is the $200.00 excess with them, I don’t know. I would think you can sign a waiver and the $200.00 would then be transferred to the PA Department of Unclaimed Property.
Q: How do I legally appoint a godparent to my child in case I die? What is the process? Will it have to be notarized? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I have never heard of appointing a godparent though a legal document. However, you can appoint a guardian of his or her person and a trustee of money he or she may inherit, through a Last Will and Testament containing a testamentary trust. I would discuss this with an attorney. A biological parent, if he or she is mentally fit and able to parent will have priority over a guardian of the child you appoint.
Q: My elderly neighbor recently passed away. I approached the executor of her estate to cut down tree! She stated she had more important issues to deal with. What is my recourse? Can I sue? (Swissvale, PA)
A: If you do have a cause of action, or law suit, it would be against the estate, which is good. When an estate is opened, all you need to do is file a claim in Orphan’s Court, which is a one-page document. You don’t need to sue in the traditional sense, by filing and serving a complaint and then having a trial, all in compliance with the rules of civil procedure. As to whether you have a legitimate case, you should sit down with and attorney to review all the facts. Causation is important as well as whether you have notified the deceased person in the past about the tree roots encroaching on the property. I would try to talk to the Executor. I would also get an opinion in writing that the tree roots have caused the damage and what it will cost to make repairs.
Q: She has no spouse. She has about $1000 in a checking account and an older car, Blue Book Value $2000, which is currently sitting in our driveway. We are not using it. The registration is expired, and it requires repairs. She has no life insurance or other assets of any kind. Her current medical bills/nursing home payments due will wipe out the checking account. We have limited resources after caring for her for years and cannot afford a lawyer, court fees, etc. We would like to pay off her debts as far as possible utilizing her assets. How can we do this legally without incurring expenses for ourselves? Is there any way to just walk away from this and let the creditors and state figure it out? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Assuming she has $1000 and an old car, you might want to do nothing. You can get the $1000 from the bank under section 3101 of the Probate, Estate and Fiduciary Code if you are a child and go to the bank with a copy of the paid funeral bill and a death certificate. The car can be sold through AAA or other motor vehicle transfer agent. It will cost you thousands of dollars to open an estate and then you will be harassed by creditors. If your mom received Medicaid, hang on to the $1000 for about a year to see if the PA Department of Human Services will file a Medicaid claim against her. They can claim the $1000 as an exception to Rule 3101. You can file an inheritance tax return and “0” it out as I am sure someone paid more than $1000 in funeral expenses which are deductions. Again, you could do nothing and leave the money sit. You will have no personal liability. Her estate, if someone opens one, is the only party who will owe her bills.
Q: I found out my mother passed away from an ex-son in law that send us a text regarding her funeral services. I had been visiting my mother in California, four times a year because they would not let me bring her to PA to take care of her. She had dementia and it was hard seeing her neglected in their care. I am the only daughter I was pushed away by my brothers. (Ligonier, PA)
A: If your mother had a will and there was a need to file it, the person appointed as her executor in the will would likely have filed it in the Probate Court of the county in which she died. You can call that county’s probate court and see if they can tell you or direct you on how to do a record search. If you find the will and can get a copy of it and still have questions, you would need to consult with a lawyer to review the will. If you need legal representation to challenge the will or find more information, it would be best to hire a lawyer in the same county where she died.
Q: My brother wants to be executor of my mom’s estate. He’s a criminal and I won’t stand for that. He was convicted in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and served a little time.
A: Much to your chagrin, yes. Section 3156 of the PA Probate Estates and Fiduciary Code excludes those charged with homicide but does not exclude someone with a felony conviction.
- Persons not qualified. Section 3156 reads as follows:
No person shall be qualified to serve as a personal representative who is:
(1) Under 18 years of age.
(2) A corporation not authorized to act as fiduciary in the Commonwealth.
(3) A person, other than an executor designated by name or description in the will, found by the register to be unfit to be entrusted with the administration of the estate.
(4) The nominee of any beneficiary, legatee or person having any interest whatsoever, when such beneficiary, legatee or person is a citizen or resident of any country outside the territorial limits or possessions of the United States, when it shall appear doubtful to the register that in the distribution of the estate any such person will have the actual benefit, use, enjoyment or control of the money or other property representing his share or interest therein.
(5) Charged, whether by indictment, information or otherwise, by the United States, the Commonwealth or any of the several states, with voluntary manslaughter or homicide, except homicide by vehicle, in connection with a decedent’s death unless and until the charge is withdrawn, dismissed or a verdict of not guilty is returned.
Now, if you feel that this person is otherwise not qualified, you can object to appointment by filing a Petition for Rule to Show Cause with the Orphan’s Court. If you feel the person is dishonest you may be able to tie his criminal history in with other instances of conduct. It may help if the crimes were those of crimin falsi, Latin for crimes of dishonesty. If you want to challenge his or her appointment, I suggest consulting with a lawyer.