Q: My dad was in a nursing home and passed away. My mom received a bill saying that she owed $1500 for my dad’s stay in the nursing home. This was over a year ago. (White Oak, PA)
A: This used to be an easy question to answer. In the past, if the community spouse, in this case your mother, never signed the bill as a guarantor, and an estate was not opened for your father, I would say, no. However, many states, including your beloved Commonwealth, have passed “filial” responsibility statutes which hold spouses and next of kin responsible for the medical bills of an indigent person. I would hold off on paying it, exhaust all insurance coverage options, and let them explain to you why your mother owes this bill. If necessary, consult with an elder law attorney in your area.
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? Thanks. (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 of that and the $200.00 would then be transferred to the PA Department of Unclaimed Property.
Q: I have the original will with signatures, however, it is not notarized. The will has 2 executors who have not started any legal proceedings to settle my mother’s estate due to them not wanting the responsibility. The estate includes a house and an Allstate insurance claim. The will states that my mother’s four children and her boyfriend (executor #1) are to be willed her house, belongings and any monies left. Two of my siblings (over 18) still reside in my mother’s home. I pay the property taxes as there is no mortgage and they pay the utilities. The Allstate claim is from an accident settlement my mother received for a car accident that turned her quadriplegic. We believe this Allstate claim is to pay back Medicare since the settlement monies were put in a trust for her medical expenses. To our understanding, once Medicare is paid, whatever monies left over will be split amongst all parties listed in the will. To our knowledge it is over $400,000 that Allstate must disburse. Us four siblings have no clue how to move forward with getting her estate settled and being legally put on the deed to her house. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: It sounds doable. A will is not required to be notarized to be legal and admitted to probate. As stated, if she signed at the end of the document and two witnesses have signed below her, it should be admitted. If the boyfriend does not want to be executor, he can renounce, and the testate heirs (in the will) can choose another person to serve if they all agree. Are you sure it is Medicare and not Medicaid? My thought is that it is Medicaid who has a lien, and they will be need notified of the estate and settled with. I think the more complicated issue may be dealing with the two siblings who live in the house. Nothing here is that unusual that an estate attorney cannot help you with so you need to make an appointment.
Q: He had his lawyer do his will after the diagnosis. The doctor giving him a 10-year possible lifespan prognosis. He has no wife or children. He has two siblings older than him and nieces and nephews. We are not romantic, but we have social outings and travel together. He pays. He also gives me around $700 a month to help pay my mortgage. I am 74. I fear when he passes that I could have trouble from his sisters and the nieces and nephews contesting the will. His estate consists of a 2015 Corvette Stingray, a 2016 Rav 4, a $180,000 home and about $150,000 in the bank plus a coin collection. No bills other than monthly utilities and living expenses. What should I do when the time comes? (Clairton, PA)
A: If he was competent when he executed the will, and the will is in compliance with the law, you should be fine. Anybody can say they will contest a will, but it is difficult to do. If the testator was competent and there is no clear and convincing evidence that the will was a product of coercion or undue influence, they have no claim. Because you are not married to him and you are not family, is irrelevant. He is free to leave his estate to whomever he wishes. There is nothing you can do except make sure his original will is preserved and kept safe. If it would disappear before he dies, then his biological heirs will inherit from him, and you will be out of the picture.
Q: My mother died at 66 years of age without a Will. We were not going to open an estate because there were no assets. However, I found out my mother was the beneficiary of my grandmother’s insurance policy valued at $22,800. This was turned over to PA Department of Treasury, unclaimed property. For us four children to claim this life insurance, we must open an estate. However, in reading small estate law in PA, Medicaid needs to be put on notice if she received it. None of us knew of my mother’s personal affairs as all of us were estranged from her so it is possible she received Medicaid. We are unsure if it is worth trying to collect money from my grandmother’s life insurance that my mother was the beneficiary. Without the policy, my mother died without assets. Is there any advice you can give on what we should do in this situation? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Whether you proceed under the Small Estate Petition statute, or file for a grant of Letters of Administration, the Department of Human Services of PA must be notified. They will respond as to whether the decedent received Medicaid and if so the amounts they seek to recover under Estate Recovery. Under the PA Code, section 258.3 (Estate Recovery), life insurance proceeds payable to a decedent’s estate are subject to the Department’s claim. Life insurance proceeds payable to a beneficiary are not subject to the Department’s claim. The problem here is that this policy was not owned by your mother. She was a beneficiary of the policy who did not claim her proceeds for whatever reason. The proceeds turned in to cash after grandmother’s death. Had it been your mother’s policy, and there was a named and living beneficiary, I think you would be in the clear. The other concern is that since the proceeds have devolved to unclaimed property and lose their identity as insurance proceeds, they are viewed as cash. I would not throw in the towel at this point. I do not know the definitive answer on this without doing some research. You may want to consult with an estate attorney to see if it is worth pursuing. If an estate is opened and Estate Recovery files a claim for the entire amount, the estate can pay preferred estate expenses before paying Estate Recovery. These would be reimbursing family members for funeral expenses advanced, filing fees, attorney fees and an executor fee. It may be worth it. The attorney and the executor will earn a humble fee but perhaps someone who had no hope of being reimbursed for the funeral, which can be expensive, can now be paid.
Q: My natural father divorced my mother when I was 10 years old. I have 2 siblings. He remarried a woman with two children and didn’t father any of his own with her. He gained custody of me but due to the physical abuse by my father and stepmother, I became a ward of the state until I was 16. My father had a sizable estate when he passed away, which I believe could be millions of dollars. This stepmother controls all assets and when my father was alive prevented any type of relationship or financial assistance to any of his children. When she passes away are we entitled to sue the estate? She lives in Florida now. (Finleyville, PA)
A: I assume your father did not leave anything to you when he passed? If so I am not sure why his wife would. However, you never know. There is no law that says you are entitled to any inheritance from either your father or your step mother. Both have the free will to exclude you from their estate or inheriting in any way from them. There is too little information here to provide an answer. When you learn she passes, you may want to talk with the attorney of her estate or trust to determine if by chance there you are an heir. If you are an heir of her estate, or their trust, you will be contacted. However, it wouldn’t hurt to be proactive and call the attorney handling her estate.
Q: Our dad passed Mar 7 and mom on March 13. An insurance policy needs to be paid to my sister and I. Do we need a Small Estate? No real estate involved. Bank accounts have been closed. They were both in an assisted living facility and most of their estate was spent on their care. The insurance company is insisting we need a Small Estate Affidavit. The insurance policy was issued by Dad’s employer in the amount of $2150. We do not want to probate the will for this small amount. What do we need to do and can we do it ourselves or do we need an attorney? Since our mother died so soon after our dad and we had no time to have the insurance paid to her, is this complicating the issue? Their will names my sister and I as co-executrices. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: If there are living beneficiaries on the policy, the proceeds can be paid directly to the be beneficiaries without court or lawyer involvement. If the named beneficiaries are deceased, then the insurance company will only release the money to the estate. If the amount of the proceeds is under $11,000.00, section 3101 of the PA Probate, Estate and Fiduciary Code allows the insurance company to pay certain next of kin directly, without opening an estate. The insurance company may be from out of town and not know PA law. If you show them the statute, they may change their minds. If they still will not release the money, you can have an attorney file a small estates petition in Allegheny County as there are assets under 25k and no real estate. It may be a long shot, but some insurance companies have allowed me to obtain such proceeds with a document they have or which I craft if necessary, titled, Waiver of Probate and Release.
Q: I am trying to receive unclaimed money from my mother’s and father’s estate. The unclaimed amounts are not yet with the state, but are being held by Wells Fargo. I am told I need Letters of Appointment for each. Where and how do I get them? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Banks and financial institutions often tell people to “get letters”, or “get a short certificate.’ It sounds like a simple process as if every attorney has a stack of them on file that he can hand out for the asking. What these terms actually mean is that an estate needs to be opened in court. This is usually because the asset is titled in the decedent’s name and can only be passed on to another person from the estate of the decedent. Opening an estate involves preparing and filing a Petition for Probate, estate advertising, Notice to Heirs, Certification of Notice to Heirs, an estate Inventory, an inheritance tax return, possibly income tax preparation and closing of the estate. You should not do this on your own and will need an attorney. My advice is to consult with an attorney. There may be a way to get this money without opening an estate. Some companies accept Waiver of Estate Affidavits, especially if the company is based in another state with different or more liberal probate laws. Also, you may be able to accomplish obtaining this money by a Petition for Small Estate. It has some formality and must go through court but generally should involve less legal fees and time.
Q: My dad wrote a will leaving his entire estate to me and my brothers several years ago. Since then he remarried. I’m not sure if he wrote another will or not. I’m just curious if the will he gave us is valid since it isn’t notarized and what happens if he wrote another will leaving everything to his wife acting as if that was the only will to exist. Would the latest one be the valid one? Would it come down to an ugly court battle if something ever happened to him?
A: A will does not have to be notarized to be admitted into probate, however, it makes the probate process easier. It is likely that the witnesses to the will, will need to appear in court to attest they witnessed the will, or provide an affidavit to the effect. Normally, the new will is the one in effect as the new will presumably preempts the prior wills. Most wills have language which states that all prior wills are revoked.
Q: My great uncle died just over 9 months ago in Allegheny County, PA. The estate is in probate as we speak. The inheritance and estate taxes were paid a week or so ago (estimated inheritance tax paid 3 months after his death was 1,700,000.00!) This would indicate that his estate is quite large, correct? He had a condo that is just sitting there. Can a distribution be made prior to the condo being sold? Not sure why they are just letting it sit instead of listing it for sale instead! Can distribution be made and then another distribution made after the condo is sold? What if the executrix decides NOT to sell it but instead allow one of the heirs to live in it? Would that heir have to purchase it from the others? Also, don’t the beneficiaries have a right to know the approximate amount they may receive and the approximate time frame in which they may receive it? The Executrix isn’t sharing ANY info and seeing as how this estate is quite large, this inheritance could possibly be life-changing and the opportunity to plan ahead would be helpful. What is the protocol as far as letting the heirs know the approximate amount they may receive and when they may receive it? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Before you start spending your inheritance, I would check to be certain that you in fact are an heir. The Executrix has no duty to give you information, nor does the estate attorney. After nine months, an estate Inventory is due to be filed with the Register of Wills and an inheritance tax return must be filed with the Department of Revenue, unless there have been extensions. If there was a will, it will be on file with the Register of Wills. You could go to the Register of Wills and look at the Will to verify that you are an estate heir. You could also look at the estate Inventory to see what assets the estate is comprised of. This sounds like a lot of money, so my thought is that not all the money may be in the estate. There may be a trust or trusts involved. If you were an heir of an estate or a trust, you would have received a Notice in the mail. You might also want to hire an attorney to look up these documents and assist you in ascertaining your status as heir and verifying the amount of assets you stand to inherit.