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: My father started taking Donepezil for dementia in 2012. In 2013 he had a psychotic episode that required him to be placed at a behavioral health facility and being prescribed Quetiapine. On or about the day he was discharged from the facility my absent brother of 50 years became his Power of Attorney. Since then my brother has done everything to get an early inheritance. My brother even got our parents divorced but the PA Superior Court vacated the divorce and equitable distribution. In 2014 my father changed his Will giving everything to my brother. Now the tricky part is my brother took our father to live in Virginia for the last 5 years of his life, our father died in Virginia, and his Will was probated in Virginia. The real estate is in Pennsylvania. The Virginia attorney says the value of the real estate, along with the personal property located in Pennsylvania, must be included in the estate. If this is true then my mother will get no money, only the real estate. The real estate is valued at $110,000, the personal property $10,000, and the money $105,000. Essentially, if the VA attorney is correct, it is like my mother is buying real estate that belongs to her and my father. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I am not sure I understand all the facts. Can I assume you are saying that the house is held in the names of your father and mother and the new will has disinherited your mother? If that is correct, ownership will pass by operation of the law of entireties to the surviving parent and not into the estate and be distributed through the will. Under PA law, but I am not certain of VA law, a spouse can elect to inherit against the will. PA law allows a surviving wife to take a 1/3 interest of certain property transferred out of the husband’s name prior to his death but spouse is charged for the value of certain property he or she inherited. I am not sure if it would be wise to do so if VA has a similar statute, but it is something you should discuss with an attorney in VA. The property situated in PA may require the VA attorney to hire counsel in PA for an ancillary estate.
Q: The attorney I contacts wants a $4k retainer, and frankly I don’t really want to lay out that kind of money if I can take matters into my own hands to settle the estate. (Carnegie, PA)
A: It sounds like since there is real estate in your father’s estate, it is necessary to open an estate. Without knowing more about the estate, it is impossible to opine whether the fee that was quoted is fair or not. You need to call several lawyers and get prices. You do not need to hire the lawyer who wrote the will. Estate work, if done the right way, is very tedious and time consuming. the more heirs and the more assets, the more time is involved for the attorney. It is not a form filling practice like many lay people think. I recommend that you hire a lawyer but interview several before you do.
Q: The land and was in my name. I transferred it to my mother’s name for tax purposes. She passed away with land still in her name. What is the best method of transferring in back into my name? I am trying to avoid attorney fees as well. (Jefferson Hills, PA)
A: If she was the only name on the deed, you likely will need to open an estate, pay inheritance tax and transfer the property out of the estate back to you. Hopefully there are no other issues such as Medicaid and debts.
Q: Mom died without a will. She has a living son and step-father. Step-father did not adopt the son. Step father is not willing to divide the property or the items in the property. Just need to know what our options are? (Kittanning, PA)
A: If I understand this correctly, mom died without a will and was survived by a son and a step-father to the son, her husband? If I am correct my answer is as follows. Since mom has no will, the Pennsylvania intestate (no will) statute applies. That statute related to these facts would result in the husband getting the first 30K from mother’s estate (things in her name only) and the husband and her son would share the balance. You would need to make sure she is on deed alone, or on the deed with her deceased husband, for this result. If she and her husband are on the deed as husband and wife (tenants by the entireties), he now owns the property.
Q: At the time of my Dad’s death, my step mother was still alive. He had no will. The administrator never told the children of any inheritance. My step mother has now passed. Are we still entitled to any proceeds from the sale of his home? (West Mifflin, PA)
A: As your father had no will, who stands to inherit from your father depends on PA intestate (no will) law. The PA intestate statute sets out who inherits and what percentage. It is likely that the children as well as the second wife will inherit from the estate. However, if the house was owned by husband and wife (both on the deed), it is likely to not pass into the estate but instead bypass the estate and pass directly to the surviving spouse under the law of entireties. You could look up the old deed with a trip to the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds. You can also look in the Register of Wills to see if an estate was opened for your step-mother. You can also consult with an attorney.
Q: Our dad was hospitalized with a stroke and pneumonia, and he has a will. My sister and I knew we were getting this property in the will, but the will was 125 miles away and we did not want at that point to leave his side for that length of time to see what the rest of the will read for fear of him dying before we returned. He could not speak because of the stroke so we had to ask questions and he would answer yes or no by hand squeezes. He instructed us to transfer his house through power of attorney to our joint names and we did. It turned out we probably should not have, because I think he was not thinking properly at that point do to drugs and the stroke, and my sister and I were grief stricken and tired from being by his side until he died. Since we were getting the house by will anyway, in hind sight it did not seem to make any sense to transfer it, so we figured he knew something we did not. But, I do not think he was thinking right at that time. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Assuming the POA authorized you to transfer real estate or make gifts to yourselves, and even if it didn’t, if no other family members are complaining or you haven’t violated state law, you should be OK. No harm, no foul. If, on the other hand, you transferred his real estate to yourselves with the POA when other family members were to inherit the real estate through the will, there might be a concern. In PA, a transfer in anticipation of death (within 1 year) will subject the entire value of the property transferred to inheritance tax with a $3000.00 exclusion. The only other concern would be Medicaid. If your father was receiving Medicaid benefits, they may have a claim against his estate. If you transferred property out of his estate, Medicaid will have a claim against the real estate as part of his estate as it was transferred in anticipation of his death. If you did this transfer with knowledge of his Medicaid status, you have committed Medicaid fraud but will probably not be prosecuted criminally if the house is still in your name.
Q: I co-signed on a mortgage and then the borrower passed away. She has kids however, but no will nor estate has been opened. Her kids are fighting over the house. How do I remove myself off the mortgage? What is the process? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: You are in a tough position. You cannot just remove yourself off the mortgage. You signed a document that holds you liable, now that she is deceased. Your options are to pay the mortgage off or somehow talk the lender in to releasing you, which they will not do unless the heirs want to assume or refinance and get on the mortgage. If the deceased person’s name is on the deed, an estate must be opened to sell that house. It is important that her children find an experienced attorney to help them establish an estate, get the house on the market and sell it as soon as possible. This will greatly benefit you as once the house is sold the mortgage will be paid off and you are off the hook. I would consult with an attorney if I were you.
Q: I was my dad’s POA and he passed in June. He had no will. He has a house that is falling down, and I want nothing to do with it. I received a bill for $4,000 from his nursing home. Am I responsible for this? (Cranberry Twp., PA)
A: You are correct, the POA no longer has legal effect. If you didn’t sign the contract for his nursing care, I would not pay it. However, be advised, that PA has adopted filial responsibility which extends liability for nursing home care services provided to indigent persons to certain family members. I do not see nursing homes use this cause of action in my practice however it does exist. I would not pay the bill and let the nursing home explain why you are personally liable. The debts of a deceased persons are the debts of his or her estate. Speak with an attorney about the necessity of opening an estate for your father. It sounds like it may not be advisable.
Q: have been estranged from my mother (valid reasons) since 2009. My father passed in 2000 and my mother passed a few weeks ago. I am one of 4 siblings and my younger sister (who dislikes me) has POA. I did pay my last respects to her and recently found out the will was revised 12/23/18 while my mother was in the hospital and under medication. I was removed and replaced with my nephew, her grandson. I am being asked to approve this and am waiting for paperwork to review. My mother has treated me badly for years for no apparent reason. What is my recourse? It’s not about the money, it’s the principal and I had a great relationship with my father until he passed, therefore am not going to approve this revision. (Plum Borough, PA)
A: I assume they want you to sign off on the estate by a Family Agreement or other type of consent document, which will close the estate? The only thing I can advise is to take the papers to a lawyer. If you are saying that you want to challenge the will, you will have the burden to prove that your mother was incompetent at the time she signed the new Will, or that she signed it under the undue influence of your sister. It will be hard for you to investigate this and get medical records because if you are not the estate executor. Your attorney should be able to obtain these records and assess the situation.