Q: I am the beneficiary on the Life insurance policies and a total control account for my mother that I cared for 10 years. Not much, but she had them. Are these policies part of the estate now or do they belong to me and my family I would like to enter them into an account for my children. My siblings only came around when they needed to and were present the last two months of my mother’s life. Other than that, I took care of my mom, for the 10 years since my father passed. I would rather have my mom here and the money is not important to me, but under the circumstances, my brothers are wanting whatever they can get at this point. Please advise. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: You should sit down with a probate attorney to have the documents looked at. I can only give you general information. Insurance policies with living beneficiaries, pass directly to the beneficiary upon the death of the owner or the insured. There is no inheritance tax owed on them under PA law. When I last handled a Met Life “Total Control” account, it was just like a bank account with a beneficiary, like TOD, or in-trust-for account. The account will pass to you directly and inheritance tax will be owed. If you only inherited the insurance policy and the Total Control account, there is no need to open an estate. You don’t have to tell your siblings anything, except that there was nothing for them to inherit. If they are curious enough, they can search the Register of Wills and find that no estate has been opened or check the Department of Revenue to look up the inheritance tax return once it is filed.
Q: I worked for this elderly man for a long time. He died and left me a nice car and paid the taxes for me. Now I was arrested for theft and elder abuse and the car was impounded. It has been six months since the arrest and no charges have been filed. I received all bond money back, but the car is still impounded. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: You need to prove how the car is yours. If it was left to you in a Will, or the deceased man left at least a note stating that you are to receive his car, that would be some proof. All you have is your word. When property is confiscated by police, but the accused is never charged, the accused can petition the court to have the police return his or her property. If you were the owner, the police would need to comply with the order and return the property to you, its rightful owner. I imagine the car will become property of the deceased man’s estate. In that case contact the Executor or attorney for the estate and tell them what happened.
Q: I have lived with my girlfriend for 35 years we live in a home that she owns, and she died last week. Her children will not talk to me and they want me out of the house. They have arranged for her services and no one will give me the information. I received a 30-day notice. When she was told she has cancer I took care of her and her family never even called but the minute she died they were right here at the house and going through her stuff which they say I have no claim. I want her family to get her things, but I am 64 and disabled myself and can’t move. I have no money my money was helping my girlfriend to buy her medication. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I am sorry for your difficulties. These situations happen frequently. Had you been married, you would be entitled to much more. I suggest talking to an attorney to review the entire situation. Relevant questions would be, did she have a will? In her will, did she provide for you? Are you sure you are not on the deed to her home? Will her family need to open an estate? Do you have a record of expenses (medicine) you paid for her prior to her death so that you can make a claim against her estate for reimbursement? Did she have any other assets, such as non-probate for which you may listed as a beneficiary? Additionally, if you are a tenant, at law, and subject to eviction, you can extend the eviction process.
Q: We have not made out a will. I have heard of probate, but do not know what this is. We jointly own our own home. What kind of will do we need? How can I best protect my assets should he pass away before I do? (Mt. Lebanon, PA)
A: To protect your assets if he should die, act now. Both of you should make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. To properly advise you much more information needs to be known about your assets, your health, your long-term health insurance, post-retirement income, etc. To answer your immediate question, if your husband died without a will, under PA intestate law, the first 30K of his estate would go to you and balance would be shared by you and any child or children you have or any child or children he may have. This would necessitate the filing of a PA inheritance tax return. If one dies with a will or without, it is still necessary to file a PA inheritance tax return.
Q: Our mother passed away in October and we are receiving bills from the hospital and ambulance service. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: In the past, a child or next of kin was never responsible for a family member’s medical bills, unless they signed a contract making them so liable. However, many states, including PA, have adopted “filial responsibility” laws which do hold certain family members responsible for indigent family members who receive unpaid medical treatment. Do not agree to pay this bill when contacted by the hospital or collection agency and contact a lawyer.
Q: A father died, and he was married with 2 children in that marriage, a twelve-year-old and an eight-year-old. He also had a child from a previous relationship who is 18 years old and attending college. The father had three life insurance policies of $250,000, $250,000, and $200,000 for a total of $700,000. The widowed mother has no intention of giving the 18-year-old step-daughter any money. I don’t know how the policies are named, but I do know the widow does not want the step-daughter to know she received payouts from these policies. Does the eighteen-year- old have a legal claim to any of this life insurance money? (Scott Twp., PA)
A: Insurance policies will be paid to living beneficiaries of the decedent. If there are no living beneficiaries, the policy will likely be paid to the estate of the decedent. If there is no will in place, the proceeds of the policy will go in to the estate and paid to the intestate (no will) heirs. Under PA intestate law, the daughter is an heir. It is possible that the proceeds of this policy could have been addressed in a divorce or prenuptial agreement, which therefore could preempt the intestate or testate laws. If this child was a beneficiary listed on the policy or if there are no living beneficiaries on the policies, she has a chance of receiving money. If the step-mother is hiding the information on the policy, hire a lawyer to threaten her or take her to court.
Q: My brother in law died recently in Pennsylvania without a will, his brother (my husband) died 5 years ago but was named as beneficiary on his policies. My brother in law was never married nor had children, he does have an aunt and cousins. Who would be next of kin? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: If your brother in law was not survived by a spouse, children or parents, his intestate (no will) share will pass to his siblings in equal shares. If any of your brother in law’s siblings have predeceased your brother in law, that deceased’s siblings share will pass to his or her children equally. So, if your husband has children, any portion of his brother’s estate he will inherit will pass instead to your husband’s children, biological or adopted. You mention “policies”, so I assume you mean insurance policies. Insurance policy proceeds pass directly to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries on the policy and not into the estate. If there are no living beneficiaries on the policy, then the insurance proceeds are payable to the estate. If so, the estate will distribute inheritance to the heirs named in the will or to the heirs under intestate law.
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 my parents sell their home to their children within the 5 years? How does the 5-year issue work in Pennsylvania? (Munhall, PA)
A: PA manages its Medicaid program through the PA Department of Human Services. Under Medicaid regulations, any transfer of an asset by a Medicaid applicant for no consideration (i.e., gift, $1.00, under market value, etc.) within 5 years preceding a Medicaid application, can cause the applicant to be ineligible for Medicaid benefits to the extent of the fair market value of the asset transferred. You say your parents sold the home. If it was a legitimate sale for fair market value, it would not rule your parent’s ineligible. If the proceeds of the sale went to your parents for their living expenses, which should be easily documented, there should be no problem. I suggest consulting with an attorney to review this sale before you do it.