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: My sister who lives in FL (I’m in PA) got an attorney and become the executor. It seems the lawyer is not working with me and will not talk to me. I think I need to get my own lawyer and if I do, will my portion of the estate have to pay both? I never signed anything. Also, can the executor avoid going into probate as she is not dividing the estate equally. I also know she uses marijuana. Can I ask for a drug test and get her removed as she is not making good decisions? Any help would be great appreciated. Thank you. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: If an estate has been opened in FLA and your mother died without a will, you are likely to be an heir under FLA law if there is anything to inherit. If the attorney for the estate is not responding to you, that is not good. I would send him or her a certified letter containing all your questions. If you get no response, you may want to see if the county has a probate court website for you to look for her estate or call the Probate Court and see what you can find out. If your inquiries are not satisfied, you should call a lawyer in that county who handles estates. There is a process involved in petitioning the court to remove an executor. An attorney in FLA can advise you if this is necessary.
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.
Q: I was living with my mother-in-law when she passed. Her “best friend” who is the executor in the will, has turned off the power without notice and closed her bank accounts. She has not informed any of the creditors of her passing or close friends. The house that she resided in for 32 years has a reverse mortgage. However, I still reside there with her seven cats who I love dearly. I pay the water, sewer, garbage and gas bills. The gas bill was three months behind when she passed and am currently trying to bring current. Please advise thank you for your time, any information is very much appreciated. (Squirrel Hill, PA)
A: If this “best friend” has not been appointed Executor by the court, she has no authority to act on your mother-in-law’s behalf. Merely being named Executor in the will does not give her such authority. She needs to be appointed by the court. I would call the utility companies and inform them what happened, and that no executor has been appointed and you are living in this house. If you get nowhere, call the PA Public Utilities Commission. It regulates utility companies. They may have a remedy and complaint filing procedure.
Q: Four years after mom’s passing I got a copy of the will. The two heirlooms left for me in the will, my sister, the executor, claims were stolen by a third sister. The executor will not communicate with me, a named beneficiary. I assume this alleged theft must have been discovered after mom’s passing, otherwise would not the attorney have advised the executor to amend the will to reflect the unknown whereabouts of these things in order to protect the executor from financial liability? And would the lawyer not advise the executor of the will to file a police report of the alleged theft? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Your questions are valid but there is much missing information here. Like, why did you just notice this after four years? Was an estate opened when your mother died? Is that estate still open? Things will generally go less smoothly if this estate was opened and closed and you had not raised this question before. I would at least try to get an answer from the estate attorney. He or she should be willing to speak with you and answer your questions. If you have no luck, you have a couple options. If the estate is still open, you could wait until the estate attorney moves to close the estate. He or she can close by family agreement which means you would be required to sign off on it. Don’t sign until you get an explanation. If you don’t sign, the estate can only be closed formally, by First and Final Account. The attorney would then attempt to close the estate formally by presenting a First and Final Account to Orphan’s Court. It is called an “Audit”. You will be notified of the date, time and location of the Audit and be supplied a copy of the First and Final Account with the Notice. You can choose to appear at the Audit and convey your objections and or questions to the judge. Your other option is to hire an attorney now to attempt to get an answer for you now, and if necessary file a petition in Orphans Court if the estate Inventory does not show the heirlooms. If the estate closed, you may have a tough time getting back in to court to open this issue.
Q: My step-mom held a benefit and called it a “benefit for the family of Jack Allen”. She used her churches tax ID number for benefit donations. My dad did not have life insurance and was not able to save money. It was my understanding per her that the money was going to bury my dad’s ashes and the costs along with that. Now after the benefit and she has all the money she says she is not burying him. His ashes are still in an urn under her cellar steps. Instead she is keeping the money for her and my 24-year old meth addict brother. Is she breaking the law keeping the money? Can we make her spend the money on him? I do not care if some money is left and she keeps it. I want nothing to do with the money except for it to go towards my dad’s burial. (McKeesport, PA)
A: If the clear purpose of the event was to raise money to bury Jack Allen, and the money is not being used for that purpose, there is an appearance of fraud or misrepresentation. You might want to call the District Attorney in your County to see if they would want to be involved. You might also want to see a lawyer. If he did not have a will, you may have standing to petition the court to be executor and open an estate. If you were executor, you would have standing to petition the orphan’s court to be involved in seeing that the money is used for his burial.
Q: My two sisters and I were named co-executors of my father’s will. Both my sisters have asked if I would relinquish my rights as an executor since they were named joint powers of attorney for my mother who has Alzheimer’s. If I relinquish my rights how will this affect future decisions for my mother and the handling of the estate in my father’s will?
A: I am not sure what the connection is with your mother’s POA and you being tri-executor of your father’s will. By renouncing your right to be executor of your father’s will, you do not lose any right of inheritance, you just give up your right to administer the estate and charge a fee for your services, which could be 5% of the gross estate. Being executor requires a great deal of work sometimes and can be time consuming and stressful. If the fee is an issue, ask your sisters to split the 5% three ways. You would also be giving up the right to make decisions of how the estate is administered. However, unless there are unusual issues with the estate, most are pretty straightforward, especially if a lawyer is involved.