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: 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.
Q: I am the named beneficiary and I inherited my friend’s life insurance and 401k. The estate administrator is requesting I provide him with information regarding those accounts/policies so that he can add them to the estate accounting list. Am I required to provide him with that information? (Bethel Park, PA)
A: If you are listed as a beneficiary, neither asset is considered part of the estate as they pass outside the estate directly to you. The insurance policy is not subject to inheritance tax, but the 401 K may be. If the decedent’s will states that the estate pays inheritance tax on all assets, including those that pass outside the estate, then the attorney may need the information on the 401 K in order to prepare the estate inheritance tax return. If the estate is paying inheritance tax on an asset for which you are beneficiary, that is to your benefit. Therefore, unless the estate is obligated to pay the inheritance tax, I would think the attorney does not need them. These are not required to be listed on the Inventory. Perhaps the attorney just want to confirm exactly what type of asset they are. In my practice, I would rather actually see financial statements for the decedent’s assets than to take an heir’s word that they are not part of the estate and therefore nothing for me to be concerned with.
Q: Once said parents are deceased, can a child decide not to be included in the will? (Baden, PA)
A: Parents are free to include whoever they wish in their will. Once a will is probated, an heir named in the will, can choose to file a document called a “Disclaimer” in the court where the will was filed. A Disclaimer will in effect, take the heir out of the estate. This should be done with advice of counsel as PA’s disclaimer rule requires that the disclaimed inheritance pass to the next of kin in accordance with the intestate succession statute of the PA Probate and Fiduciaries Code.