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 husband and I have been separated for more than three years and I sent him the uncontested divorce, how he won’t answer my phone calls. My father recently passed away and he thinks he will get something out of my father’s estate. How should I handle this? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: When one of the parties in a divorce is not agreeable, it is considered contested. If he will not accept service, hire a constable. If he will not accept other papers or fails to respond, you probably need an attorney. There are a whole set of procedures and deadlines that must be followed to provide notice to him and prove that he has been served with the necessary papers. If he still ignores the paperwork and continues to fail to respond, he will in effect waive his rights, and a divorce will be granted. An attorney will know how to do this. To my knowledge, an inheritance is not subject to a marital claim. Make sure he knows this and maybe he will cooperate.
Q: I have an aunt who changed her will recently and she did it to spite the one son because of his remarriage. Where originally, he was to inherit 1/2 of her estate, and the other son the other half. He now has been reduced to 1/8 of her estate, and her riding mower, with the remaining being divided between his ex-wife and the adult children. Is there a length of time she needs to remain alive to be certain he will not try to contest it? (Delmont, PA)
A: I am not aware of any such law. If she is competent, not under undue influence or coercion, and it has been executed in compliance with the law, her Last Will and Testament is presumed to reflect her testamentary intentions.
Q: My sister said she’d help me while going through a trial for assault by my husband. She’d never been kind before and I couldn’t understand why she was doing it now. Before I moved into her apartment she began telling me I owed her for the care of our parents. We’d never discussed money before but suddenly after our parents passed she decided I owed her my 1/2 of the inheritance. I’d lost everything during my divorce trials, used all my retirement and cashed in my CDs to pay my lawyers. She had no problem taking the money and leaving me with nothing. She said I’d get some back but so far, it’s been $1,000 from what she said was the sale of our mother’s jewelry. I’m in desperate need of that money, 64 years old & just had a heart attack. I’ve been on disability for more than 15 years and live from check to check. What can I do to get what she took by coercion, duress, bullying, guilt and flat out verbal abuse? I’m extremely distraught and am medicine since I’ve had my heart attack. (New Stanton, PA)
A: I know you are looking for a quick answer but there is no way any attorney can answer your question within the confines of email. You really need to sit down with a local estate attorney and bring all the documents and information you have. The attorney can look up to see if there was a will, if an estate was opened and if so, who the attorney was and possibly the extent of the probate assets if your county published inventories on line. Much more specific information is needed. I suggest talking to an attorney first over the telephone to see if you can get some guidance on how to find out as much as you can on your own, and then when you do, make an appointment for a consultation.
Q: Property was turned over to us children. Two siblings passed away. Their children have not paid a cent of taxes for almost 18 years and now are holding us up from selling. What can I do? (White Oak, PA)
A: You really need to sit down with a lawyer to examine the prior deeds and estate papers to assess with certainty, what the present situation is. If you are correct, in that you own the property with the children of deceased siblings, and they are not cooperating with a sale, I would say you have a problem. You may have to buy out their interest. You could argue that what they receive should be reduced by the portion of real estate taxes and insurance if any, that they have not paid over the years. If this cannot be worked out, a petition for partition action in Allegheny County is expensive to file and litigate-for both parties. This is a matter that should be settled based on value of the property.
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 still live with my parents and have a learning disability where I can’t get a job. My brother on the other hand, works two jobs for sixteen hours a day for almost 40 years. He has a beautiful two-story house, 4 cars and at least 4 big-screen T.V.s. My parents are very proud of him and love him to death. I’m 59 years old. I haven’t worked much in my life and have no retirement or much social security coming my way. My parents loathe me for this and treat me like trash! I told them if things get to worse then I’m going to live in the streets and be homeless. My mom said, “well go ahead, there’s the door”. I heard that she and dad are going to leave my brother their weekend home up in the mountains. The guy is going to be wealthy! I’ll be eating out of trash cans with just a $1.50 in the bank.
A: If by chance you are collecting SSI or Medicaid for your disability, you may become ineligible for those benefits if you receive money from your parents. There is a way for your parents to leave you money or gift money to you and that involves establishing a special needs trust. They would need to see an elder law attorney to set this up.
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.
Q: I inherited some money, $8,000.00 from my boyfriend’s estate. I want to give it to my daughter but was told that I cannot do so.
A: Once you inherit the money, you can do whatever you want with the money, as it is yours. Make sure the estate paid the inheritance tax and any income tax arising from any estate asset. If the estate did not pay taxes, you may continue to be responsible for payment and you may be giving your daughter a gift that is subject to inheritance tax. If not paid, it will accumulate interest and penalties, and you could be summoned to court in the future. The one exception to this is if you are receiving Medicaid benefits or will be doing so within the next five years.
Q: If I am on Medicaid and I receive and inheritance will Medicaid take the inheritance for past services they have paid?
A: No, Medicaid will not take it, but as you are aware, the inheritance will render you ineligible for Medicaid, very generally to the extent of the amount of the inheritance. With a little bit of planning, however, it is possible the receive the benefit of the inheritance while remaining on Medicaid. A special needs trust can be established into which the funds are transferred, or the funds could be transferred into an account in an established pooled trust without causing you to be disqualified. The trustee would then spend the funds on those things not covered by Medicaid. I am over-simplifying the nature of these trusts, but the point is that you get the best of both worlds. This is a very complex area of the law and it will take time to set up the proper trust to catch the inheritance. Don’t delay.