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: She has no spouse. She has about $1000 in a checking account and an older car, Blue Book Value $2000, which is currently sitting in our driveway. We are not using it. The registration is expired, and it requires repairs. She has no life insurance or other assets of any kind. Her current medical bills/nursing home payments due will wipe out the checking account. We have limited resources after caring for her for years and cannot afford a lawyer, court fees, etc. We would like to pay off her debts as far as possible utilizing her assets. How can we do this legally without incurring expenses for ourselves? Is there any way to just walk away from this and let the creditors and state figure it out? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Assuming she has $1000 and an old car, you might want to do nothing. You can get the $1000 from the bank under section 3101 of the Probate, Estate and Fiduciary Code if you are a child and go to the bank with a copy of the paid funeral bill and a death certificate. The car can be sold through AAA or other motor vehicle transfer agent. It will cost you thousands of dollars to open an estate and then you will be harassed by creditors. If your mom received Medicaid, hang on to the $1000 for about a year to see if the PA Department of Human Services will file a Medicaid claim against her. They can claim the $1000 as an exception to Rule 3101. You can file an inheritance tax return and “0” it out as I am sure someone paid more than $1000 in funeral expenses which are deductions. Again, you could do nothing and leave the money sit. You will have no personal liability. Her estate, if someone opens one, is the only party who will owe her bills.
Q: Father opened a bank account in his name only in 1974. He was divorced in 1981. The bank account was not mentioned in divorce. He remarried in 1982. He died in 1998. Who does the account belong to? the first wife, current widow or kids? Father opened bank account in his name only in 1974 and he was divorced in 1981. The bank account was not mentioned in divorce. He remarried in 1982. Died in 1998. Who does the account belong to, the first wife, current widow or kids?
A: If he has a will, it goes to the person or persons in the will. If he excludes his widow, she can elect to take against the will. If he has no will, his estate will pass through intestate succession in PA which means the wife get s the first $30,000.00 and the balance is shared between her and the children. If this is any amount of money worth fighting for, I would consult with a lawyer as soon as possible.
Q:I have heard that if I die without a will, the government takes all of my money and property and my heirs receive nothing. Is this correct?
A: Absolutely not, but you would be surprised how many people think so. If you have a valid will at the time of your death, your property and money will pass to whom you name as heirs in the will. This is of course after all estate taxes and expenses are paid. If you die without a will, your property and money will pass according to PA laws of intestate succession, which means Pennsylvania decides what portion of your property passes between your surviving heirs. The other degree of control over your estate that you lose by not having a will is that without a will there is no named Executor and therefore, if not otherwise agreed upon by your heirs, the court decides between your surviving heirs who should be in charge of your estate. In some cases this can lead to a family feud in probate court.