What can be done?

Q: My wife and her sister are joint owners of a house and property left by their mother. The sister does not care anything about the property and pays nothing on the up keep of property. We pay all the taxes, home owner’s insurance and all utilities and have been doing this for 5 years plus. We made a fair offer to sister to buy her out and she refuses! Is there anything we can do to force her to remove her name from the deed or how can I get her to pay me back for all the money and upkeep we have put into house? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: I would show the deed to an attorney to check how you own the deed. If you are tenants in common, you can sell your half or bring an action in equity against her for reimbursement of your upkeep of her half. If you are joint tenants with rights of survivorship, your only remedy that I am aware is a partition action. These actions are rather expensive as you will need to pay for appraisals and pay a court appointed mediator to review the entire matter.

How can I stop my sisters from giving away our family home and their money?

Q: I own a house in joint tenancy with my two older sisters. They live in the house and I do not. One has had two strokes and doesn’t really know what’s going on, and the other is making very poor financial decisions, is very angry, forgetful, and talks to herself. I fear she may have dementia but I don’t know how to get her to submit to an exam by a specialist. Now they have a new “friend” to whom they have given power of attorney, and who helped them create a will naming her as a beneficiary. A medical caregiver in the house told me she saw one of my sisters give this “friend” the deed to the house. They are writing her checks for thousands of dollars. This has all happened in the course of three months. The only asset is the house, and they have income from their pensions. I am now staying with them because I feared their friend was planning to move in. How do I keep the house safe, and how do I get rid of the friend? My sisters think she’s wonderful because she drives them and has helped them clean up their house, but she is poisoning their relationship with me which has been good until now. (Allison Park, PA)

A: You raise some concerns here which touch on elder abuse and financial exploitation. You may want to contact adult protective services to do a home visit and assessment. You should ask the friend to allow you to examine the POA and any other documents your sisters have signed. Make copies if you can. You will also benefit from consulting with an attorney about the suspected financial exploitation and what would be involved if you wish to become their guardian. As far as the deed, you would need to sign the deed in order to transfer ownership to anyone, assuming the property is held as joint tenants with right of survivor.


Joint tenant liability

Q: Who has to pay for a contract signed by the co-owner of a joint account after he dies? The co-owner of a joint account has signed a contract shortly before he dies. The invoice was received after his death. Does the invoice for such a contract have to be paid from the joint account by the surviving co-owner or from the (probate) estate of the deceased? The joint account was set up by the deceased so that his bills can be paid in case he becomes incapable.

A: I will answer this the way I understand it the question. Generally, the joint account should have nothing to do with the contract. Unless, there was some weird agreement in the contract that it was to be paid from the joint account. When a person dies, property held in their name only, become an asset of their estate. Debts and bills for services provided to them in their name only, are now debts of the estate. Jointly held property, is not part of an estate. If you are the joint account owner with the dead person, the account balance passes to you by operation of law upon his or her death. The joint account surviving tenant can liquidate the account and close it. He or she will need to pay inheritance tax on the deceased’s person’s half.