Q: My son was killed in a single car accident in Pennsylvania, where he also was a resident. He had no will. The auto insurance paid for the car (he owed nothing on it) payable to the “estate of (his name)” in the amount of $11,200. I was not going to open an estate for such a small amount. Can I use the Small Estate Affidavit under the 3101(d) Probate Code to have the insurance company make the check payable to me? He had no wife or children. I realize 3101(d) just covers up to $11,000. I would be willing to ask the insurance company to forego the $200 if they will reissue the check to me. The insurance company says they can only make the check payable to whoever the car was titled to. Any suggestions on how to handle this situation? Thanks. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A I believe the statute reads, accident, life, etc. so I am not sure why they will not pay up to $11,000.00. Sometimes, claims people at insurance companies, especially if they are not in PA, are not familiar with the statute. You may want to send a copy to them and highlight the applicable portions of Section (d). Whether the issue is the $200.00 excess with them, I don’t know. I would think you can sign a waiver of that and the $200.00 would then be transferred to the PA Department of Unclaimed Property.
Q: I have the original will with signatures, however, it is not notarized. The will has 2 executors who have not started any legal proceedings to settle my mother’s estate due to them not wanting the responsibility. The estate includes a house and an Allstate insurance claim. The will states that my mother’s four children and her boyfriend (executor #1) are to be willed her house, belongings and any monies left. Two of my siblings (over 18) still reside in my mother’s home. I pay the property taxes as there is no mortgage and they pay the utilities. The Allstate claim is from an accident settlement my mother received for a car accident that turned her quadriplegic. We believe this Allstate claim is to pay back Medicare since the settlement monies were put in a trust for her medical expenses. To our understanding, once Medicare is paid, whatever monies left over will be split amongst all parties listed in the will. To our knowledge it is over $400,000 that Allstate must disburse. Us four siblings have no clue how to move forward with getting her estate settled and being legally put on the deed to her house. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: It sounds doable. A will is not required to be notarized to be legal and admitted to probate. As stated, if she signed at the end of the document and two witnesses have signed below her, it should be admitted. If the boyfriend does not want to be executor, he can renounce, and the testate heirs (in the will) can choose another person to serve if they all agree. Are you sure it is Medicare and not Medicaid? My thought is that it is Medicaid who has a lien, and they will be need notified of the estate and settled with. I think the more complicated issue may be dealing with the two siblings who live in the house. Nothing here is that unusual that an estate attorney cannot help you with so you need to make an appointment.
Q: He had his lawyer do his will after the diagnosis. The doctor giving him a 10-year possible lifespan prognosis. He has no wife or children. He has two siblings older than him and nieces and nephews. We are not romantic, but we have social outings and travel together. He pays. He also gives me around $700 a month to help pay my mortgage. I am 74. I fear when he passes that I could have trouble from his sisters and the nieces and nephews contesting the will. His estate consists of a 2015 Corvette Stingray, a 2016 Rav 4, a $180,000 home and about $150,000 in the bank plus a coin collection. No bills other than monthly utilities and living expenses. What should I do when the time comes? (Clairton, PA)
A: If he was competent when he executed the will, and the will is in compliance with the law, you should be fine. Anybody can say they will contest a will, but it is difficult to do. If the testator was competent and there is no clear and convincing evidence that the will was a product of coercion or undue influence, they have no claim. Because you are not married to him and you are not family, is irrelevant. He is free to leave his estate to whomever he wishes. There is nothing you can do except make sure his original will is preserved and kept safe. If it would disappear before he dies, then his biological heirs will inherit from him, and you will be out of the picture.
Q; Mom in Nursing home with Medicaid for 7 months. Dad paid cash for her. Mom died in May 20l6. Dad died July 20l6 with $70,000 in his bank account and the house. We never received a bill from Medicaid. We are in probate, but no response from Medicaid. The attorney said they lost the bill. We don’t want to be involved in Medicaid Fraud.
A: You need to ask your attorney what the status of the Medicaid claim is. Generally, once an estate is opened, the estate has an obligation to notify the state’s Medicaid program of an estate being opened, in which county it has been opened, the docket number and the contact person for the estate. Once this is done, Medicaid is considered to have been put on notice of the estate and to promptly file their claim. If the estate was legally advertised, in theory, all claimants have on year from the first date of advertising to file a claim. Even so, a Medicaid claim normally must be satisfied.
Q: Does cash under the mattress have to go to probate court when somebody dies? The death person gave this money to relatives to hold to prevent creditors of the estate from taking it when he dies. It is impossible for the creditor of the estate to know that this cash exists. A probate lawyer told the two adult children after examining all bank statements of the death person that it needs to be reported. The creditors think that this money was spend. The death person was living rent free in a house that legally belonged to relatives. (Uniontown, PA)
A: Yes, it must be reported. It is considered property of the “death person” in the form of cash and part of their estate. It must be reported on the estate Inventory and estate Inheritance Tax Return.
Q: I was the beneficiary of my Dad’s military death insurance when he recently passed away. I don’t have my Dad’s last will and testament. 2 other family members have the will though. Am I legally entitled to have a copy? If so, what is the procedure for me to acquire the will if they don’t want to give me a copy?
A: You deserve answers to your questions. If your father died with any property in his name, a house, car, bank accounts, annuities, etc., it may be necessary to open an estate to pass this property on to his heirs. If your family has filed the will, and thus opened an estate, you can obtain a copy from your local Register of Wills. If you are in Pittsburgh, the Register of Wills is in the City-County Building at 414 Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh. If family members will not share a copy with you upon request, that is unfortunate. If so, don’t despair, you can seek the help of a lawyer. A lawyer can send them a letter and if still no response, have them summoned to court to produce the will by filing a Petition for Rule to Show Cause.
Q: I am trying to receive unclaimed money from my mother’s and father’s estate. The unclaimed amounts are not yet with the state, but are being held by Wells Fargo. I am told I need Letters of Appointment for each. Where and how do I get them? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Banks and financial institutions often tell people to “get letters”, or “get a short certificate.’ It sounds like a simple process as if every attorney has a stack of them on file that he can hand out for the asking. What these terms actually mean is that an estate needs to be opened in court. This is usually because the asset is titled in the decedent’s name and can only be passed on to another person from the estate of the decedent. Opening an estate involves preparing and filing a Petition for Probate, estate advertising, Notice to Heirs, Certification of Notice to Heirs, an estate Inventory, an inheritance tax return, possibly income tax preparation and closing of the estate. You should not do this on your own and will need an attorney. My advice is to consult with an attorney. There may be a way to get this money without opening an estate. Some companies accept Waiver of Estate Affidavits, especially if the company is based in another state with different or more liberal probate laws. Also, you may be able to accomplish obtaining this money by a Petition for Small Estate. It has some formality and must go through court but generally should involve less legal fees and time.
Q: Lender is considering foreclosure however no payments have been made in almost 5 years. Owner recently passed away and the beneficiaries want to keep house but the amount owed on the home equity line of credit would put the house too far under water. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I am not sure of the significance of “contract under seal” here. I would have to see the mortgage papers or look at the on-line docket. This sounds like an estate issue to me. If the home is in the name of the decedent, this is an estate debt and no one else’s debt. If the mortgage balance exceeds the market value of the home, the heirs must decide how bad they want to keep the home. If there is enough liquid cash in the estate, the heirs may be able to pay the lien off or interest the bank in refinancing. If not, this may be an insolvent estate and therefore let the bank foreclose. You may be able to negotiate a deed in lieu of foreclosure with the bank and avoid a messy foreclosure and more fees and charges. You need to be asking these questions to the estate attorney. If you do not have one, you need to get one.
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.