Q: My mom is going to pass away soon, and my dad’s name is still on the title. He hasn’t been around in 20 years. He didn’t have much to do with the payoff of the mortgage at all. I don’t even know where he is to ask him to sign the paperwork for my mother. (McKeesport, PA)
A: The easiest thing to do would be to ask him. If you don’t know where he is start asking around-family, friends, his last employer, etc. You would be amazed what you can find on the internet. If necessary, hire a private detective or person locator. Perhaps he has grown up and will sign over the deed to make amends. If you cannot locate him or he will not do it, it is practically impossible to take the name of a property owner off a deed without their signature on a new deed, or without litigation. If he and your mother are owners as husband and wife, or legally, what they call by entireties, his share will pass to her if he would die. However, I am not suggesting that you put a hit out on him. Conversely, he will own the entire house when she passes. You may also want to check if they were ever divorced. Often in a divorce, one spouse agrees to convey title to the other in marriage settlement agreement or divorce agreement. The other option is to consult with a lawyer about a filing an action for partition of real estate. If that can be done with entireties property, the court may accept alternate service by publication if your lawyer cannot locate him. If he does not respond to the published notice, a default judgment could be entered, and his name stricken from the deed.
Q: My brother and I own property as joint tenants Can I alter the deed so that my wife and I own my 50% as tenants by entirety? We are getting older and he would also like to add his wife to the deed. (West Mifflin, PA)
A: You cannot alter a deed, or just amend it by writing on it. You need to draft a new deed. I suggest you do not handle this yourself and seek an attorney. There would be an attorney fee, and a filing fee of $162 paid to the county. That is it. The transfer is exempt from realty transfer tax so there is no transfer tax to pay. Therefore, it is relatively inexpensive transfer. It would be worth a legal consultation to ensure this transfer is the best thing for all parties involved.
Q: My husband and I lived in this home over twenty years. He passed away in 2016. His named is the only one on the deed and I I’m trying to get it in my name so I can refinance it. What do I do? (Forest Hills, PA)
A: If your husband had a will and left the house to you, or everything in his estate to you, you need to file the will and open an estate. As Executor, you can easily transfer the house to yourself unless it is an insolvent estate or there is a mortgage in which case you will need approval of the mortgagee. If there was no will and you have children, or he has children from a prior relationship, PA intestate law dictates who inherits and it would be you and the children. The best case for you is if you are sole heir in his will or there is no will and no children, there is no mortgage and sufficient cash in the estate to pay the expenses. Make an appointment with an estate attorney.
Q: My aunt oversees my grandmother’s finances and property. We recently discovered a transfer of one of her properties, which has a value of over 1/2 million dollars, has been transferred into my aunt’s name for no price. She admitted to putting in her name but my grandmother hasn’t said anything. My grandmother has five other children and my aunt did this behind my family’s back. Even if my grandmother granted this, which I don’t think she did, she no longer has a sound mind and has a problem with her memory. My dad plans on talking to my grandma but at this point is there any way to resolve this? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: These family situations are difficult. It is always possible your grandmother wanted your aunt to have the property. If you want to examine the transfer, hire a lawyer to look at the deed and the entire situation to determine if there are any red flags surrounding the transfer. Is your aunt operating under a valid Power of Attorney? Is the deed legally sufficient? You never know what you may find out. If the deed was prepared by an attorney he or she would have or should have examined your grandmother for competency prior to signing the deed. If you have an opinion from her doctor which states that at the time she signed the deed she would have been incompetent you have a stronger case. If your case is based on speculation, gut instinct, and suspicion, you will have an uphill battle. If you find that there are legal grounds to challenge the deed, an attorney can file a petition to rescind the deed or a quiet title action in court.
Q: My Dad passed away recently. My Mom is living but has dementia. They both have wills that state the property goes to the surviving spouse or if incompetent (Mom is) to me, the only child. I want to make sure the family property can never be taken away by medical situations, etc. (Swissvale, PA)
A: This is something that must be done under advice of a lawyer. First, mother needs to be competent to sign a deed. Moreover, there are many questions that must be asked to determine if this is an advisable transfer. The foremost question would be whether there is a possibility of her needing to apply for Medicaid in the five years following the transfer. If so, and you have not lived in this home for the preceding two years as a caretaker, this transfer could render her ineligible for Medicaid to the extent of the value of the transfer. Secondly, if you do not reside in this home, your mother will pay more in real estate taxes in that she will lose her homestead exemption and any senior citizen’s discounts available.
ELDER LAW, REAL ESTATE, TRANSFER, DEED, COMPETENCY, MEDICAID
Q: A family member moved in with my grandmother sold her house. My grandmother’s name was forged on the documents. We need to get it back.
A: I do believe your recourse is by hiring an attorney file a petition to rescind fraudulent transfer or a quiet title action. If you are correct this transfer was done through fraud. If grandmother is competent and can testify that the signature on the deed is not hers and she did not sign, the case is easier. If she is incompetent to testify, it will be a little more involved. You may need her doctor to testify of her mental competence at the time the deed was supposedly signed and perhaps even a handwriting expert. I would see an attorney as soon as possible so something can be filed before the house is transferred again.
Q: If a cosigner on a mortgage has assumed all financial responsibility due to the joint owner’s default what is the process to get that joint owner off the deed or title? In Pennsylvania. No relation or marriage was involved just an act of good faith. The other party is not agreeable or even available or whereabouts unknown. Concerns around the other party’s debts continuing to mount in the way of liens on property. Intent to keep property but need to remove negligent party’s interests and ownership.
A: If your information is correct, that you are on the deed to real estate with someone else and the someone else will not sign off on a deed, you have a problem. If they are disagreeable, you may need to buy their interest out, or otherwise convince them to sign a new deed from both of you to you. If that is not possible, you will need to file an action for partition for real estate, which is expensive and time consuming. If their whereabouts are unknown, you may be able to serve them by public notice or advertising. You would need to discuss all the details with a lawyer for a more definite answer. Also, you may have a potential problem if the mortgagee (bank/lender) will not agree to taking the other person off the deed. You would need to seek their permission.
Q: Grandmother was paying $14k/month to private homecare agency so I (grandson) moved in to take over her care before she ran out of savings. She has paid me $2,400/month for the same care, and I have reported the money on my taxes as income. She now needs to go to a nursing home, but will only be able to pay out of pocket for a few months. Over the 18 months I’ve cared for her, she has paid me a total of about $40k. I know that if she had just been giving me her money, we would not be eligible for Medicaid due to the transfer penalty. Is the transfer penalty still a risk given that she was paying me for a service that would have otherwise cost her much more? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Very possibly. Be careful. Caretaker payments to family members without proper documentation and receipts can raise red flags with Medicaid and yes can in fact be viewed as a transfer without consideration within five years of Medicaid eligibility. The fact that you reported the income on your tax return is important. You would be safer if you have a caretaker contract signed by grandmother in place that is the type of document approved by Medicaid. You should consult with an elder law or estate attorney before you do anything .
Q: If my wife transfers her house to me, is that a disqualifying transfer under Medicaid in Pennsylvania? I was told that if my wife goes into a nursing home and then immediately transfers her home to me (the house is in her name only), then she can still qualify for Medicaid – is this true? Isn’t there a 5-year look back period? I was also told that the look back period was eliminated.
A: Transfers between spouses generally don’t trigger penalties. The five year look back is alive and well. A spouse’s principal residence is an exempt resource. The PA Department of Public Welfare and Medicaid rules are complicated and if you have assets worthy of preserving, doing this alone without the assistance of an attorney can end up costing you. Consult an elder law attorney to make sense of all of this.