Q: Mom is about to be placed in a nursing home. I want to do the action to be completely out of the situation. I would like to make sure Mom gets any and all that I would be getting in the sale. My siblings need money. Everything I feel should be Mom’s as it is hers to begin with. They made sure the nursing home could not get it. I was not there when all was drawn up, the other siblings were. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: There is too much information missing here to advise. For example, does mom have a will, a testamentary trust, a revocable trust or an irrevocable trust? Is anyone on the deed with mom? When was the deed executed? How is mom paying for nursing care? Is there a Medicaid issue? Do any of her children still live in the home as her caretaker for 2 years prior to her Medicaid application? (if there is one). I suggest that you sit down with an attorney and review all the details and the will or trust or whatever documents you have. There are ways to divest yourself of your inheritance. Your mother can execute another will and you can file a renunciation of inheritance once her will is filed, but this is tricky, and you need an attorney to advise you fully before doing so.
Q: My mother is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. My father has power of attorney over her. They are 85 years old. My sister and I do not live in PA. He doesn’t want to do a will. He sent me a letter in the mail which listed of all his assets and properties that are all paid off. He added in the letter that he wants me to be the executor, I get 3/4 of their estate and my sister gets a 1/4. He is afraid that everything they worked hard for will be given away (he has a lot). He insisted that I sell everything and not give it away. But he won’t get a will. Any advice will be appreciated. If I had some facts like how long it would go through probate? Meanwhile properties sit not maintained. How much will go to the state. If you don’t have a will do you pay more in death taxes or probate court? Thank you! (Alexandria, VA)
A: You need to tell him that his worst fears could be recognized by not having a will done by an experienced attorney which is in full compliance of the law. A bad will can cost his estate and heirs more money in the long run. In PA, a handwritten will, called a “holographic will” signed by the testator and witnessed by two persons who sign as witnesses, is admissible. A handwritten document signed at the end by the testator even if not witnessed by two persons is also admissible. However, in these cases, where the will is not “self-proving” through the notarization process, the witnesses themselves must come to court or their affidavits be obtained, The later instance (not witnessed) will involve a hearing in which the witnesses must be able to testify that the signature is in fact the testator’s signature and the directives in the will are in fact his testamentary wishes. It is a difficult standard to prove and the result would be that the will is inadmissible. If your father wants to give your more of the estate than the intestate laws (no will) provides, he should do a will through an attorney. If he refuses, have him write a document titled “Will”. He will need to write out to whom his property will pass and choose an Executor. Have him sign at the end, then have two witnesses sign beneath him. Make sure these witnesses are disinterested and will be available in the future to come to court or sign affidavits if needed.
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: My dad wrote a will leaving his entire estate to me and my brothers several years ago. Since then he remarried. I’m not sure if he wrote another will or not. I’m just curious if the will he gave us is valid since it isn’t notarized and what happens if he wrote another will leaving everything to his wife acting as if that was the only will to exist. Would the latest one be the valid one? Would it come down to an ugly court battle if something ever happened to him?
A: A will does not have to be notarized to be admitted into probate, however, it makes the probate process easier. It is likely that the witnesses to the will, will need to appear in court to attest they witnessed the will, or provide an affidavit to the effect. Normally, the new will is the one in effect as the new will presumably preempts the prior wills. Most wills have language which states that all prior wills are revoked.
Q: My mom’s not going to be here much longer she’s being released to come home under hospice care. I have the will. The house goes to me and my sister but my sister is power of attorney over my mom my mom doesn’t trust her anymore. I my mom able to change anything on the will? (Lawrenceville, PA)
A: To change the content of a will, normally, a new will must be drafted. One cannot simply make changes to a will by writing on it, or crossing things out. Codicil’s (additions or addendums to wills) were used at one time, before the advent of word processing when wills were handwritten or typewritten. Rewriting the entire will to change one thing was unduly time-consuming and burden. However, the legal requirements for a will and a codicil are the same. The codicil must be executed with the same formality as if it was an original will. Thus, in modern times, most people just draft an entire new will. As long as your mother is competent, I would suggest having her make an appointment with a lawyer who can consult with her and draft a legal document that suits her testamentary wishes.
Q: This is for my dad. He wants to make sure that everything is in place because he knows I will be killing him soon.
A: You both will need a lawyer. Him for estate planning documents and you for homicide charges. Some people try to pull estate planning documents from the internet and do it themselves, but this is not advised. The documents from the internet are sometimes not specifically compliant with the laws of the state in which you live, nor address the specific needs of your situation. Call several lawyers to determine who is in your price range and who you are comfortable with. The attorney can also refer you to a good criminal defense attorney. Perhaps an insanity defense will be appropriate.
Q: My uncle owns 10 acres of property in PA. 17 years ago I was looking for property to build a cottage on. We started talking, and he said “you might as well build it here because I’m leaving you this land in my Will anyway.” We agreed to be “partners”; no written agreement exists, and the property remains titled in his name. I performed all the engineering, design, and construction (I am a Master carpenter). He functioned as a laborer. I kept detailed records of all construction materials, and he invested $45k, while I invested $32k. We continue to remain amicable and are not experiencing any conflict regarding ownership. I am just curious – from these limited details, does this “verbal” agreement, my monetary interest and labor, afford me any implied ownership (does a contract exist) in the property should a conflict ever develop between us? Someone mentioned a Statute of Frauds issue? (North Huntington, PA)
A: I am not sure this is a potential Statue of Frauds problem as it is not a sale of real estate. If a problem occurred between you and he, your position would be much stronger if you had an interest in the real estate. If all work halted due to a disagreement, you would need to sue for your time and materials invested in his property based on his promise. The lawsuit could take years and could be expensive. The problem with him leaving the property to you in his will is that he could change his will at any time. Or, his will may be lost or destroyed at the time that he dies. Or, he needs to apply for Medicaid some day and the property, if in his name, would be included as a Medicaid assets and need to be sold. Perhaps you should discuss your concerns with him. Perhaps transferring title from him to you and he as joint tenants with rights of survivor and sharing real estate taxes would work. If he is open to discussion, consult with a lawyer who has real estate and estate experience.
Q: I am married and my wife and I do not have wills. We heard that not having wills doesn’t really matter to us as we would inherit from each other anyway under PA law. Is this true?
A: This is true if the deceased spouse and you have no surviving child or the deceased spouse has no surviving parent. When a person dies without a will, his or her probate estate passes in accordance with the laws of intestate (no will) succession. Under PA intestate law, if one spouse dies and is survived by a child (who is also the child of the surviving spouse) or a parent, any property of the deceased spouse that would pass through his or her estate will pass to his surviving spouse and a portion of it will also be shared by his surviving child, or if none, a surviving parent. If you are married and have a child or living parents, the only way to make certain that you and your wife inherit from each other is to have husband and wife joint wills prepared by an attorney.