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Category: Estate Litigation
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My mother died a resident of Bucks County and named her sister as her executor. I am the beneficiary of the entire estate. My aunt filed the will last month, but has changed the locks on the house and refuses to answer my calls. She has a history of alcohol abuse and I am worried that she is spending the estate money on herself. Is there any way that I could freeze the accounts and protect my inheritance?
Pennsylvania executors are given a great deal of power to act on their own, without court supervision, and are not obligated to share much information with you on demand. This works well when the executor is honest, as the estate can be managed less expensively.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My Dad passed away this month. When he died, I found out that I was still on his Gloucester County lease as a cosigner. The lease was signed in 2011. I had moved out in 2013, letting the management company know that I wanted off the lease. When I asked if the management company had anything for me to sign, they replied ‘no’. When I moved out, my Dad had let his brother, his brother’s son, and his brother’s grandson move in. They are still there and the landlord knows of the situation, asking them for money for every day they have been there past May. At best, when my Dad died I thought I would be morally obligated to remove my Dad’s property and clean. Instead, the feeling I am getting is that the landlord wants to hold me responsible for damages, utilities, and possible future rent. Dad had nothing and I am a stay-at-home mom of special needs children.
You have mentioned a number of potential issues. First, the only person who has the authority to act for your dad after he has died is the Personal Representative of his estate (if he had a Will) or the Administrator of his estate (if he had no Will). It sounds like your dad (or his estate) owes the landlord some money.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: I am the executor of my father’s estate in Lehigh County. My sister and I do not speak, so the process has been terrible. She refuses to sign the family settlement agreement I sent her, and instead has petitioned the Orphans’ Court to make me account. Do I need to respond?
Yes, you must respond to the petition. As a beneficiary, your sister has every right to ask that you file a formal account with the Court. She does not have to show that you have done anything wrong, only that she is a beneficiary. She may have done you a favor, because it is clear that she was never going to sign your family settlement agreement. This would mean dragging the estate administration on potentially for years. Now you get a court-mandated end date.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My dad named me his power of attorney. For many years I helped pay his bills and care for him. After years of in-house care and then a nursing home in Lehigh County, all his money was gone except one small account which we both split. My brother thinks I stole the money, but that is not true. He has served me a citation to account for my actions under the power of attorney, what do I do now?
By accepting the position of agent through your father’s Power of Attorney, you became a fiduciary. As a fiduciary, you owed your father a duty to look out for his interests. But that job also comes with the obligation to explain your actions as agent to certain people.
An interested party can ask for you to account for all the actions you took as the agent. During his life, this could have been your father. Now that your father has died, your brother (as the heir to half his estate) has the right to ask for a power of attorney accounting from you because if it is found that you took any money, half of anything recovered will go to him.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: The will says that all funds are to be equally divided between the siblings. The executor is dividing things unevenly. We had an agreement how things were to be divided. What can I do if the Executor is not holding up her end of the will?
I believe what you are describing is an estate that has been opened with the Philadelphia Register of Wills and Letters Testamentary issued to one person, the Executor. The Will says that the estate is to be divided up equally between the deceased person’s children but, the Executor has decided on her own to divide up and distribute the estate’s assets unequally.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: I am the administrator of my brother’s estate in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I have advertised the estate and paid all the valid creditors, but a neighbor of my brother has made a claim for $50,000 that I believe has no validity. Can I distribute the estate funds without paying him?
The quick answer is yes, but the right answer is that you should not.
As the executor, you are free to make “at risk” distributions. An “at risk” distribution is that may put your personal assets at risk. Your Bucks County Estate Administration Lawyer works hard to keep you out of trouble. If you ignore your brother’s neighbor, you could be putting yourself at risk.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: For years, my parents lent money to my cousin and his wife to pay their children’s education. To my surprise, at their deaths, my cousin’s wife was named executor. She “hired” my cousin who is a CPA to handle the estate’s books. Over a year has passed and they refuse to give me any information about the estate and are calling the loans to them, “gifts”. What can I do?
I take it that you are the residuary beneficiary of the will? If so, you have the right to demand through a formal accounting to know where every penny went and a justification for every expense. You also have a right to investigate whether all those years of funding education and other money transfers were gifts or loans.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My father died a few months ago as a resident of Bucks County. I was named as executor in his Will. My siblings and I need our inheritance now to pay off some bills, but we are worried about my dad’s creditors coming forward and asking to be paid. Is there a statute of limitations for creditors to come forward? If I don’t wait, can I ever be personally responsible for the estate debts?
Your father’s death did not end his obligation to pay unpaid bills. By taking on the job of executor, you have the power and duty to marshal his assets and pay his outstanding bills. Compared to other states, Pennsylvania is creditor-friendly. If you have notice of a creditor, you are expected to address the claim.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My husband’s aunt willed him a share of the proceeds of her jewelry, but the executor told us that the money was mine and sent me a check. We looked up the will ourselves at the Gloucester County Surrogate, and it looks like my husband should get more money. The executor will not answer our questions, so what can we do?
As an heir listed in the will, your husband has the legal right to force the executor to account for the estate. New Jersey has a system where the executor, or personal representative, is given a great deal of freedom without official oversight. This system relies on the heirs bringing mismanagement to the Surrogate’s attention.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: I am the executor of my Mother’s estate in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I have advertised the estate and paid all the valid creditors, but a neighbor of my mother has made a claim for a five-figure sum of money that has no validity. Can I make distribution without paying him?
The quick answer is yes, but the right answer is that you should not.
As the executor, you are free to make “at risk” distributions, meaning a distribution that may put you personally at risk. Any experienced Chester County probate lawyer should advise you that ignoring your mother’s neighbor could put yourself at risk. Remember, even when your attorney’s asking you to slow down or take a few extra steps, they’re trying to prevent you from causing yourself more problems later on. You might be motivated to close out your duties quickly, but that neighbor could make some major hassles for you—even if their claim’s not valid.
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