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Probate and estate FAQs

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2023 | Estate Planning

If I die without a will, will the state of Pennsylvania take my property?

No, if you die without a will, or “intestate,” your property goes to your “heirs” under Pennsylvania law – your closest family relatives, but if you have no family relatives, your estate could be forfeit or “escheat” to the Commonwealth. (The lesson?  Make your own choices! Otherwise it’s like letting some clowns in Harrisburg decide who will inherit from you

I’m named in someone’s will as the executor. Am I the executor already?

No, you are named to become the executor, but to be officially appointed you have to file the paperwork including probating the will, show ID and a death certificate, pay the file fee, and raise your right hand and swear the oath to lawfully administer the estate. Only then  will you  become appointed as the executor.

What’s the difference between an executor and administrator?

An executor is named in a Will, while an administrator is appointed when there is no will (or sometimes when those named in the will cannot serve). The powers and duties are almost the same.

I had my daughter’s name on my bank account and she died before me. Do I owe tax on my own money?

Unfortunately, unbelievably, yes! You owe tax on inheriting back half of your own money from your daughter! The PA inheritance tax rule about joint accounts is hard and fast, based on just the names on the account. There are no exceptions for pleading that it was all your money, and not hers.

My dad left me a car owned, titled and registered in his name only. Do I have to go through the whole probate estate procedure just to get title to the car?

No. PennDOT doesn’t make too many things easy in life, but you can use a PennDOT form to change title to a car owned by the decedent only, without opening probate. Even though it sounds exactly like a probate asset – owned, titled, and registered to the person who died only – there are exceptions, such as this one.

My deadbeat brother who lived in mom’s house when she died, without paying rent, is still there. Can he stay?

It’s complicated, but yes, under PA law, when an heir or a beneficiary to whom real estate is specifically bequeathed  lived in the home with the permission of the   owner at the time they died, they have some (not clearly defined) right to stay, and generally without paying rent. Court cases and judges in the past have said that a reasonable time to stay might be from six months up to even multiple years, but it’s  determined at the discretion of the court.

After my grandma died in the nursing home, the commonwealth claimed the property she left behind. Can they do that?

Yes. When someone who died was in a nursing home with Medicaid paying for them, under the Medicaid “Estate Recovery” program, Pennsylvania can claim reimbursement for Medicaid long-term care costs advanced, if there is no  beneficiary or co-owner on the property.

After my grandpa died in the nursing home, the nursing home sued me! Do I have to pay?

Under PA’s “Filial Responsibility Law,” a care facility can sue a spouse, parent or child (but not a grandchild) of an “indigent” patient for unpaid costs of care. But there are protections written in the law for you, too.

A will says I am to inherit something but I don’t want it. Can I refuse it?

Yes, you can “disclaim” something – the opposite of claiming it – in writing, but only if you haven’t already accepted benefit or value, or exercised control over the property already.

The will also says I am to be in charge as executor, but I don’t want to do that either. Can I refuse?

Yes, you can “renounce” your right to serve, and even say who you want to be appointed in your place. This is true whether you are named in a will as an Executor, or are in line to be appointed as an Administrator as an heir, but not named in a Will.

I live in a house I inherited from my aunt but I never changed it to become the owner of record. What do I need to do?

Ordinarily you would need to open a probate estate and have someone appointed as Executor or Administrator deed the house to you (and also do all the other required paperwork and tax returns). If a longer period of time has gone by, there may be a shortcut method, but you will not acquire good and clear and marketable title right away, as you would if you did the full-scale probate paperwork.

A person who died had my name on all their accounts with them as a joint owner. Why do I still have to pay inheritance tax?

Under PA law you have to pay inheritance tax at the applicable rate, depending on how you are related, on the net value of the fractional interest that you inherited, after the bills are paid. (If an account was made joint less than a year before the date of death, the whole value will be still subject to tax.)