Answers To Commonly Asked Estates And Trust Questions

I used a form will on the Internet, made some changes to it, and signed it a few years ago. Can you help me make changes to it?

When you go to the dentist's office, do you ask them for step-by-step instructions as to how to perform a root canal on yourself? From the very start, making a will is best left to the professionals. By "doing it yourself" with an online form, you're immediately starting at a disadvantage as you're not exchanging ideas with another person about your own personal financial situation, about your different assets and liabilities, about who your beneficiaries will be, and about who will manage your estate.

Online will forms are very often drafted not by attorneys, but by paralegals or by other non-professionals and they may have provisions that are completely unsuitable for you. Tax considerations sometimes play a role in how you want to plan your estate. Is saving a few bucks on the front end really worth the potential hassle to your survivors and cost to your estate if you create an estate document that is flawed and doesn't meet your survivors' needs? Contact us at 484-441-6413 to help you address your vital needs.

My widowed aunt passed away a week ago. I think she had a will and I think I'm mentioned in it. But I don't have access to her house and my cousins, her kids, won't let me inside to look for the will. What do I do?

If your aunt had a will, then she named someone to be executor (or executrix, if it's a woman) in the will. The executor is the one who "stands in your aunt's shoes" and has the power to safeguard her assets. The executor is the one who, after the will is found, must take it to the Register of Wills to be probated, and then the executor will be sworn in and authorized to act as executor by the Register of Wills.

Once the executor is appointed, the executor's job is to locate all assets and debts, pay appropriate taxes, pay appropriate debts, and then distribute the assets according to the terms of the will. Once the will is probated, the original is kept at the Register of Wills. If you take under the will, you should be contacted early on by the executor.But if you aren't contacted, you can check your status with the Register of Wills.

You will have to show up in person if you want to review the file and the will at the Register of Wills. Before you go, you may want to call the Register to see whether someone has probated your aunt's will. Call us at 484-441-6413 to help you address these kinds of questions.

My widowed mother just had a stroke and once she's out of the hospital, she'll be going to a rehabilitation center. But after she gets out of the rehab center, it looks like she has to be admitted to a skilled nursing facility for the rest of her life. The nursing home says she has to spend down almost all of her cash and sell other assets before she will be eligible for Medicaid. She was hoping that when she died, her assets could go to her grandchildren to help pay for college. What can I do?

If you're a senior citizen, planning for these kinds of contingencies and to make sure your loved ones are protected is common. Just as we use accountants to help us prepare our taxes and to minimize how much we legally must pay for taxes, Medicaid planning is used to minimize how much of our assets we must use before becoming eligible for benefits.

It is human nature to want to have full control over all your assets until the day you pass away, but such control may make your estate vulnerable to Medicaid eligibility requirements. Through the use of gifts, funding and creation of trusts, and tax planning, you can set up a plan to shelter assets from nursing home claims long before you need to enter a nursing home. You will need an attorney to help guide you. Call us at 484-441-6413 to help you address these kinds of issues.

I'm the beneficiary under a family trust, but my uncle, the trustee, won't let me have my money right now, when I really need it. What can I do?

If you're a beneficiary under a trust, the trust will explain the circumstances when you can get access to your money and how much you're entitled to. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand the language in the trust and then how to apply it to your circumstances. Sometimes trustees interpret the language one way and beneficiaries interpret it another way, leading to conflicts. Sometimes beneficiaries think that the person who funded the trust intended one thing, but those intentions are completely contradicted by the wording of the trust. Sometimes trustees don't get along with beneficiaries and trustees let personal animosity get in the way of performing their duties under the trust. Call us at 484-441-6413 so we can help explain your rights or help you assert your rights against the trustee as a beneficiary under the trust.

My widowed father just had a heart attack and stroke, and now he's going to a rehabilitation center. They say his recovery will be slow but eventually he'll be able to go home to his condominium. In the meantime, his mortgage, condo association fees, and utilities need to be paid. He gets a pension and social security and there is enough money in his account to pay these bills, but he's not able to write and sign checks. What can I do?

If you're a senior citizen, this scenario is common. If you plan ahead and designate an agent under a Durable General Power of Attorney, then when you become incapacitated, your agent can step in and sign checks and otherwise manage your assets on your behalf. Once you recover from your disability, you can tell your agent that you have things under control, revoke the agent's power, and manage those assets on your own. Without a Power of Attorney, your loved ones may have to go to court to be designated as your guardian so that they can make decisions about your financial affairs and about your medical affairs when dealing with brokerages, banks, and medical providers. You should use an attorney to help guide you. Contact us at 484-441-6413 to help you address these kinds of issues.

My mother passed away a few weeks ago and she had a will where I share the estate 50/50 with my sister. My sister is the executrix of the estate, and she's not telling me what's going on. I really need the money from my mother's estate. What should I do?

Your sister will need time to locate all your mother's assets and figure out what debts are owed. She will also need to figure out how much is owed in taxes. Once those claims are paid, she will need to figure out how much is left and how much you and she are owed from the estate.

If there are enough assets in the estate, she may be willing to advance you some of them until the estate can be settled. As an estate beneficiary, you will have the right to demand an accounting from her, whether informal or formal. An accounting is how the executrix demonstrates to you (and in a formal accounting to the court, too) where the assets of the estate came from, where they went to in order to pay claims, and how much is left to distribute. If the executrix is ignoring the responsibilities of her position and doing nothing, you can seek her removal by taking her to Orphans' Court.

If you think the executrix is stealing or self-dealing or squandering the assets of the estate, you can have her removed by taking her to court and by suing her for "surcharge" (i.e., compelling her to pay back the money that she owes to the estate and associated damages.) When making sure an executrix is doing the right thing or taking an executrix to court, you will need an attorney to help guide you and litigate on your behalf. Call us at 484-441-6413 to help you address these kinds of issues.

My wife and I had wills and other estate documents drawn up for us by an Arizona attorney while we were living there. I just got a new job, and my family and I are moving to Pennsylvania. Are these documents valid in Pennsylvania?

Generally, yes. If one state recognizes the documents as valid and enforceable, then another U.S. state will recognize their validity, too. This is called comity between states. This is not to be confused with "comedy" unless you find this kind of thing funny. Or, to put it another way, it is covered by Article IV of the United States Constitution dealing with "full faith and credit." While the Arizona estate documents should be enforceable in Pennsylvania, you may want to consult with a tax attorney, a financial planner, and/or an estate planner to determine to what extent, if any, Pennsylvania's laws will affect your overall estate strategy. Call us at 484-441-6413 to help you address these kinds of issues.


I have your address, but I'm lost on the streets of Media! Where are you located? Where can I park?

We're on the second floor of a modern bank building in downtown Media. We're NOT in a renovated rowhome or townhouse. There is no address number posted on our building. We're in the Santander Bank building, which is catty-corner to (and southwest of) the Media Courthouse. The bank building is colored a medium gray and has a big red "Santander" sign and red awning on it.

Our offices are on the second floor. The first floor of the bank has tellers, the bank vault, loan officers, the ATM, and lollipops. The second floor has offices. If you're here to visit us, please us the bank parking lot. The bank parking lot is not just for bank customers and bank employees, it's also for second floor tenants and their employees and clients.