My Mother died Xmas day & left all her possessions to my sister and myself. I reside in AZ, therefore, she named my sister Executrix. It is a small estate <$50,000, therefore, it did not go through probate. I have only chosen a few items, however, my sister will not release them to me until I sign and notarize a letter stating all items I received via the will plus items I have rec'd throughout my life from my Mother be returned to her in the event of my death. Does she have a right to hold my items ransom until she receives such a letter?
Even an estate of $50,000 will need to go through probate if there was real estate in mom's name alone, bank accounts in mom's name alone and other assets such as investments that did not transfer automatically at the time of death.
If your mother had made accounts joint with your sister, those assets belong to your sister.
You really need additional information. You also may want to call the Register of Wills office in the county where your mother resided to see if an estate has been opened.
This answer is for informational purposes only and does not establish an attorney/client relationship.
The short answer to your question is no, your sister does not have that right. She clearly just does not want things that were your mom's to pass to other people at your death. (Of course, you could offer to sign something -- even have her sign a similar document to you!) I don't know enough about your circumstances, whether you have children, what kinds of assets your sister is concerned about, and if you'd like to pass them on to your children or stay in the family or what. If they're intended to go to you, then they go to you and nobody has anything to say about what you do with them.
I'm just trying to give you ideas to problem-solve. There are all kinds of questions to ask and be answered before anyone can help you with a game plan.
One thing I do know, however, is that Attorney Blair is correct: even an estate under $50,000 -- as long as they were things that weren't in joint name w/ right of survivorship or have beneficiaries named for them -- must be probated. Under $50,000, you can do a simplified probate procedure if you want, but you still have to do probate. And you have to do an inheritance tax return.
If your sister didn't file for probate, ask her how she would even plan to enforce an agreement between the two of you for your mom's things? If she doesn't file for probate and she goes in to court to enforce the agreement she may end up with bigger problems when the court finds out she never filed an estate. All executors are required by law to do everything that's required of them or there can be legal consequences. Does she want to pay belated inheritance tax plus 25 or 30 years, for example, of interest and penalties?
And that brings me to authority of the executor: their authority is to administer the estate in accordance with the wishes of the deceased and in accordance with PA law. That's it. They can't make their own rules. There is no winging it! Your sister can potentially get in trouble with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue AND the Register of Wills/Orphans Court of the county where the estate was supposed to be filed. And you can certainly bring an action to have her removed as executor and have someone else appointed, or to force her to open an estate and fulfill all the duties including documents, tax returns, etc. It's not that I discourage you from making an amicable agreement with her if you want to; it's that you really need advice as to the proper procedures for the estate, optimally from an attorney, so you can take action if your sister doesn't fulfill her responsibilities.
All of us here have private practices, so you can certainly contact any of us privately and ask any of us on Avvo for further assistance. Or talk to another attorney of your choice. Even a letter from a lawyer to your sister could move mountains.
Good luck to you. I am so sorry for your loss and for the added aggravation.
I maintain a private practice in Malvern, PA. This answer is general information based on my education and experience, and is not to be taken as specific legal advice. I do welcome new clients, so if you would like specific advice or services, please contact me privately. Prior to becoming my client, you will be required to sign or signify assent to a representation agreement, and you may have to pay a retainer depending on the type of case.
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