From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: I am the executor of my mother’s estate in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. I have advertised the estate and paid all the valid creditors, but a neighbor of my mother has made a claim for $10,000.00 that has no validity. Can I make distribution without paying him?
Although it’s technically possible, the correct answer is that you should not.
As the executor, you are free to make “at risk” distributions. That means if you later lose a claim, you’re personally at risk. Keep in mind, Pennsylvania is a rather creditor-friendly state. Your Lehigh County probate lawyer exists to keep you out of trouble, and should advise you weigh the long-term financial risks against any short-term desire to distribute those assets. You might not think that your mother’s neighbor has any right to those funds, but consider what could happen if he gets his claim in front of a judge.
If you, as the executor, know about a creditor’s claim made within the one-year period after you properly advertised the estate, then you are expected to address that claim. If you don’t, and you then distribute all the assets, that creditor can petition to force you to account and explain why he was not paid.
Even if you convince the judge that the claim is invalid, you’ll still have to pay for the time in court. Since you already distributed all the funds, those costs may come out of your own pocket. Worse, if the judge finds the claim valid, you could end up paying for all the court time plus paying the $10,000 claim yourself.
Instead, you’re free to hire an attorney experienced in Orphans’ Court litigation to file a Formal Account with the Lehigh County Orphans’ Court. In this accounting, your attorney will explain that there is a claim and that you question its validity. You will then have a hearing where the judge will listen to both sides and make a ruling. If you follow the ruling, then you’re personally protected from paying out that claim.
If you have questions about Lehigh County Estate Litigation, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.