Lawyer | Pittsburgh, PA | James E. Miscavage, Attorney | 412-653-5711

Ensure that your final wishes are fulfilled

Avoid future worry. Let us make sure things go according to your future plans.




  • Wills/Power of attorney/Medical power of attorney/Living will
  • Probate and orphans court litigation
  • Trusts/Minors trusts/Revocable trusts
  • Estate planning
  • Protecting claims against an estate
  • Bankrupt estates
  • Divorce issues arising in an estate setting


Probate proceedings are initiated by a person named as Executor in a Will appearing before one of the deputies at the Register of Wills. If no Will exists, there is a method of picking an Administrator on the estate. Certain people have certain preferences and those are set forth in a statute.

The reason for the issuance of Letters for probate is to allow a person to become empowered to handle issues that remain unresolved after the death of an individual. Even estates which are bankrupt and incapable of paying debts still need to be probated. The Executor typically is high on the list of people who get paid. The statute is arranged this way to allow financial matters to be resolved in a proper manner and for chaos not to occur. These estates are generally to as bankrupt estates. 

I have been involved in a variety of Orphan' Court probate related matters such as lost Wills, holographic Wills, determining what documents actually constitute a Will, seeking the removal of an Administrator or Executor, Will contests, death while a divorce is pending, general probate resolution, distribution of assets, litigating  against claims, filing claims against an estate for the payment of debts, preparing inheritance tax returns, and other legal documents to accomplish probate.

In addition, the preparation of a Will involves basic estate planning. Most basic estate planning can be accomplished during an initial consultation to prepare a Will, more complicated planning might involve more meetings and additional charges.

As a service to encourage everyone to have a Will, I have always offered an inexpensive Will package for a husband and wife that includes Wills, General powers of attorney and medical power with Living will for $275.00. For a Single individual, the Will package is $225.00  for all three documents.


In Pennsylvania, the average nursing home cost determined for Medicaid purposes is $302 or $110,230 per year.  Certainly, many if not most, couples in Pennsylvania can afford such expenses.

Medical Assistance or Medicaid provides long term health care that can be used to pay these charges under certain situations. Where you have a Husband and Wife and the Husband must be institutionalized, the Wife would be deemed the Community Spouse.

In determining eligibility, two basic factors must be taken into consideration: 
    A. Certain resources are exempt. In Pennsylvania, an IRA in the name of
Wife would be exempt. A house in joint names would be exempt. A prepaid funeral for either spouse’s funeral would be exempt.
    B. Other resources might be non-exempt. For example, Wife can keep onehalf (1/2) up to a minimum of $23,845 up to a maximum of one half (1/2) non-exempt resources up to a maximum of $119,220.

For example, if a Husband or Wife have a $60,000 CD, Wife could keep $30,000 as a non-exempt resource. The other $30,000 would have to go toward the expense of care of the Husband.

Another example would be where there was a $500,000 brokerage account.  Under this situation, one-half (1/2) up to the maximum of $119, 220 could be kept by Wife. The balance would need to be spent down for the expense of care of Husband.

All of the above figures are inflation adjusted each year.  The above figures would be good for 2016, given the low rate of inflation, you can assume these numbers would apply into the near future.

Gift giving by either of the spouses can affect eligibility of a spouse who needs to be institutionalized. For example, let us assume Husband and Wife have a $40,000 CD and take the CD and give it to their son, thinking he will protect the money from the nursing home. Any such gift which must be reported. It would cost the institutionalized spouse $40,000 divided by $302, 132 days of ineligibility for medical assistance.

What income can a spouse, who is not institutionalized be assured of retaining to care for herself? The monthly minimum maintenance allowance is $1,991 per month or $23,892 per year. If that monthly amount of $1,991 is made up of social security and pension and the excess funds would need to be used to pay towards care.

There are times when the maximum amount can be exceeded in certain hardship situations. For example, maybe one of the spouses who is not institutionalized has expenses that can not be adjusted or modified.



More than twenty ($20.00) in cash can not be distributed to the beneficiary, nor may disbursements be made to third parties for food or shelter, without loss or reduction of SSI benefits. Trust funds may be spent on many items which are not food or shelter.

Permissible Distributions that will not effect SSI benefits:

  • Home purchase
  • Home improvement
  • Modification of residence for handicapped use
  • Educational expenses - tuition, books and supplies
  • Medical expenses and medical services
  • Social services
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Entertainment expenses - books & magazines, movie or concert tickets, sporting events, audio/video equipment
  • Vacation travel and in some instances, transportation expenses, including purchase and maintenance of car, or bus passes, airline tickets, etc.
  • Household goods and other items of personal property of reasonable value
  • Telephone expenses, cable tv, and other “communication” expenses
  • Dental care, physical therapy, massages, support services and other medical costs not covered by any benefit programs
  • Personal care services
  • Durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs

Trust Distributions which will reduce SSI benefits:

  • Shelter expenses (mortgage payments, real property taxes, heating and cooling bills, electricity, water, sewage, garbage collection)
  • Groceries or meals
  • Cash for any purpose (beyond the $20 SSI monthly allowance)


  • There are always exceptions.

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