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September 2017 Archives

Inventory of Probate Assets

An inventory must be filed with the court in administering an estate. The inventory should identify all probate assets of the decedent at the time of death. This may require some investigation by the executor. A good starting point is to monitor the decedent's mail for evidence of statements for accounts. In an increasingly electronic society, however, access to digital accounts may be more productive as more and more parties elect for email correspondence over hard copies in the mail.

Probate Assets

Not every asset owned by a party at the time of death will be subject to the probate process or pass under the direction of the will. Probate assets are those for which there is no pre-existing designation as to who should get the asset. Examples of typical assets that will be subject to probate include individually owned bank accounts, cars, personal property, business interest, real property held as tenants in common, cash, and life insurance with no beneficiary. These types of assets should be distinguished from any account with a beneficiary designation as those accounts will pass to the beneficiary. Also, joint accounts will usually go to the other party whose name is on the account.

Role of Executor

The executor of your will is the person designated to be responsible for the administration of your estate. They are required to act in a fiduciary capacity and carry out the wishes as stated in the will. It is a good idea to talk to your executor about your desires regarding your assets and debts as stated in the will. Your executor or other trustworthy party should know where the original will is kept as well. The executor will need to take the will to the Register of Wills to open the estate and be formally recognized as the party authorized to handle the estate. From there, the executor will need to identify all the assets and debts the decedent had at the time of death. An inventory will need to be filed with the court.

Self-Proving Wills

One of the first steps to take after a loved one dies is to find out if they had a will. If there was a will, the second step is to make sure the will is valid. There are a few requirements for a valid will in Pennsylvania. First, the will must be signed by the deceased party or decedent. Ideally, there will also be signatures of two witnesses. A self-proved will includes an additional affidavit signed by the decedent and the witnesses that the signatures on the preceding will were valid and that the decedent signed the will knowingly and voluntarily. This affidavit can be signed simultaneously with the will or at a subsequent date so long as the testator and witnesses are available to sign. Sample language for an acknowledgment and affidavit is below.

When You Get Divorced...Actually Get Divorced

Many couples who have financial problems feel like they should still co-own assets after divorce. Maybe you are upside down on the mortgage on your home and you would lose money selling it.  Perhaps you have debt you still want to co-own or can not split for some reason.  Perhaps one of you wants out of the house but there is not enough cash to be bought out.

Discussing Your Home During Divorce

If you are overwhelmed with the divorce process it is important to take a step back and get organized.  One of the most overwhelming aspects of divorce is related to getting your financial documents gathered and assessed.  For our clients in Bucks and Montgomery Counties here in PA, we know how stressful this can be, especially when it comes to your home.

September Newsletter

We love this time of year as the weather is enjoyable and more time can be spent outside.  We have had some glorious weather here in PA, even as the summer has come to a close.  With your very busy lives we want to provide you with some great information on saving money and having fun at this time of year!

Support for Adult Children

In Pennsylvania, child support should terminate when the minor child is eighteen or graduate high school, whichever is later. However, in certain circumstances the obligation for support may continue past those milestones. One example would be if the child has a disability. Pennsylvania courts have held that the child support guidelines would continue to apply in the instance of a child who, despite age, remains unemancipated or unable to support themselves by virtue of a disability. The court is to determine if an adult child has a mental or physical condition that prevents the child from earning a living wage. Additionally, the court should look to see whether an order of continued support would result in undue hardship on the parents.

Enforcement of Support

There are a number of remedies available to promote payment of support obligations within Pennsylvania. First, Pennsylvania does wage garnishment where possible to ensure payments are collected in full on a consistent basis. If a payor does fall behind, the court will call the party in for contempt proceedings. A payor who is able to catch up at the time of the contempt proceeding will usually avoid any further sanctions. Alternatively, if the court accepts a repayment plan offered by the payor there may not be any further enforcement remedies pursued. If a payor cannot make payment in full or offer a satisfactory plan for catching up on payments, they will have to go before a Judge to discuss their failure to keep up with their support obligations.

Surrogacy

Surrogacy is the process whereby a third party is used to assist couples in having a child. Surrogacy may be traditional wherein the third party will have a biological tie to the child however has agreed to relinquish any legal rights as a parent. The other option is gestational surrogacy where the third party is just a carrier and the egg and sperm of the intended parents are implanted in the surrogate. Pennsylvania does not have a statute in place as it relates to surrogacy, however, case law has upheld a surrogacy contract. In J.F. v. D.B., the carrier mother attempted to keep the children following birth despite having entered a surrogacy agreement. 897 A.2d 1261 (2006). The court eventually held she didn't have standing for a custody action and turned the children over to the intended parents per the contract. The courts went a step further in In re Baby S, when it explicitly upheld a surrogacy agreement. 2015 Pa. Super. 244 (2015).

Donor Agreements

Donor agreements are vital for identifying the legal rights of parties considering artificial insemination as part of assisted reproduction. An agreement should indicate that the donor does not have any rights subsequent to the donation. Specifically, the agreement should explain that no parental relationship is intended for the donor. It should be clear that donor's parental rights are terminated and that the donor forever forfeits the ability to file for any type of custody or visitation if a child is subsequently born. The agreement would allow the recipient to dictate what happens with the donation or any embryos created using the donation.

Are You Too Broke to Get Divorced?

The financial implications of your divorce can be substantial and you may think you cannot afford to get divorced.  Friends and relatives may share war stories of losing a significant amount of their savings to their ex, paying unreasonable levels of child support and alimony, and paying exorbitant legal fees.  While the financial reality can be hard to face, staying in an unhealthy marriage can be harmful to you and your children. Being reasonable through the process can also reduce your legal fees and ease the impact of the process on your family.  

Your Teen and Your Divorce

All children process divorce differently and your teen will be no different.  They may be relieved if you and your spouse were constantly fighting or unhappy that mom and dad are no longer together.  They may experience a variety of emotions that they are unsure how to handle.  

Insurance companies prohibited from denying claims of victims of abuse

Under Pennsylvania's Unfair Insurance Practice Act, an insurance company may not deny a claim by an innocent co-insured where the loss was caused by the intentional act of another insured if the innocent co-insured is a victim of domestic violence. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently addressed this provision in Lynn v. Nationwide Insurance Company.

Costs of sale and taxes to be considered in equitable distribution of a business

In Carney v. Carney, a recent decision by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, the Court held that costs associated with the sale of a business and related tax effects were relevant to an equitable distribution order.

Assisted Reproduction

Assisted reproduction refers to a number of procedures that may be utilized to achieve pregnancy including fertility treatments, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy. In vitro fertilization entails removing a woman's eggs from her body and implanting the eggs with sperm to create an embryo. Those embryos can be stored until ready for use. However, couples should be aware of what happens to the embryos if they subsequently separate prior to using them. In Pennsylvania, frozen embryos are considered marital property and hence, subject to division in a divorce. The Pennsylvania Superior Court stated its position on the marital status of frozen pre-embryos in Reber v. Reiss, 2012 PA Super 86. In Reber, Wife wanted to use the frozen pre-embryos in order to have children of her own whereas Husband wanted the frozen pre-embryos either destroyed or donated for research.

Dividing Property Outside of Divorce

A partition action is a legal proceeding to divide property amongst unmarried individuals that cannot agree what to do with the property. This may arise in a situation where two parties who were never married purchased a home together. It may also arise if real property is not properly dealt with at the time of the divorce action and the now divorced parties are still co-owners. Pennsylvania partition actions are governed by Rules 1551 - 1574 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. There are two options in a partition action. One option involves physically splitting the property, if possible. The alternative option, and more likely occurrence, involves the home being sold with the proceeds divided. As far as procedure, a complaint for partition should be brought in the county where the property is located and must include all co-tenants as parties.

Social Security Retirement

Social security retirement benefits are payable based on the individual's earnings history as well as age of retirement. Full retirement age is presently 66 years old. The benefit is reduced if electing to receive the benefit earlier. The minimum age to start collecting is presently 62 years old. An individual can elect to receive benefits under the spouse's earnings history instead. An individual may receive up to 50% of their spouse's benefit. This does not impact the spouse's benefit in any way. An individual may elect to receive under their spouse's benefit if their earnings history was substantially higher.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security income (SSI) is cash assistance to individuals who are disabled or over 65 years old. SSI can be payable to disabled children as well. Living arrangements may affect the amount of SSI received. You should report changes in living arrangements to the Social Security office. Similarly, relationship status may affect the amount of the benefit received. For example, the amount may be decreased following marriage depending on the income of the new spouse. If marrying another individual who receives SSI, the benefit may be converted from an individual benefit to a couple's benefit.

Changes to NJ Custody Relocation Laws

If you are seeking to move to a distance that makes your current custody schedule difficult or impossible to follow it classifies as a relocation. In the event of a move that does classify as a relocation the party looking to move should obtain the written consent of the other parent or court approval. Previously, New Jersey courts primarily focused on if there would be any harm to the child in allowing the move. In a recent decision (Bisbing v. Bisbing) the New Jersey courts have shifted their focus to considering if the move is in the child's best interests. This standard puts the burden on the party looking to relocate to demonstrate how it benefits the child. It also allows for a better look at how the move affects both parents.

SSD

Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits are payable to individuals who have a long-term disability that limits their ability to earn income. The disability payments are meant to replace the income the recipient would have received if they had not become disabled. Essentially, disability payments have been pre-paid by the recipient during their employment. Accordingly, the recipient must have a sufficient earnings history, or in other words have paid social security long enough, to be eligible for payments. Your benefit will remain the same whether you are single or married. The issue of social security disability benefits may arise in the context of a support action. Social security disability benefits are recognized as a source of income pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-2. Accordingly, a support order may require payment of a portion of the benefit received.

Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

Termination of parental rights means the natural parent of a child forever loses or forfeits any rights as a parent. This would include the loss of any standing for future custody actions. On the flip side, it also means they are not financially responsible for their prior child in terms of support. Termination of parental rights can generally only occur in conjunction with an adoption matter. Termination of parental rights can be voluntary or involuntary. A biological parent can consent to an adoption and voluntarily relinquish their rights. Alternatively, parental rights may be subject to involuntary termination. Pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511, there are nine (9) grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights.

Proving Cohabitation

Alimony is support paid to an ex-spouse following the divorce decree. The amount of alimony is largely based on the incomes of the parties but may also be affected by the distribution of the other assets, if any. Unless otherwise stated by agreement, alimony may be subsequently modified due the changed circumstances of either party. The changes must be substantial and of a continuing nature. Generally, the length of alimony is directly attributable to the length of the marriage such that the longer the marriage, the longer the term of alimony one may expect.

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