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Kennett Square Probate & Estate Law Blog

Court allows same-sex adoptions to dissolve so partners can marry

One more stumbling block in the path of same-sex unions seeking legitimacy has been removed, at least in Pennsylvania.

In the last few decades, the laws in the United States regarding same-sex unions created a patchwork quilt of rights that varied widely among the states.

Small value estates: How to divide up personal items fairly

In Pennsylvania, there's a provision in the law that allows some small estates to avoid the probate process altogether.

In order to qualify, the total value of a deceased individual's assets has to be less than $50,000 and can't include real estate. You'll still have to petition the court and get approval to handle the estate that way, and you still have to make sure that the deceased's creditors are paid before any remaining assets are distributed.

Can a no-contest clause keep a will out of court?

For many people, a large part of the purpose of a will is to make sure that their estate is distributed the way that they want it to be distributed. Unfortunately, fights between surviving relatives over who was given more than their fair share or who was denied what they feel is their due can drag an estate into court. If successful, a challenge can prevent your original intentions from being carried out. Even if a challenge isn't successful, it can take years to resolve and prevent your rightful heirs from moving forward.

Do you suspect that your relatives are likely to start fighting over the contents of your will the moment after you're gone? One way to limit the potential for legal challenges to your will is to add a no-contest, or "forfeiture," clause. This is a clause that says that an heir who challenges the will and loses gets nothing at all. If done right, this can make someone hesitate to gamble a sure thing against an uncertain legal decision in the future.

Keeping elders safe from estate fraud

Legitimate estate planning is something that everyone can use as a vehicle both to grow their wealth and to protect it for their heirs once they are gone.

However, scam artists frequently feed on the fears of elderly people, who worry both about running out of money to live on and about leaving something behind for their children once they are gone.

Challenging a power of attorney

A power of attorney is a document that's designed to give someone else the authority to act on your behalf when you aren't able to do so for some reason. It isn't uncommon for an older person to give a power of attorney to a son, daughter, niece or nephew. The POA gives the younger person the authority to conduct business, including banking and bill paying, for their elderly relative.

But what if you suspect that the POA is abusing his or her discretion and using their position to take advantage of the older person? While most people who take on a POA are motivated by a genuine desire to help their elderly relative, some people can't resist the temptation to siphon away money that they see just sitting around in a bank account or use the elder's monthly Social Security checks partially for themselves.

Who is responsible for the debts of the deceased?

Debt is an almost inescapable part of modern life—and many people leave behind significant debts when they die. It usually isn't long before the bill collectors start to call on surviving family members, hoping to collect.

This is when it helps to know your rights and the law when it comes to debts and the deceased.

In the hands of strangers: Guardianship disputes harm elders

It isn't uncommon for adult children or other relatives to dispute who knows (or wants) what's best for an elderly relative. When that happens, the elder in question can end up being the one harmed the most, and nobody may be happy with the results.

If family members can't agree on who should be an elder's guardian, the state can step in and appoint a total stranger to serve as the guardian, effectively shutting everyone out and leaving everyone without a voice about what will happen next — including the elderly person involved.

A common-law marriage isn't what it used to be in Pennsylvania

Do you think that you're protected in the event of your spouse's death through a common-law marriage in Pennsylvania? If so, think again.

A Pennsylvania widow is now just the girlfriend of the deceased, at least as far as the law is concerned. The Superior Court, which hears appeals on cases that have already been decided once at a lower level, found that the woman couldn't back up her claim to a share of the estate left by the man she claimed was her common-law husband for 13 years. There wasn't any proof that they both believed themselves in a valid marriage and cohabitation alone doesn't grant her inheritance rights over his natural children, who took her to court.

What does the term "fiduciary" mean in estate planning?

Estate planning discussions contain a lot of terminology, which may be confusing to people unfamiliar with legalese. Before getting started on your question, you first need to know that if you are working with an estate planning attorney, he or she will be glad to answer any questions you have. Anytime you hear confusing terminology like trustees, executors and fiduciaries, you should never be afraid to ask your lawyer what these terms mean.

The term fiduciary is used in many fields but the meaning is the same for them all: a person who holds assets in trust for another. During the estate planning process, you may hear the three terms already mentioned—trustees, executors and fiduciaries—lumped together, but they are not always exactly the same. However, sometimes the terms are indeed interchangeable in estate planning. For example, a trustee or a will executor is a fiduciary because he or she is responsible for settling your estate or administering a trust on behalf of your beneficiaries.

Don't be afraid to challenge a will if something feels wrong

When a loved one dies, it is often difficult to cope with the circumstances of the death. Most people feel a crippling sense of loss at the beginning and just want to get through the legal issues as quickly as possible. Sometimes, after the initial surge of grief begins to dissipate, it is not uncommon for the bereaved to want a closer look at the estate planning documentation the deceased left behind. This is true for those named as estate administrator and it is true for the deceased's family members as well.

In our Pennsylvania probate and estate planning practice, we have seen many bereaved family members become concerned that their loved one's will did not reflect his or her true wishes. We understand that during such a difficult time, no one wants to start a legal battle over a family member's estate. However, we also know that making sure the deceased's wishes are followed is a crucial part of the healing process.

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Larmore Scarlett LLP

Larmore Scarlett, LLP
123 E. Linden Street,
P.O. Box 384

Kennett Square, PA 19348

Phone: 610-444-3737
Fax: 610-444-9532
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