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Kennett Square Probate & Estate Law Blog

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.

Determining if you are the right choice for estate administration

To Pennsylvania residents without a lot of knowledge about estate administration, it may seem like a simple task. In reality, just the opposite is true. Serving as an estate administrator is nearly always a complicated undertaking. While you may feel honored that someone has placed such trust in you, it is wise to be honest with yourself about your ability to fulfill the role of estate administrator.

During estate planning, people tend to put their trust into family members or close friends. If they have not developed a good understanding of everything estate administration entails, they might not realize the person they have chosen is inappropriate. Often, it is up to the designated estate administrator to decide if he or she can handle the responsibility. If you are in this kind of situation, ask yourself these questions before you accept the role.

Avoiding fraud against seniors with durable powers of attorney

It is one of the great ironies of life that by the time a person needs help, they may be too far gone to ask for it. Such is the case for one of the most vulnerable groups of people in Philadelphia, and indeed in the country. The elderly are at high risk for financial fraud, but granting durable powers of attorney may be the solution.

A Philadelphia man reported recently that his elderly mother approached him about a small loan to cover some checks that she bounced. He was surprised that she had allowed this to happen, she having worked in the business sector for more than four decades. When he questioned her about her finances, she was uncooperative.

Can the internet provide estate planning solutions?

The internet is truly a wonderful thing, and it has had an enormous impact on the ability to share, access and challenge information. In fact, for many Philadelphia residents who seek answers on virtually any topic, the internet is the first place that they turn. It should be noted, however, that there are many areas in which the best solution requires a personalized touch that is simply unavailable online. Estate planning is a perfect example.

The month of October has been designated National Estate Planning Awareness Month, and many people are interested in learning more about the estate planning process. After all, it is estimated that more than half of American adults do not currently have a comprehensive estate plan in place. Unfortunately, however, a different study asserts that most adults prefer to get their financial guidance and information primarily from social media.

Handling real estate during estate planning

When structuring one's estate, it is important to address each and every asset type differently. For example, cash held in a savings account will be handled differently from an investment account. A treasured stamp collection will need a different approach than shares in a business venture. Real estate offers yet another type of asset, and Philadelphia residents should understand how to incorporate real property into the larger estate planning picture.

When it comes to real estate, transferring assets is more complex than many other types of assets. Real estate cannot be passed down via a designated beneficiary, which is an option for many types of investment and bank accounts. If the property has not been placed in a trust, it will likely have to go through the probate process. That means that any maintenance expenses will need to be handled through the executor, as well as repair issues that might arise during the time of probate.

Lack of estate planning may lead to future family squabbles

Not everyone in the Philadelphia area looks forward to discussions regarding personal mortality. In fact, some people try to avoid the estate planning topic at all costs. However, in the past year, there have been some very high-profile situations that appear to be evidence that not having a set plan in place may prove problematic for family members down the line.

Anyone who reads Hollywood news will have heard by now that several stars died within the past year without having executed any sort of wills or estate plans. Stories abound of the various complications these situations have wrought for surviving family members. Those whose assets are of high net worth value are by no means the only ones who benefit from crafting solid estate plans and keeping them updated.

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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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