October 21, 2017

What Happens to Your Dog When You Die?

Taking Care of Beloved Animals in the Event of Your Death

Whether you are single or married, have children or not, your pets are usually a part of your family. Just as you would with children, you want to make certain your four-legged family members are taken care of in the event of your death. To that end, it’s not unusual to provide for your pets in your estate plan.

Under Pennsylvania law, there is nothing to prohibit you from including provisions in a will or trust that address the care, custody and treatment of your animals after death. Though animals cannot own property in Pennsylvania, so you can’t make a bequest or gift to your pet, you can create a trust to benefit your pet. With a trust, you create a separate legal entity, transfer assets (usually money) into the trust, and provide instructions to a “trustee” to use the funds to take care of your pet.

There are some specific requirements in Pennsylvania for a “pet trust” to be valid:

  • The pet must be alive during your life—you cannot create a trust for future puppies
  • The trust must end with the death of the animal(s) named. If multiple pets are recipients of trust funds, the trust will terminate upon the death of the last remaining named pet.
  • Any property in the trust must be used for the care of the named pets, unless the amount in the trust is more than is necessary to provide the designated level of care. If so, any excess must go to the person creating the trust (if alive), or to that person’s beneficiaries

It’s not necessary to create a trust specifically for a pet, though. You can name family members as beneficiaries of a trust, but specify in the trust document that some portion of the distribution is to be used to care for your pet.

Another option is to find an organization that will take care of your pet. There are a number of organizations that will typically foster your animal in exchange for a specific bequest in your will or trust. These groups customarily care for your animal until a suitable home is found.

Contact the Law Office of Halligan & Keaton

At Halligan & Keaton, we offer more than 60 years of combined legal experience to people throughout in and around Media, Pennsylvania. To set up a free initial consultation to discuss your estate planning needs, call our office at
610-566-6030
or send us an e-mail. We will travel to your home, a long-term care facility or the hospital to meet with you.

Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples in Pennsylvania

Legalization of Gay Marriage in Pennsylvania—The Impact on Estate Planning

Nearly one year ago, a federal district court judge in Pennsylvania threw out the state’s 18-year-old ban on same-sex marriage, finding that it violated provisions of the U.S. Constitution. That decision has changed the estate planning for gay couples significantly.

Under Pennsylvania law, there are different inheritance tax rates based on where estate property goes. For assets that pass to children of the deceased, the estate tax is 4.5%, and for siblings, it’s 12%. All other distributions, except to a surviving spouse or a charitable organization, are taxed at 15%. As long as gay marriage was illegal, partners in a same-sex relationship faced the maximum inheritance tax if assets passed to the partner. Now, if same-sex partners legally marry, the surviving party is entitled to the marital deduction under federal law, which allows all property or assets passed to a spouse to do so without any tax consequences.

In addition to the benefits of the marital deduction, married gay couples in Pennsylvania also get the benefit of the state’s intestacy laws, which govern the distribution of estate property when a person dies without a valid will. Under Pennsylvania law, one-half of an intestate estate passes to a surviving spouse, and the other half to surviving children. Before the legalization of gay marriage, a same-sex partner would be entitled to nothing if his or her partner died without a will.

Spouses in a gay marriage may also hold real property as “tenants by the entirety,” a legal term that essentially means as joint tenants. As a tenant by the entirety,  a surviving spouse is automatically entitled to ownership of any real property so held. This type of ownership also provides protection against creditors.

Contact Halligan & Keaton

We bring more than 60 years of combined legal experience to people in and around Media, Pennsylvania. Every new client receives a free initial consultation. To discuss your estate planning needs with an experienced lawyer, call our office at 610-566-6030 or contact us online. We will travel to your home, a long-term care facility or the hospital to meet with you.

House Bill 1429 Amends PA Power of Attorney Law

In early July, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett signed House Bill 1429 into law (Act 95 of 2014). Negotiations by various parties including banks, and the Pennsylvania Elder Law bar, had been underway for the last three years.

While many people perceive legal documents such as a power of attorney to be strictly “boilerplate”, House Bill 1429 clearly displays the legislature’s intent to have POA documents drafted with designated purpose behind the provisions that the principal wishes to bestow upon an agent.

For more specific information on HB 1429, visit http://www.martindale.com/banking-financial-services/article_Weltman-Weinberg-Reis-Co-LPA_2173332.htm

Contact a Pennsylvania Elder Law Attorney

Contact Halligan & Keaton to schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced Pennsylvania estate planning or elder law attorney by calling
610-566-6030
. We can meet with your family at our office, your home or a nursing home or hospital for those who cannot travel.

You can also fill out our online intake form

Estate Planning for Women

One of the most important trends in the landscape of estate planning, is the increasing importance of women in forming estate plans. The economic power of women is growing, and according to the U.S. Trust, “more than half (52 %) of women came into their marriage or relationship with financial assets equal to or greater than their spouse or partner, and one-third (33 %) of women are now the primary income earner or contribute equally to household wealth.” Women are currently on track to be in control of $20 trillion in assets by 2020.

Estate planners dealing with women who bring their own wealth to the table may want to keep the following issues in mind:

  • Durable power of attorney and LTCI (Long term care insurance)
  • Assets– creating a revocable living trust
  • Caring for elderly parents or family
  • Create an estate plan
  • Revise the estate plan for a second marriage
  • Make long-term changes to financial planning – divorce, a retirement account, and pension plans can all have an effect on estate planning

Women will typically live longer on average than men, but will also generally have less money with which to do so. In other words, women will often have have “longevity risk.” There are certain aspects of estate planning for women that should be considered when planning for retirement, or just for their future, such as the fact that women tend to live longer than men. One key aspect of estate planning that women often overlook is what will happen when their husband, parents or other relatives die. This can result in issues when a majority of a couple’s income is the husband’s Social Security or pension, which will cease upon death. Also, the fact that women often will have custody over, or offer care to, their own elder parents, and/or their children.

What Women Should Consider When Making Their Estate Plan

  • Take a good look at your income.
  • Take an active part in the planning process.
  • Also, if you are caring for an aging parent, make it a point to talk to your siblings and parents about the potential implications.

There is much advice to be discerned on the topic, and the assistance of experienced estate planning legal counsel is imperative.

Contact a Media, Pennsylvania, Estate Planning Attorney

Contact our Media, Pennsylvania, law office to schedule a free initial consultation, or call 610-566-6030.

Estate Planning and Second Marriages

One of the most important trends in the landscape of estate planning, is the increasing importance of women in forming estate plans. The economic power of women is growing, and according to the U.S. Trust, “more than half (52 %) of women came into their marriage or relationship with financial assets equal to or greater than their spouse or partner, and one-third (33 %) of women are now the primary income earner or contribute equally to household wealth.” Women are currently on track to be in control of $20 trillion in assets by 2020.

Estate planners dealing with women who bring their own wealth to the table may want to keep the following issues in mind:

  • Durable power of attorney and LTCI (Long term care insurance)
  • Assets– creating a revocable living trust
  • Caring for elderly parents or family
  • Create an estate plan
  • Revise the estate plan for a second marriage
  • Make long-term changes to financial planning – divorce, a retirement account, and pension plans can all have an effect on estate planning

Women will typically live longer on average than men, but will also generally have less money with which to do so. In other words, women will often have have “longevity risk.” There are certain aspects of estate planning for women that should be considered when planning for retirement, or just for their future, such as the fact that women tend to live longer than men. One key aspect of estate planning that women often overlook is what will happen when their husband, parents or other relatives die. This can result in issues when a majority of a couple’s income is the husband’s Social Security or pension, which will cease upon death. Also, the fact that women often will have custody over, or offer care to, their own elder parents, and/or their children.

What Women Should Consider When Making Their Estate Plan

  • Take a good look at your income.
  • Take an active part in the planning process.
  • Also, if you are caring for an aging parent, make it a point to talk to your siblings and parents about the potential implications.

There is much advice to be discerned on the topic, and the assistance of experienced estate planning legal counsel is imperative.

Contact a Media, Pennsylvania, Estate Planning Attorney

Contact our Media, Pennsylvania, law office to schedule a free initial consultation, or call 610-566-6030.

Unpaid Taxes – Can I Lose My Home?

Could a $6.30 unpaid tax result in the loss of your home?

A Pennsylvania county judge has again ruled against widow Eileen Battisti of Aliquippa, who lost her home because of an unpaid $6.30 interest charge, which was incurred by paying school taxes late.

Beaver County Common Pleas Judge Gus Kwidis ruled that Mrs. Battisti was properly notified about the September 2011 tax sale of her home. The home sold at auction for $116,000, but was valued at about $280,000. The decision last month followed an evidentiary hearing, which last April overturned his earlier ruling upholding the sale.

For more on this story, click HERE

When Mrs. Battisti’s husband died, she was left to deal with the household finances and taxes, which Mr. Battisti had previously handled on his own. Although she paid off their mortgage with life insurance money, she fell behind on property taxes. Staying aware of your financial situations, including tax responsibility and what will happen legally if your spouse passes away before you, is crucial. Estate planning as a couple can help you to retain your quality of life in the event of a spouse’s death.

Probate and Estate Administration

If you have been named the executor or administrator of an estate, you now have a legal duty to that estate’s heirs and beneficiaries. You can be held personally liable for errors and underpayments in the estate. By working with a Pennsylvania probate attorney at Halligan & Keaton, you will have the guidance and support of experienced legal professionals on your side.

Contact a Media, Pennsylvania, Probate Attorney

We can handle every aspect of Pennsylvania probate, from filing tax forms to handling the sale of a home. This full-service approach is particularly helpful for out-of-state executors responsible for the disposal of an ancillary estate.

Are you worried that conflicts among beneficiaries may make it difficult to probate the estate? Probate attorney Bill Halligan has mediated hundreds of probate conflicts.

Contact our Media, Pennsylvania, law office to schedule a free initial consultation, or call 610-566-6030.

Tips for Those Over 50 – Estate Planning, Saving and Spending

It’s not all downhill after age 50. In fact, when you are over 50, catch-up rules kick in with regard to retirement plans.

This means that you are legally allowed to invest more than the allowable rate in a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA than those who are under age 50. In 2014, it is possible to invest up to $6500. People ages 50 and over can also add an extra $5500 in a 401(k) for a maximum contribution of $23,000.

Consider whether life insurance is really necessary at this stage when you are 50 or older. Most of the time people purchase coverage to protect their families in the event of a death. But are your children self sufficient at this point and all grown up? They may no longer need this death benefit money.

People over age 50 can look to obtain savings in their auto and homeowner’s insurance policies. Discounts are offered through many insurers for those over 50, often due to job tenure or to reward longevity with the same insurance company.

Elder Care Planning

It’s good to start planning for elder care expenses now. Most people underestimate the yearly costs of long-term care by more than three times what it actually costs. According to a survey by Nationwide insurance, nursing home care could reach $265,000 a year.

Consider hiring a fee-only financial planner as opposed to an adviser who earns commissions on products that they sell to you. And create a will and estate plan that is up to date and reflective of your wishes, regularly revisiting your plan to make sure it is up to date.

Contact Halligan & Keaton Today

If you want to discuss planning for your estate, are responsible for an estate or are a beneficiary and you believe an estate is being mismanaged, contact our office for a free consultation.

Ensure That Your Children’s Divorce Does Not Squander Their Inheritance

One of every two marriages ends in divorce. And while your adult son or daughter’s marriage seems to be solid right now, what if something happens and they end up divorcing?

It’s important that you do as much as you can in your estate planning to protect your children’s inheritance. You worked hard for that money and don’t want to see it lost in the sad case of a child’s divorce.

In New Jersey, it is the case that an inheritance can be kept as your child’s if she received it in her name only or if she received it before the marriage and kept the inheritance in her name only.

New Jersey law N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(h) notes that inheritances or gifts obtained either before or during the marriage can be exempt from equitable distribution in a divorce. This means that if, say, daughter Janet received her father’s inheritance before she was married, it’s hers to keep; and if Janet received the inheritance during her marriage, it is also hers to keep. But, if Janet put the inheritance into a joint account with both her and her husband’s name on the account, or she retitled inherited property to include both her and her husband’s name, then this inheritance would become part of the community property of the marriage and subject to equitable division.

It might be wise to consider how to include protection for just such an eventuality in your will and estate plan.

Contact Halligan & Keaton Today

If you want to discuss planning for your estate, are responsible for an estate or are a beneficiary and you believe an estate is being mismanaged, contact our office for a free consultation.

Probate in Pennsylvania

Helping clients through the probate process is one area of our practice.  It’s a specialized area of law and our many years of experience can result in an estate being probated without incident or major delay.

After a person owning assets in his or her name alone dies, the probate or estate administration process is started by a personal representative who takes on the job of handling the decedent’s assets and settling the decedent’s affairs.

Not all assets need to pass to survivors through the probate process.  Those assets exempt from the process include:

  • Assets held in joint ownership between spouses or with others with right of survivorship,
  • Bank accounts held in joint ownership or in trust for another,
  • Assets with designated beneficiaries such as life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs and retirement plans with named beneficiaries are not normally subject to probate, and
  • Assets held in a trust are governed by the terms of the trust, rather than the decedent’s will.

An estate must be settled whether there is a will or if the person dies intestate (doesn’t have a will).  The major benefit of a will is that the assets of the deceased will pass (if the will is done properly) to the assigned beneficiaries.  If there is no will, the assets will pass to the next of kin as spelled out under state statute.

The probate process exists to prevent fraud in the handling of assets and debts and to protect creditors and beneficiaries. It’s supposed to make the process of settling an estate more open and transparent.  Beneficiaries get notice of the estate administration and access to all documents filed by the estate.

In Pennsylvania, the Cost of Probate Includes:

  • Filing fees for opening the estate
  • The costs of advertising the estate
  • Filing fees for inventory of estate assets and other papers
  • Legal fees for the attorney handling the estate work, which may include preparing various death tax returns
  • A commission which can be charged by the personal representative

The probate process normally does not take a long time, compared to other states. Personal representatives have broad powers to administer estates efficiently. They can handle most issues (such as selling assets, paying debts and expenses) without having to get court approval for every transaction. Personal representatives need only file an inventory of estate assets and periodic status reports stating whether the estate administration has been completed. Accounting of estate transactions to beneficiaries and heirs can be done informally or filed with the court.

The process ends when the beneficiaries receive of their proper share of the estate and the release of the personal representative from further responsibility for administering the estate.

Contact Halligan & Keaton Today

If you have any questions about probate, or would like help in probating an estate, contact our office for a free consultation so we can discuss your situation.

Former Estate Executor Defeats Legal Claims by Beneficiaries

One of the largest estate cases in Pennsylvania history took another legal turn in November.  It’s an example of how complicated an estate can be, especially one involving a real estate mogul, multiple beneficiaries and $15 billion worth of real estate assets. The litigation has gone on for about thirteen years.

Real Estate Empire at Issue

Samuel Rappaport and Richard Basciano were partners in a real estate empire.  According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article,

Richard Basciano and the late Samuel A. Rappaport were friends, business partners, and slumlords. Both rose from humble beginnings to become real estate speculators extraordinaire. They scooped up blighted properties in Philadelphia and sat on them for years while the structures crumbled, eventually selling them at huge markups to be developed by others.

Rappaport died in 1994.  His will mandated that there be three executors for his estate, including his attorney, a personal friend and Basciano. The friend declined to serve and the attorney was forced to resign.  Basciano operated as the sole executor for the estate.

Thirteen Years of Litigation Results in Decision for Basciano

During Rappaport’s life, Basciano was friends with his family members.  That changed, as it often does, when he became the executor and family members disagreed over the handling of estate assets.

The beneficiaries of Rappaport’s estate brought legal claims against Basciano.  The case involves challenges to dozens of real estate and stock transactions during the former executor’s eight year administration of the estate.  Beneficiaries sought in excess of $60 million in connection with claims of waste, mismanagement and self-dealing.

A four-week non-jury trial was held in 2009 in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, Orphans’ Court Division. In August 2010 an adjudication was issued finding in favor of the beneficiaries and former co-executors, and against Basciano,  on the majority of the Objections (claims) lodged against them.

The Superior Court in November 2013 reversed part of the Orphans’ Court’s decision that ordered the former executor to return commercial property and stock to the Estate, ruling against nearly all of the beneficiaries’ claims. It also reversed the Orphans’ Court’s decision to award the beneficiaries millions of dollars in legal fees.

This decision by the Superior Court represents a vindication of the work of the former executor on behalf of Rappaport’s estate, according to Basciano’s lawyer, who portrays his client as successfully transforming a nearly bankrupt business to a flourishing real estate empire.

We do estate planning, including the creation of trusts and wills, so that the desires of our clients as to how their assets should be handled and distributed after their deaths can be carried out. We can also help with probate and estate administration.

With open communication by all parties, well crafted legal instruments and a competent executor or executrix, your estate should not become the legal mess that the Rappaport estate has become.

Contact Halligan & Keaton Today

If you want to discuss planning for your estate, are responsible for an estate or are a beneficiary and you believe an estate is being mismanaged, contact our office for a free consultation.