The Importance of Estate Planning
Many of us are home today enjoying the snow day. Some of us may shovel the
walkways or snow blow the driveway. However, with this wintery weather comes
an additional liability that many landowners do not know they owe other people.
Generally, landowners do not owe a duty to trespassers other than to avoid
“affliction of willful and wanton harm.” Still, there are exceptions to this general
rule. One exception to this rule is when there is snow or icy weather conditions.
Landowners in Pennsylvania typically have up to 24 hours or a reasonable time
period (depending on local laws) after the snow stops falling to begin to remove
it, clear it, make the property safe or provide a warning about the dangerous
conditions on the property.
A long-standing doctrine in Pennsylvania is known as the “Hills and Ridges”
Rule. A landowner may be liable for injuries caused on his property if he
unreasonably allowed ice and snow to accumulate naturally to dangerous
elevations, resulting in small, uneven hills and ridges of snow and ice. The hills
and ridges must unreasonably obstruct travel or create a danger to pedestrians
on the land. The landowner must have known or had reason to know that the
snow or ice was accumulating to such a dangerous amount. Additionally, for a
plaintiff to have a claim against a landowner, the hills and ridges of snow or ice
must have caused the plaintiff to slip and fall and cause injuries to the plaintiff.
Under this rule, landowners are not liable for injuries of another person if the
person slips and falls due to generally icy conditions, such black ice or freshly
fallen snow. Moreover, this rule only applies to natural accumulation of snow and
ice to unreasonably dangerous elevations. It does not apply if the accumulation
was caused by an artificial source.
D’Amico Law, PC is a general law firm situated in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
We offer a wide variety of services including estate planning administration,
divorce, mediation, custody, corporate law, personal injury and minor criminal
matters. If you have questions about this article or any questions regarding your
legal needs contact us at 610-444- 4555.
As February comes to an end, many of us have heard or read that there are new tax laws that have been enacted for 2018. You may be busy preparing your 2017 tax returns and wondering if the new tax laws will affect you this year, next year or at all. If you have children that you claim as dependents or if you claim your spouse as a dependent on your tax returns, the new tax laws may affect you. The good news is that if you normally have a tax credit for listing a child as a dependent, the amount of the credit has increased from $1,000.00 to $2,000.00. If you claim any other person as a dependent who is over the age of seventeen (17) years old, you can take a $500.00 tax credit.
If you are confused as to who the IRS considers to be a “child” for purposes of claiming the child tax credit, the “child” must be your biological child, adopted child, foster child, step child or grandchild. The “child” could even be your brother, sister, step-brother, step-sister, nephew or niece. The “child” must also be under the age of seventeen (17) years old and must live with your for more than half of the tax year that you are claiming him or her as your dependent. Additionally, the IRS requires that the “child” actually be your dependent, meaning he or she cannot provide more than half of his or her own support.
The bad news with this new tax law is that you can no longer take exemptions for claiming dependents on your tax returns. This law is set to go into effect in 2018, so you will still be able to take exemptions for your dependents when you file your 2017 tax returns.
Another family law area that the 2018 tax law affects is alimony. Many men and women who have gotten a divorce are obligated to pay their former spouse alimony payments. An advantage of being the payor spouse was that you were allowed to deduct alimony payments from your tax returns. The spouse who received the alimony payments was obligated to report the alimony payments as part of his or her gross income, which was taxable. With the new tax law going into effect on December 31, 2018, the payor spouse will be unable to claim alimony payments as deductions on his or her tax returns.
Additionally, the new law eliminates alimony recapture. If you are unsure as to what alimony recapture is or if it affects you, alimony recapture is a procedure involving spouses who make alimony payments to their former spouses. If alimony payments decreased or terminated during the first three (3) years that a payor spouse was obligated to pay alimony, the payor spouse was required to include in his or her income for the third year, any alimony payments he or she previously deducted.
Another change that the new tax law brings is how support payments are allocated. In prior years, support payments had to be designated as alimony payments only or child support payments only. The new tax law eliminates this allocation requirement so that support payments are simply “support payments.”
If you would like more information on the new tax laws and how they affect your current family matters, or if you have questions or concerns regarding the new tax laws, contact D’Amico Law, P.C. We are happy to assist you and answer any questions that you may have.
As the saying goes, there are two guarantees in life, taxes and death. Many people take advantage of estate planning techniques in order to maximize the amount of their estates that will pass to their beneficiaries (recipients) upon their death while also minimizing the tax consequences that comes with death.
A common estate planning technique is to give a gift while you are still alive. In the legal world, this is known as an inter vivos gift. This may be unfavorable to some people, since by the notion of giving a gift, you give up your right to ownership of the property or money when you give it to someone else. However, many people take advantage of this technique. By giving a gift during your life to a recipient, you can minimize the tax consequences on that asset.
There is a federal gift tax that is in place, which will tax the gift if the gift is over the annual exclusion amount. For the last several years, this amount was $14,000. However, the 2018 tax law increases the annual exclusion amount to $15,000. What does this mean to you? You can gift an amount of up to $15,000 annually without having to pay a federal gift tax. You can have any number of recipients, so long as each recipient’s gift does not exceed the $15,000. For example, you can give Bill, Bob and Ben monetary gifts of up to $15,000 each, without being subject to the gift tax. That is $45,000 of your current estate that gets passed to your intended recipients without being subject to a federal gift tax. What is also beneficial is that your recipient generally does not have to pay federal income taxes on the gift received.
The annual federal gift tax exclusion of $15,000 is for single tax filers. For tax filers who are married and file jointly, the annual federal gift tax exclusion is $30,000. This means that the annual gift you and your spouse may gift a recipient is up to $30,000. Another advantage of giving gifts is that you can give numerous monetary gifts to the same recipient. For example, if you give a gift to Bob in 2016 up to the annual exclusion amount, you can still give Bob another gift of up to the annual exclusion amount in 2017.
D’Amico Law, P.C. offers estate planning services. If you are interested in learning more about how the new 2018 law affects your estate or if you would like assistance with estate planning, contact our office at 610-444-4555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday full of parades, parties, corned beef and booze. Before you decide to get behind the wheel of your car after drinking whiskey and green beer at a St. Patrick’s Day party, here is what you should know if you get pulled over and charged with a DUI.
Drinking and driving over the legal limit is illegal and comes with harsh penalties. In Pennsylvania, there are three levels associated with the Driving Under the Influence Law, or commonly known as DUI. The levels are based on a driver’s Blood Alcohol Content level, or BAC, combined with a driver’s prior offense, to determine the penalty imposed.
The lowest tier, known as General Impairment, includes BAC levels from .08 to .099%. If a driver’s BAC level is within this range, penalties include: up to six (6) months probation, a $300 – $5,000 fine, license suspension for twelve (12) months, court ordered treatment, alcohol highway safety school, five (5) days to six (6) months jail time, ten (10) days to two (2) years prison time, one (1) year ignition interlock, and either an ungraded misdemeanor or a 2nd degree misdemeanor on your record. The more lenient penalties are imposed on a driver with no prior DUI offenses or one (1) prior DUI offense. The harsher penalties are imposed on a driver with two (2) or more prior DUI offenses.
The middle tier, known as High BAC, includes BAC levels from .10 to .159%. If a driver’s BAC level is within this range, penalties include: a $500 to $10,000 fine, license suspension for twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months, forty-eight (48) hours to five (5) year prison time, alcohol highway safety school, court ordered treatment, one (1) year ignition interlock, and either an ungraded misdemeanor or a 1st degree misdemeanor on your record. The more lenient penalties are imposed on a driver with no prior DUI offenses or one (1) prior DUI offense, while the more harsher penalties are imposed on a driver with two (2) or more DUI offenses and three (3) or more DUI offense.
The highest tier, known as Highest BAC, includes BAC levels of .16% or higher as well as for drivers who refuse breath or chemical testing and drivers under the influence of controlled substances. If a driver falls into this category, the penalties include: a $1,000 to $10,000 fine, license suspension of twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months, seventy-two (72) hours to five (5) years prison time, alcohol highway safety school, court ordered treatment, one (1) year ignition interlock, and either an ungraded misdemeanor or 1st degree misdemeanor on your record.
Additionally, there is a program called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) for first time DUI offenders. Drivers who are accepted into this program, which is dependent upon their criminal history, must follow certain conditions such as community service, alcohol education classes and treatment. Additionally, drivers will have their licenses suspended from thirty (30) to ninety (90) days. After a driver has completed the program successfully, he or she can request that the Court dismisses the charges and have his or her case expunged.
There are a special group of drivers who have a lower threshold of being charged with a DUI. A driver under the age of twenty-one (21) years can be charged with a DUI if his or her BAC level is .02% or greater. A driver of a commercial vehicle can be charged with a DUI if his or her BAC level is .04% or greater. A driver of a school bus can be charged with a DUI if his or her BAC level is .02 or greater.
D’Amico Law, PC is a law firm located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, servicing clients in Chester County and surrounding counties. D’Amico Law, PC offers legal services in the areas of DUI law, minor criminal matters, estate planning, personal injury, family law matters, family law mediation, corporate law and estate administration. For information concerning DUI law or other professional legal services, contact our office at 610-444-4555.
It may still feel like winter, but spring is actually here, and summer is just around the corner. With the change in seasons, many people decide to take spring break and summer vacations. Between packing for your trip, planning activities and creating itineraries, the last thing on your mind may be the possibility of a catastrophic accident occurring, or worse, not returning home. While we often times avoid considering the worst-case scenario, there is a real possibility that something can happen to you while you are on a vacation, and you should be prepared.
One thing that can put your mind at ease so that you can better enjoy your time away is to seek legal advice for Estate Planning and get your estate documents in place before you leave. Specifically, you should speak to an attorney who drafts Wills, Advanced Health Care Directives and Power of Attorney documents. Without executed Estate Planning documents, your desires for the disbursement of your property and the care you wish to have in the event of a medical emergency will either be decided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or your loved ones, and those final decisions may not necessarily be what you want and ultimately put unnecessary stress on your family members during an already difficult time. Here is a breakdown of the purpose of each document and how they can protect your interests:
Will: A Will is a legal document that allows you to distribute your property and debts as you see fit. Any type of property from investment accounts and other financial assets, to furniture, jewelry or other important pieces of tangible property, can be included in your will. When drafting a will, you can choose an Executor, who is the person that ultimately carries out the terms of your will. If you name any Beneficiaries (people who receive assets from your estate) who are minors, you have the option of creating a trust for the assets they inherit, until they reach the age of majority. If you have pets, you can arrange for their care if you predecease them.
Advanced Health Care Directive: An Advanced Health Care Directive is also known as a Living Will. This document takes effect in the event that you suffer a medical emergency and become incapacitated. You have the ability to appoint a Health Care Directive Power of Attorney, who is responsible for carrying out the terms of your Advanced Health Care Directive. Through this document, you state whether you want to be on life-sustaining treatment if you become incapacitated.
Power of Attorney: A Power of Attorney document can take many different forms, but for Estate Planning purposes, a General Power of Attorney appoints a person, known as the Attorney-in-Fact, to make important decisions on your behalf. Examples of such decisions include decisions relating to the purchase or sale of real estate, bank accounts and other financial functions, and dealing with business affairs. Your Power of Attorney will not go into effect until a certain event is triggered, most commonly, in the event that you become incapacitated.
D’Amico Law, PC specializes in Estate Planning. We are available to assist you with any questions you may have regarding the drafting and execution of Estate Planning documents. If you are interested in learning more about estate planning, please contact our office by calling 610-444-4555 or emailing us at email@example.com.
One common misconception regarding divorce and custody matters is that the issues have to be litigated in court. Did you know that even though you may be dealing with a divorce or custody issue, you do not even need to set foot in a courtroom? One way to avoid timely and expensive litigation is to participate in mediation.
Mediation is a voluntary process that occurs outside of the court system and can be a successful alternative in divorce and custody matters. It is a confidential informal process where two parties discuss their issues with each other in front of a third-party neutral (the mediator). Mediation encourages parties to address the underlying interests of the family in order to resolve their issues rather than using the court system to litigate issues between the parties. The parties attempt to collaborate and come to an agreement on their own. The mediator’s role is to actively listen to both parties and attempt to clarify the issues, aiding in communication and better understanding between the parties. If the parties are able to come to an agreement, the mediator prepares the agreement. While a mediator may also be an attorney, the mediator is not acting as an attorney while in mediation. A benefit of having a mediator who is also an experienced family law attorney, is that the mediator can advise the parties on the applicable law which assists the parties in making decisions on their own and not seeking a court to make decisions that effects their lives.
The process encourages the parties to be future-oriented regarding resolution of issues. The parties are urged to communicate and understand one another which promotes a more peaceful relationship moving forward, and, in cases involving child custody, typically results in a better co-parenting relationship that ultimately benefits the children.
Most parties find mediation a great way to retain control of their personal matters. Remember, if a judge or master is required to decide your matter, then you are asking a third-party (who more likely than not) has never met you or your children to determine what is best for you and your family.
D’Amico Law, PC offers a wide variety of services, including divorce and custody mediation. The attorneys at D’Amico Law, PC are experience family law attorneys and certified mediators who handle both private and court-appointed family mediation matters. The Mediators at D’Amico Law, PC can walk you through every step of your divorce and custody matter without setting foot in Court. If you are interested in mediating your divorce and custody issues, please call 610-444-4555 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our mediation services.
How the New Grandparent Custody Laws May Help or Harm your Custody Case.
by D’Amico Law, PC
The rights of parents to raise their children as they choose, without interference from others, is recognized a fundamental constitutional right; however, the Courts also recognize the important role that grandparents and other third parties play in children’s lives, from both a best interest and safety perspective, and in doing so have placed parameters in place to allow for custodial time, when appropriate, so as not to interfere with parent’s rights.
Chapter 53 of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code addresses custody and grandparent’s rights. Specifically, Pa. C.S.A. Sections 5324 and 5325 currently address the issues of grandparent’s rights in custody. With the enactment of Senate Bill 844, those sections will be modified effective July 3, 2018.
The current law
Currently, in order to bring a claim for any form of physical of legal custody, the law states that a grandparent who acts in loco parentis (in place of the parent) has the ability to file for physical or legal custody of a child who they act as a parent towards. Additionally, a grandparent who does not act in loco parentis may also bring a claim for custody of the child if: 1) the relationship with the child began either by a court order or with the consent of the child’s parent; 2) who is responsible for the child; and 3) when one of the following occurs: a) the child is established to be a dependent child, b) the child is at risk of being exposed to parental abuse, substance abuse, neglect or incapacity, or c) the child has lived with the grandparent for at least twelve (12) consecutive months and was removed from the home by the parent.
Additionally, the law provides for the ability of a grandparent or great-grandparent to bring a claim for partial physical custody or supervised physical custody. In order to have standing to bring either of these claims, the following circumstances must occur: 1) the child’s parent is deceased and the grandparent or great-grandparent bringing the claim is either the parent or grandparent of the deceased; 2) the child’s parents have been separated for at least six (6) months or have began a divorce proceeding; or 3) the child has lived with the grandparent or great-grandparent for at least twelve (12) consecutive months and was removed from the home by the parent. The new law that is about to go into effect does not enforce the provision that the child’s parents must be separated for at least six (6) months.
The updated law – more opportunities for grandparents and third parties to seek partial physical custody
Beginning July 3, 2018, new laws enacted in Pennsylvania give grandparents more standing (or the right to bring the action before the Court) to bring a custody claim. The laws are particularly helpful for grandparents or third parties who are looking to bring claims for partial physical custody. This change in the law is partially attributed to the opioid epidemic, and the growing need for grandparent or third party caretakers to stand in as caretakers for children.
The new law for standing provides that if a child is in the care of any third party, which could be a grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc., then the third party would have standing to bring a claim for custody as long as that person has a “sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the welfare of the child.” This provision only applies when it is a third party versus a third party in a claim for custody of a child. The third party must also show that he/she is responsible for the child or willing to assume responsibility for the child. An additional requirement is that the child is in neither parent’s care.
Additionally, the new law adds to the provision were the grandparent’s relationship with the child began by either a court order or with the consent of the parents. Another requirement is added to the provision, providing that the parents of the child must either a) have started a custody proceeding in court; or 2) do not agree that the grandparent or great-grandparent should have custody of the child.
At D’Amico Law, PC, our family law attorneys have significant experience with grandparent and/or third-party custody rights issues. If you have any questions regarding grandparent rights and/or third-party custody rights, please contact us at 610-444-4555 or email us at email@example.com.