Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dec. 31 Deadline for PA Tax Rebate Applications

This is a year-end message: December 31, 2010 is the deadline to file Property Tax/Rent Rebate claim forms (PA-1000) for those who are eligible to receive a rebate from the PA Department of Revenue based upon income and status. 

The Program is described at  An application form can be downloaded from the PA Department of Revenue website.  Again, completed applications must be postmarked by Friday, December 31st to be considered.

For some Pennsylvania seniors, this is an important tax relief benefit, but one that must be sought through an application.  The Pennsylvania Property Tax / Rent Relief Program provides rebates up to $975 for PA homeowners, and up to $650 for PA renters, who meet its criteria.
The Property Tax/Rent Rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older.
The program expansion increased the income limit from $15,000 to $35,000 (which excludes half of Social Security income) for homeowners and raises the maximum rebate for both homeowners and renters from $500 to $650. The income limit for renters is $15,000.
The Program's recent expansion provides additional benefits to certain residents:
The program expansion also provides for supplemental property tax rebates of up to $325 – on top of the standard rebates – to homeowners in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton; and to those in other parts of the state who pay more than 15 percent of income on property taxes. The Revenue Department automatically calculates supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners.
The Program is described in a brochure available online.

On December 8, 2010, Governor Ed Rendell issued a Press Release entitled Governor Rendell Reminds Residents Of Dec. 31 Property Tax/rent Rebate Deadline, Free Application Assistance Available, urging those qualified for the rebates to apply by the deadline.  

The Press Release subtitle noted "Nearly 88,000 Eligible Older Adults, People with Disabilities Have Not Yet Applied."
“Nearly 619,000 seniors already applied for rebates this year, but we know there are about 88,000 more people who qualify but have not yet applied,” Governor Rendell said. “I encourage all Pennsylvanians to review the program’s criteria to consider if anyone they know may qualify for a rebate, and help those loved ones apply before the Dec. 31 deadline.”
In response to recent inquiries and complaints regarding fee-based Property Tax/Rent Rebate program application filing services offered privately, Governor Rendell reminded residents that free assistance is available at hundreds of locations across the state.
“It’s unfortunate that some companies charge fees to provide a service that the government and other agencies provide for free. Application forms and assistance are available at no cost from Department of Revenue district offices, local Area Agencies on Aging, senior centers and state legislators’ offices.”
Pennsylvania is providing a total of $772.5 million in property tax relief this year, including expanded rebates from the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate program for seniors and residents with disabilities and general property tax relief for all homeowners that was distributed through school districts this past summer.
“So far, these rebates helped to eliminate school property taxes for about 120,000 residents this year,” said Governor Rendell. “I don’t want any eligible person to miss out on this help to pay property taxes or rent.” * * *
The provided forms relate to the tax year 2009.  If past operations of the Department of Revenue predict the future, forms for the tax year 2010 will be mailed during the first quarter of 2011.  See: When will the 2009 Property Tax/Rent Rebate form be available? (Updated 09/15/2010), posted by the PA Department of Revenue.

An answer posted by the Department to another question -- Can I file a Property Tax/Rent Rebate for previous years? (Updated 09/15/2010) -- emphasizes the firmness of the coming deadline: "No. Once the deadline for filing has passed, you cannot file for a Property Tax/Rent Rebate for that year."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 PA Legal Holidays Listed by AOPC

For many, this is a holiday week, if only in a personal mindset.  But "legal holidays" are declared in advance, and are quite fixed.  A county's courthouse is closed on a recognized national or statewide "legal holiday" or a local "legal holiday."

On December 28, 2010, the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System published online the legal holidays to be observed in 2011 by all employees of the appellate courts and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.  The schedule also listed local legal holidays of the sixty-seven counties in Pennsylvania, which vary surprisingly (mostly around the end of next year).

The statewide court holidays are not a recently released secret -- the holidays were identified in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on January 6, 2010, 40 Pa.B. 525, under an Order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The recently-issued compendium of Pennsylvania 2011 County Holidays (PDF, 2 pages) integrates those holidays with additional local ones.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lawyer's Christmas Greetings

Yesterday, I updated my posting from three years ago, Scrooge: Broker, Lawyer, Accountant, or Banker? (12/21/07), and then included the link in email sent to some folks as a Holiday greeting. There are few analyses like it available online.

Ultimately, I doubt that Scrooge was a lawyer, since he did not talk like a lawyer, even for that time.

For your amusement, you may wish to consider well-circulated, alternative greetings written in "legalese" that also attempt to convey, more or less, a spirit of the season.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tax Relief Enacted

As announced in a host of media publications today, December 17, 2010, we have a new federal tax act, representing a political compromise and a temporary Congressional consensus -- but not a long-term solution -- on crucial pending income, estate/gift/generation-skipping, and social security tax issues (among other subjects).

For example, on "Estate of Confusion" (a Forbes Blog) in its posting today entitled "House Passes The Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010, H.R. 4853", Hani Sarjii highlighted the compromise, and concluded that "the reform of the estate tax is only temporary."
On December 16, 2010, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 4853, the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010. The vote was 277 in favor and 148 against.  The bill will now go to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.

H.R. 4853 is a compromise between President Obama and Republicans. It will extend the Bush Tax cuts and provide temporary estate tax reform: an estate tax rate of 35% and a $5 million exemption for individuals, for two years.

H.R. 4853 is going to change estate planning.  * * * Also, H.R. 4853 will not end estate tax uncertainty. * * *
C-SPAN reports that "The President is set to sign in to law the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 (H.R. 4853) later this afternoon [3:50 p.m]."  See also: Bloomberg News, House Passes Tax-Cut Extension, Sends Bill to Obama  (12/17/2010, with video).

My intention now is not to summarize the law, but to list a few resources online for a reader to explore and research initially.

Professor Paul L. Caron lists excellent links -- including a shorter summary (PDF, 3 pages) and a longer summary (PDF, 12 pages) -- regarding the new federal tax law in his posting President Obama Signs Tax Package Into Law (12/17/10) on the Tax Prof Blog.  [Update:  See also: More on the Obama-GOP Tax Bill (12/19/2010).]

For a running reference on the political developments leading to the new law, see: Thompson Reuters Tax Watch and its Archive covering the period November and December, 2010.  See also: Blog posting entitled Are We Having Fun Yet? (12/13/2010), by William (Bill) D. Pargaman, Esq., of Austin, TX, who prepared a tentative summary of the pending legislation as of December 9, 2010.

Descriptions about the underlying bill and its amendments are set forth by The Library of Congress (Thomas)See also: Open Congress, which lists news articles and blog postings related to it, and which also sets forth the text of the House-approved bill.

The U.S. Senate's Committee on Finance posted links on a webpage entitled S.A.4753: The Reid-McConnell Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, as follows:
BNA also provides a link to that last item above -- the final text of H.R. 4853, as amended numerous times -- being the "Senate Amendment to the House Amendment to the Senate Amendment."

Update: 2010-12-20:

Congress has approved and the President quickly signed a mulibillion dollar tax cut package, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Relief Act) (H.R. 4853). The new law follows through on the framework agreed to December 6 by President Obama and GOP leaders in Congress. The 2010 Tax Relief Act extends the Bush-era individual and capital gains/dividend tax cuts for all taxpayers for two years. The bill also provides for an AMT “patch,” a one-year payroll tax cut, 100 percent bonus depreciation through 2011 and 50 percent bonus depreciation for 2012, a top federal estate tax rate of 35 percent with a $5 million exclusion, and more. * * *
This is an excellent resource, which was posted publicly (and quickly!) for professionals and the public.  I commend CCH for doing so.  It should be a timely and trustworthy summary.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Blogger as "Best Lawyer" and "Super Lawyer"

Neil E. Hendershot Again Listed as a “Best Lawyer in America”® and as a “SuperLawyer”®

Neil E. Hendershot, Esq. was selected by his peers for inclusion in the 2011 edition of The Best Lawyers in America in the specialty of Trusts and Estates.  The letter sent to him by Steven Naifeh, Editor-in-Chief of Best Lawyers (styled as “The World’s Premier Guide”) stated: “Indeed, special congratulations are in order as you are one of a distinguished group of attorneys who have now been listed in Best Lawyers® for ten years or longer.” 

The letter notes the nature of the selection:  “Because selection to Best Lawyers is based on an exhaustive and rigorous peer-review survey (comprising more than 3.1 million confidential evaluations by your fellow top attorneys) and because no fee or purchase is required to be listed, inclusion in Best Lawyers is rightly considered a singular honor.”

For the year 2010, as for each year since 2004, Neil is also listed as a Philadelphia Magazine Super Lawyer® one of three listed in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area under the designation of Estate Planning & Probate.  Interestingly, a few Harrisburg area attorneys formerly named in that area were not renewed on the list for 2010, which testifies as to the currency of the designation.  The 2011 nomination process for Super Lawyers®, a Thomson Reuters business, is underway.  Selections will be announced to next year’s designees in late December, 2010.

According to its website, “Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.  The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.”  Publication of state-specific listings is accomplished through various Super Lawyers magazines published in all fifty states, such as that published by Philadelphia Magazine.  Locally, the listing is acknowledged annually by publication of the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Aging in America" on HealthSmart

The half-hour program, HealthSmart: Aging in America, broadcast initially on WITF-TV (Public Television; Harrisburg, PA) on November 24, 2010, asks the question: "What does a senior citizen look like in today's world?"

This program's response:  "We all know someone who is over the age of 65 and living life to the fullest."  The program examines the demographic wave of new 65+ citizens, and then considers their lifestyles and challenges.

The HealthSmart series of broadcasts is produced and hosted by Keira McGuire:
WITF's Mid-Atlantic Emmy nominated, in-studio, locally produced 30-minute health show features the medical topics that are on everyone's mind.
Local experts give practical advice on how to beat the odds and live healthier and happier, everyday. And local survivors share their touching stories to help our audience understand various diseases and conditions. 
Intended to appeal to health-conscious viewers, HealthSmart targets anyone who is looking for practical "real life" ways to live healthier every day. The focus of the series is on useful information that can be incorporated into daily life. * * *
This episode about Aging in America highlighted the expanding class of new seniors:
Soon, the first of over 75 million baby boomers will begin to earn senior citizen status.  On the next episode of HealthSmart we'll talk to baby boomers about the future.  Are they planning to slow down?  How can they stay sharp as they age?  What should they know about Medicare? * * *
If you are interested in learning why the "baby boomers" comprise "one generation that seems to be redefining the rules of aging," then watch the program online.  The graphics are pleasing, the hostess is attractive, the factual background is simply presented, the interviews of professionals (like Penn State Professor Melissa Hardy and PA Department of Aging Secretary John Michael Hall) are insightful, and the glimpses into individual lifestyles of new-age seniors are inspiring.

The theme that I derive from the program -- consistent with the Baby Boomer generation's earlier theme sung by Bob Dylan -- could be "The Times They Are a-Changin'.  The program addresses emerging challenges and opportunities, magnified due to the size of the new Senior Class.

The program is now available online for post-broadcast viewing.  The series is underwritten by Capitol Blue Cross.

Come senators, congressmen,
Please heed the call.
Don't stand in the doorway.
Don't block up the hall.
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled . . . .

-- Bob Dylan
(January, 1964)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

PA Health Department Posts New POLST Form

On November 16, 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Health posted on its website a new standard form for Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), revised 10/14/10. 

The form was listed under the website's Quick Links, but does not appear to be the subject of any press releases or further highlighted bulletins.

The concept and implementation of physician-ordered life-sustaining treatment orders is discussed in detail on the national website of that movement -- -- which maintains this paradigm:
The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Paradigm program is designed to improve the quality of care people receive at the end of life. It is based on effective communication of patient wishes, documentation of medical orders on a brightly colored form and a promise by health care professionals to honor these wishes.* * * 
Effective communication between the patient or legally designated decision-maker and health care professionals ensures decisions are sound and based on the patient’s understanding their medical condition, their prognosis, the benefits and burdens of the life-sustaining treatment and their personal goals for care.
The state-by-state implementation map on that website now needs a change.  Pennsylvania should shift from the color grey (no program), to red (endorsed programs).

The Pennsylvania POLST form is explained generally by the Explanation that accompanies it:
Pennsylvania – Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is a medical order that gives patients more control over their end-of-life care. The POLST form specifies the types of medical treatment that a patient wishes to receive towards the end of life.
These medical orders are signed by both a patient’s physician, physician’s assistant, or certified registered nurse practitioner and the patient or the patient’s surrogate.
Completion of a POLST form is only a small step in the process of a patient’s decision-making, and it is critical that this form be used as part of a program for end of life decisions that includes educational support and other aspects of planning for providers and patients.

This form was developed by the Pa. Department of Health’s Patient Life Sustaining Wishes Committee and was designed to be consistent with Pennsylvania law. There are significant advantages to using a form that contains standardized language and is produced in a distinctive and easily recognizable format. 

In order to maintain continuity throughout Pennsylvania, please follow these printing instructions: 
*** Print POLST form on 110# Pulsar Pink card stock. ***
See additional instructions on the POLST form related to completing and using the form.

As additional educational materials are developed for the POLST form and for POLST programs in Pennsylvania, they will be added to this introduction.
In recent years, the Department of Health has actively addressed end-of-life issues affecting Pennsylvanians through study groups and reports.  See:
A new POLST form for Pennsylvania was contemplated by the most recent study report, End-of-Life Care in Pennsylvania -- Final Report (2007; PDF, 121 pages), which attached as Appendix "F" the POLST form used in Oregon, which has become standardized nationwide.

The new Pennsylvania POLST form is virtually identical, except for layout and explanations, to the sample form contained in the 2007 Final Report.

Administrative issuance of a POLST form for Pennsylvania was authorized by Act No. 169 of 2006, effective January 29, 2007 (replacement Chapter 54 in the PA Probate, Estates & Fiduciaries Code), pursuant to its Section 5548.

End-of-life decision making is a difficult, emotional subject.  On November 8, 2010, an article entitled Facing death: Questions to consider when making medical decisions, by John Luciew, was posted by the Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA).  He addressed this topic using source material from the Pennsylvania Medical Society's Family Health & Wellness website, which had not yet referenced the pending POLST form.
The law and medical privacy rules consider friends and non-married companions less than “real” family.
In order to involve them in one’s own medical decisions, specific legal declarations must be made. These are known as advance health care directives, or simply, advanced directives.
There are two main types: a health care power of attorney and a living will. Most people should consider having both. * * * 
Here are some questions to consider when making advance directives:
  • Who would you trust to follow your wishes? Who can make tough choices? Who is willing and able to serve as your health care agent?
  • How you would like to be cared for if you can no longer speak for yourself? What life-sustaining treatment and other care you would want at the end of your life?
  • What personal wishes and values do you want your health care agent to consider when making decisions about your care?
Perhaps it is the emotional aspects that explain the Department's low-key implementation of the fairly standardized POLST form in Pennsylvania.

Now there is another mechanism through which such medical treatment preferences and directions can be memorialized and then  implemented in Pennsylvania.  It will change the way end-of-life decision making will be conducted.

Updated: 11/19/10:

My friend, Attorney Robert B. Wolf, of Pittsburgh, PA, noted my posting in one of his P&T Hot Tip Emails, which was reposted online by Smithfield Trust Company.

Bob served on the group that prepared the new PA POLST form:
I was privileged to serve on the Patient Life Sustaining Wishes Committee, and to work with leaders in Pennsylvania, such as Dr. Judy Black and Marian Kemp of Highmark and David Barnard, of the University of Pittsburgh in this effort.
He advised further:  "We are currently working on educational materials for healthcare providers, and after that for patients and families."

For a comprehensive list of currently-available POLST resources, see: Resources: Pennsylvania Physician Ordered Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), posted by the University of Pittsburgh's Institute on Aging.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Video: Getting Started in Estate Planning

Forbes' video network online posted, on September 15, 2010, a short segment entitled Estate Planning:  How to Get Started, starring Deborah L. Jacobs, the author of the recently-published book Estate Planning Smarts.

Her advice during the interview impresses the need for personal planning, and urges that this not "be done at home" due to the pitfalls and pain that can result.  Pain avoidance is a real motivator, since "[a]bove all, estate planning is a way to take care of yourself and the people you love."

Her book's website notes that, "[r]egardless of your net worth, a good estate plan should accomplish these essential goals:
  • Caring for yourself by authorizing people to handle your affairs if you no longer can because of illness or disability
  • Specifying who gets what after you pass away
  • Providing for children who are minors or who have special needs.
In my blog posting on September 29, 2010, I noted an article written by Deborah L. Jacobs entitled Do-It-Yourself Wills, a No-No.  I agreed with Deborah that "DYI" should not be an option in personal and estate planning.

However, thorough preparation -- in learning about this area of the law, in listing your personal goals and obstacles, and in summarizing your situation (your holdings & income, versus your debts & commitments) -- is very important.

Pairing a prepared client with a qualified professional should result in a good outcome.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mediation for Elderly

Today I enjoyed participating in a seminar presented in Pittsburgh by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute entitled "Using Mediation to Resolve Disputes Involving the Elderly".

This is the description of the course:
A variety of conflicts involving elderly persons call for effective resolutions that take into consideration a multitude of varying interests and often delicate relationships. ADR, and particularly, mediation often provides the structure and process for that to occur.
This course will provide anyone -- lawyers (general practitioners, as well as elder, healthcare, estates, trusts & probate and business law specialists) and members of the other helping professions -- with the tools they need:
  • to decide whether and when it is likely to be appropriate and helpful to use mediation or another type of ADR to resolve disputes in which that elderly person is involved,
  • to represent a client effectively in preparation for and during an ADR process to resolve such a dispute, and
  • to educate the family members of an elderly person about the conflict resolution options available to support them in maintaining positive relationships with their elderly relative.
Disputes involving the elderly arise in a variety of situations: estate planning and administration; addressing an elderly person`s changing needs or the care they are receiving (whether in a private or institutional setting); deciding on the appointment of a guardian; managing conflicts between elderly people and (of course) resolving intra-family conflicts; and conflicts within institutional settings which, if not resolved, can affect and elder's care and the liability that can accompany errors that arise when conflict is protracted.
In any of these situations, questions may arise about the ability of the elderly person to participate meaningfully in the ADR process due to his or her diminished mental capacity, and how to compensate for this condition. Sometimes, abuse of the elderly person is a factor, and almost always there are multiple parties to the conflict.
Addressing these challenges, in addition to those that typically arise in any mediation, calls for experienced and specially trained ADR practitioners. 
The course was presented previously, on October 13, 2010, in Philadelphia, where it was videotaped.

The interaction among the panel members and those in the audience today -- many with extensive mediation experiences -- set this four-hour session apart from other "lectures" I have heard (or delivered!). 

As a co-planner of the course from its inception, my contribution to written materials involved a new website hosted on Google Sites, which I entitled "Mediation for Elderly."  It remains available as a teaching tool supplementing the printed book.

On its web page entitled Article & Reports, I listed good resources to learn about mediation involving an elderly person.  One of those references is a recent article posted by the AARP Bulletin entitled "Oh, Brother! With Parents Aging, Squabbling Siblings Turn to Elder Mediation" (09/20/10), by Sally Abrahms.

Also on that web page, I referenced previous PA EE&F Law Blog postings regarding alternative dispute resolution, including mediation:
Key course planners Jim Rosenstein and Ann Begler, with the other Philadephia and Pittsburgh panelists, compiled a useful printed resource regarding mediation as one form of alternative dispute resolution well-suited to many seniors encountering problem settings.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Adult Protective Services to be Expanded

According to a Press Release issued on September 28, 2010, by PA Senator Pat Vance (R-Cumberland/York), the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on that date approved legislation sponsored by her "to provide protective services for adults with cognitive or physical disabilities."  The legislation (SB 699, PN 1888) was presented to the Governor on September 29, 2010, for his consideration of signing into law.

Senate Bill 699 (of the 2009-10 Session), is described as follows:
An Act providing for protection of abused, neglected, exploited or abandoned adults; establishing a uniform Statewide reporting and investigative system for suspected abuse, neglect, exploitation or abandonment of adults; providing for protective services; and prescribing penalties.
According to the Press Release, the legislation unifies a patchwork of services that currently exist for adults between the ages of 18 and 59, and reaches those adults with limited protections because they reside with families or non-regulated caregivers.
The Adult Protective Services system established by the bill clearly defines procedures for filing complaints of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It also provides for investigations of those complaints and the development of service plans to remove the adult from imminent harm and provide for long-term needs. 
More than 40 states currently have adult protective services systems in place that provide some level of protection and advocacy for individuals with cognitive or physical disabilities between the ages of 18 and 60.  Pennsylvania, however, has had no process by which any person who knows of the abuse of an adult in this age group can offer any meaningful assistance. * * *
During the past few years, Senator Vance focused on elder law and disability issues.  Her coordination of efforts with advocacy groups -- such as those set forth in a 2-page online listing dated July 8, 2010 of organizations supporting Senate Bill 699 -- and professional associations, such as the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Elder Law Section yielded results in the Senate and the Legislature.
"For a number of years I have advocated for this legislation, but concerns regarding funding delayed action," Vance said.
"Under the new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it appears money will be available for this worthwhile and important program that the fills the gap between the protective service systems for children and the one for older adults."
One of the organizations on that list of supporters of SB 699 is Vision for EQuality, Inc., which announced the House adoption of it with great enthusiasm:
September 28, 2010
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives today passed Senate Bill 699 to protect vulnerable adults who are abused or neglected. The House vote today was a unanimous 196-1.
SB 699 unanimously passed the Senate on July 3, 2010.
Governor Ed Rendell is expected to sign it into law. Pennsylvania is currently only one of five states yet to implement a protective services system. * * *
The advocates' years-long efforts -- now rewarded because federal funding should be available -- are noted on its home page:
Throughout Pennsylvania, there have been many cases of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities, yet there is no place to report such situations and no agency authorized to investigate them.

The PA Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC), an arm of the PA legislature, studied the issue in 2003 and concluded an adult protective services law was needed. According to that LBFC report [ An Assessment of the Need for an Adult Protective Services Program], an estimated 4,000 reports of abuse will be made statewide annually, and about 1,200 (or 30%) will be substantiated.

A House hearing held in the fall of 2006 documented a number of abuses, including a young woman with an intellectual disability who spent several days locked in a basement with her deceased sister and a woman with multiple sclerosis who was raped by her husband. Many individuals with disabilities do not come forward and press charges with traditional law enforcement because they fear retribution by the perpetrator on whom they often rely for care, food, and shelter. 

Pennsylvania has a protective services law for children and one for older adults, and now SB699 will authorize the development of a protective services system for adults ages 18 to 59. [Links added.]
Update: 11/17/10:

According to the posted Legislative History for SB 699, on October 7, 2010, Governor Rendell signed into law the legislation relating to "protective services for adults with cognitive or physical disabilities" as Act No. 70 of 2010.

According to Section 704 ("Effective Date"), "[t]his act shall take effect in six months."

Thus, the implementation date for the new law will be on April 7, 2011.

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare will be responsible for administering the new adult protective services.  Searching the Department's website for references either to Act 70 or SB 699 does not yet yield results, but it would, no doubt, as the Department approaches the effective date for the new law.

Update: 02/13/13:

Nearly two years after the enactment, I still cannot find reference on the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to this law.  I wonder about its implementation under DPW.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

PA Law Resources Available

Recently in researching, I came across a basic guide to sources of Pennsylvania law (statutory, regulatory, judicial opinions, and practice treatises) entitled "Legal Guide: Pennsylvania Practice Aids" (June, 2008; PDF, 2 pages), posted by the Widener University School of Law's library.

Such a primer should be helpful for any "newbies" to the subject of Pennsylvania law, whether first-year law students or other students seeking an overview of rules issued by Pennsylvania's three-branch system (legislative, judicial, & executive).

Widener University Law School's library in Harrisburg, PA, is listed among similar facilities at the eight Pennsylvania law schools, as compiled by, a legal information service.  Its law collections can be searched online, just like the online legal collection at the University of Pennsylvania Law School's Law Library, and many others.  Some of these resources are restricted to students, but many of the linked resources are usable by anyone.

In Pennsylvania, the most comprehensive online resource of law-related links likely remains Pennsylvania Legal Research Websites, which I reviewed previously.  I described it as "the definitive listing of legal links in the Commonwealth.See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "PA Legal Research Websites" Shines (05/01/08).  Younger folks would just say, "Awesome!"

For general questions in Pennsylvania, we could consider another resource:  the Ask Here PA service, which is "designed to provide fast answers to your questions, using information found on the Internet and in proprietary databases funded by libraries." 

They promise a response to a question sent by email within fifteen minutes or less.

Sounds like an oracle I might use on a tough issue.

“The ancient oracle said that I was the wisest of all the Greeks.
It is because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.”

 -- Socrates (Ancient Greek Philosopher, 470 BC-399 BC)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Wills, a No-No

On September 7, 2010, Forbes  published and posted an excellent article about "Do-It-Yourself" estate planning written by an experienced business and legal writer.

Her message:  "Why am I strenuously opposed to do-it-yourself wills? There are just so many things that can go wrong -- from the wording of the document, to the required formalities for how it must be signed and witnessed before it can be valid."

In researching her article, The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Wills, Deborah L. Jacobs made inquiries through the listserv of the American College of Trust & Estate Counsel (ACTEC), collecting, from experienced specialized lawyers, their "horror" stories of self-help estate planning gone bad.  She recites some accounts in her lengthy article.

I agree with her advice.  Don't write testamentary documents -- those taking effect (and becoming irrevocable) to direct property after your death -- by yourself, without at least a review by an experienced elder law attorney.

For many years while teaching Estate Planning & Administration or Elder Law at Widener Law School, Harrisburg Campus, I directed second- and third-year law students to draft a last will, a health care directive, or a durable power of attorney as part of a graded project.  I allowed, even encouraged, use of consumer-oriented estate planning software, but mandated that all documents "work" according to the expectation of the hypothetical client.

Such highly-educated law students, who took a course and who sought a good grade, often made mistakes that an experienced practitioner would not.  Sometimes they used a wrong "form" to accomplish an end or create a relationship.  Other mistakes ranged from misspellings, omission of crucial data, internal inconsistencies in directions, disregard of non-probate designations that would control, citations to incorrect law, incomplete statements of intention or flawed dispositions (some in long-term trusts), and lack of backup plans or successor appointments.

Now, if trained law students make such mistakes, why would a consumer without training do better?

Just as those students might learn from using a self-help legal program to produce a draft of a document for discussion, a consumer could become educated.

Those easily-printed documents could be flawed, however; so the output should be reviewed by someone knowledgeable in applicable law and legal procedure.
Using a DIY will is like "pulling your own tooth with a pair of pliers instead of going to the dentist." -- Timothy E. Kalamaros, Esq., South Bend, Indiana

Monday, August 09, 2010

End of Life: Concerns & Costs

Last week Elwood Raber, an uncle of my wife and a long-retired science teacher, died at 86 in the Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, after his body finally shut down in slow motion, like a clock not wound -- an agony for relatives to witness while recalling active times. The health care providers and hospice servants steadied that process with awareness, knowledge, and connection. In some ways, he was blessed while dying.

Twelve years after publication of a definitive study, with recommendations, by the
Institute of Medicine, entitled Approaching Death: Improving Care at the End of Life (12/01/98, 437 pages), there have been many advancements in multi-faceted care provided to those who are dying, and tangentially to their loved ones. You can read the entire report and recommendations online, free. See also: When Children Die: Improving Palliative and End-of-Life Care for Children and Their Families (07/25/02), and Describing Death in America: What We Need to Know (04/07/03), both issued by the National Cancer Policy Board.

Florence Wald, once Dean of the School of Nursing at Yale University, started the hospice movement in the United States in 1971, which now has grown to over 3,400 hospice organizations nationwide. See: Hospice founder leaves legacy (11/28/08) by Florence Dethy, published by the Yale Daily News.

Her Alma Mater, Yale University, through its medical, nursing, and theological graduate schools, has offered courses for inter-disciplinary, specialized study about all aspects of dying. See: End-of-Life Care Gets Emphasis in New Yale Curriculum (06/28/08), published in the Yale Bulletin.
The Yale School of Medicine has worked with the Schools of Nursing and Divinity, Yale Religious Ministries, and the Palliative Care Services of Yale-New Haven Hospital to develop an interdisciplinary program that will focus on symptom management, culture and spirituality, and the importance of a multi-disciplinary team approach to patient care. * * *
Still, the issue of cost expended in the treatment of those in a dying process remains largely unaddressed, because traditional medical services to those likely to die remain uncontrolled for the majority of Americans.

The staggering costs of end-of-life medical services were considered in an article originally posted Nov. 22, 2009, and updated on August 6, 2010, by CBS online in conjunction with a 60 Minutes video report (broadcast on Sunday, August 8, 2010), entitled
The Cost of Dying: End-of-Life Care Patients' Last Two Months of Life Cost Medicare $50 Billion Last Year; Is There a Better Way?
Last year, Medicare paid $55 billion just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients' lives. That's more than the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Education. And it has been estimated that 20 to 30 percent of these medical expenses may have had no meaningful impact. Most of the bills are paid for by the federal government with few or no questions asked.

Now you might think this would have been an obvious thing for Congress to address when it passed health care reform, but as we reported last November in the midst of the debate, what use to be a bipartisan issue has become a politically explosive one - a perfect example of the rising costs that threaten to bankrupt the country and how hard it is to rein them in.* * *
The future for many people who face death in hospitals is chilling, and so are the bills left behind:
[I]t costs up to $10,000 a day to maintain someone in the intensive care unit. Some patients remain here for weeks or even months; one has been there for six months.

"This is the way so many Americans die. Something like 18 to 20 percent of Americans spend their last days in an ICU," [Dr. Ira] Byock told Kroft. "And, you know, it's extremely expensive. It's uncomfortable. Many times they have to be sedated so that they don't reflexively pull out a tube, or sometimes their hands are restrained."

"This is not the way most people would want to spend their last days of life. And yet this has become almost the medical last rites for people as they die." * * *
While end-of-life patients are suffering from such therapies, medical resources become directed from progressive healing to simply sustaining, and the patient or relatives may not consider alternatives that may be more "multi-disciplinary" and personal.
After analyzing Medicare records for end-of-life treatment, Fisher is convinced that there is so much waste in the present system that if it were eliminated there would be no need to ration beneficial care to anyone.

Multiple studies have concluded that most patients and their families are not even familiar with end-of-life options and things like living wills, home hospice and pain management.* * *
My friend, Ron Grenoble, a kind, intelligent, and quiet man, had sent the link for this article to me earlier today in an email.

He highlighted one quote, noteworthy for him, and now for me too:

Dr. Byock . . . says "modern medicine has become so good at keeping the terminally ill alive by treating the complications of underlying disease that the inevitable process of dying has become much harder and is often prolonged unnecessarily. . . . This is a hard time in human life. But it's just a part of life," Byock said.

"Collectively, as a culture, we really have to acknowledge that we're mortal," he said.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"Wills for Heroes" Workshops Multiply in PA & DE

The Pennsylvania Bar Association presses forward on its successfully-sponsored "Wills for Heroes" program, promoted by its Young Lawyers Division.

The program is described by the PBA-YLD as follows:

“Wills for Heroes” provides police, fire and emergency medical personnel -- those on the frontlines for our personal safety -- the tools they need to prepare adequately for the future.

Programs are staffed by lawyer volunteers and are conveniently offered to first responders at meeting halls and police and fire stations.

The PBA and the Wills for Heroes Foundation are hosting upcoming events to provide free wills and powers of attorney to first responders -- police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other men and women who risk their lives every day to make sure our communities are safe.* * *

The PBA's Wills for Heroes program is also described in a flyer for volunteers (PDF) posted online.

In two blog posts over the past two years, I tracked such personal and estate planning services offered free to certain first responders in Pennsylvania, beginning at a county bar association level and then advancing into statewide PBA sponsorship. See:
Firefighters, First Responders, and Free Wills (05/15/08) and PBA's Young Lawyers Sponsor "Wills for Heroes" (05/09/09). That organized effort now has strengthened and matured in Pennsylvania, which was the 21st state to endorse and implement the national Wills for Heroes program.

n September, 2009, that effort was cited nationally as a model and symbol of volunteerism. See: Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood honor the Wills for Heroes Foundation.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's Press Release, entitled Governor Rendell Commends Volunteers on National Day of Service and Remembrance (09/11/09), as posted by, stated, "There is no better example of the spirit of volunteerism than the Wills for Heroes project that we are seeing in action today, and it is especially appropriate as we observe the anniversary of the terrible events of 9/11."

Law school students, such as those I teach at Widener University School of Law (Harrisburg Campus), and those at
WLS (Delaware Campus) joined the movement in public workshops held Saturday, April 17, 2010. The Harrisburg (Dauphin County) event is the subject of an online photo gallery posted by the PBA.

WLS-Delaware students held their second "Wills for Heroes" event on July 10, 2010, when "nearly 60 clients turn out to receive pro bono legal services." See: Delaware Campus Hosted Another Successful Wills for Heroes Event (07/27/10).

The event saw volunteer attorneys prepare wills, advance health care directives, and financial powers of attorneys free of cost for Delaware firefighters, paramedics, police officers, corrections officers, probation officers, and their spouses or partners. * * *

The law school places such an emphasis on public service that it just made sense to bring the two together. Everyone quickly became committed to the idea of Widener being the vessel that makes this opportunity available to Delaware’s emergency service workers.”

Widener Law’s Delaware campus hopes to coordinate a Wills for Heroes document-preparation event once a semester. Subsequent events will move around to the First State’s three counties. Widener Law, the official Delaware affiliate of the Wills for Heroes program, ran its first event on April 17th. * * *
The effort in Pennsylvania still appears rooted in practitioners and their staff. In its August 2, 2010 electronic bulletin to members, the Pennsylvania Bar Association requested assistance for further workshops scheduled around the state:
At least 10 to 20 lawyers, three or four notaries (who aren't required to be lawyers) and several witnesses (anyone over the age of 18) are needed for each event.

Lawyer volunteers do not need to practice trust and estate law. A mini-course will be given the morning of the event to familiarize volunteers with what they need to know. Also, several lawyers well-versed in estate planning will be available during the day to answer any questions that may arise. * * *

New volunteers are asked to complete the
online registration form
. * * *
That bulletin noted upcoming Wills for Heroes events in Pennsylvania:
Bucks County (Contact coordinators Lisa A. Shearman and Jennifer Murphy)
  • Aug. 7: Trevose Fire Company, Trevose
  • Aug. 28: Trevose Fire Company, Trevose
  • Sept. 11: Public Safety Training Center, Doylestown
Lackawanna County (Contact coordinator Jason Morrison)
  • Oct. 2: Scranton Police Department, Scranton
Montgomery County (Contact coordinator Shearman)
  • Sept. 25: Montgomery Township Fire Department, Montgomeryville
York County (Contact coordinator Mac Brillhart)
  • Sept. 18: York Township Emergency Service Personnel, York
According to the PBA's bulletin, "For more information about the Wills for Heroes program, send an e-mail to Dan McKenna or Lisa A. Shearman and visit the Wills for Heroes Foundation website and the PBA Young Lawyers Division website."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PA Inheritance Tax as Law Review Subject

The Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax rarely is the subject of law review articles. But the most recent issue of the Penn State Law Review (Volume 114, Issue 3), published by The Dickinson School of Law of Penn State University, contains an excellent article (known as as a "Comment") on the subject.

Timothy J. Witt (J.D. 2010, Penn State) published Individuals and Inheritance Taxes: A Praxeological Examination of Pennsylvania’s Inheritance Tax, 114 Penn St. L. Rev. 1105 (2010) [PDF, pages 1105-1139], on April 19, 2010, as noted on that Law Review's website.

The author's introduction defines his subject and its treatment:
Much has been written regarding the economic effects of the federal estate tax, but relatively little has been published about state inheritance taxes and their economic consequences.
Additionally, what has been written has not been addressed primarily to a legal audience. The legal literature discussing the Pennsylvania inheritance tax, one of the eleven effective state inheritance or estate taxes found across the country, is no exception to this observation; beyond practice guides, few legal resources have discussed the tax, and virtually none have substantively and systematically examined its economic effects.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania's inheritance tax, like those of other states that have such taxes, has never been specifically analyzed in a legal context from the unique perspective of praxeology, an economic framework rooted in the study of individual human action.

This praxeological approach, with its recognition of “the market” as the aggregation of the actions and exchanges of individual persons, provides several significant and relevant insights into the nature of Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax. * * *
The article first provides a "brief introduction of both the history of Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax and praxeology," and then examines the Pennsylvania inheritance tax:
  1. in its current statutory form,
  2. as it would have been affected by a recent bill in the General Assembly, and
  3. in the extreme forms possibly permitted by the case law of both Pennsylvania and the United States Supreme Court.
In Part IV, this Comment outlines the economic effects of each of these three expressions of Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax in four praxeologically-significant categories:
  • ante-mortem capital accumulation,
  • ante-mortem capital flight,
  • post-mortem capital consumption, and
  • state revenue. [Reparagrphing applied.]
Consistent with his approach, the author notes that the "Comment advocates neither for nor against the Pennsylvania inheritance tax on the level of public policy."

The Comment analyzes one House member's attempt to phase out Pennsylvania's inheritance tax completely by 2012. House Bill 377 was introduced in November, 2007, by Representative Scott Perry (R) of the 92nd Legislative District.

That legislation failed, as did subsequent attempts to terminate the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax. See:
PA EE&F Law Blog posting, New Attempts to Abolish PA Inheritance Tax (03/02/09).

Given the fiscal shortfall currently for the Commonwealth, and projected burdens on state taxpayers deriving from liberal retirement benefits promised to state workers, I believe that such legislation will continue to fail, as a matter of politics.

The author instead approaches the issue of repeal from an academic approach; and in this analysis, the practicing lawyer may fall away. However, the author's discussion offers a researched and rational approach to a difficult issue -- taxation of interests transferring upon death of an individual.

He concludes, generally:

With regard to Pennsylvania's inheritance tax, praxeology supports the conclusion that high inheritance tax rates would cause significant economic decline by fostering both capital consumption and capital flight, with a secondary effect being a decline in state revenue.

Likewise, under a praxeological examination, the Commonwealth's current inheritance tax causes some capital consumption and capital flight, albeit at levels insufficient to have presently created economic decline in Pennsylvania.

Repealing Pennsylvania's inheritance tax would foster additional economic growth through the increase of capital accumulation and a decrease in capital flight, which could have the contingent potential of increasing state revenue in the long term.

In terms of the debate over the Pennsylvania inheritance tax, the key praxeological insight is that the tax does not encourage economic growth. Rather, Pennsylvania's inheritance tax is something of a hindrance to economic expansion. * * * [Reparagrphing applied.]
Just how difficult an issue state taxation remains is demonstrated in another article that appears in the same law review issue. Jaime S. Bumbarger (J.D. 2010, Penn State) published Pennsylvania's Taxpayer Relief Act: Big Gamble Pays Off for Some, But Most Lose Their Shirt, 114 Penn St. L. Rev. 1004 (2010) [PDF, pages 1004-1018], which examines taxation of real estate in the Commonwealth.

For its case law citations on the topic alone, the law review's Comment about Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax is valuable. But it also adds a fresh analysis that could be considered by elected representatives who determine taxation upon decedents in the Commonwealth.