Tuesday, December 27, 2011

PA Courts' 2012 Calendars & Holidays

On December 27, 2011, the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania posted its chart of County Holidays for 2012 (PDF, 2 pages), which summarizes legal and operating holidays designated by counties for the various courthouses in the Commonwealth.  This is a most useful, even essential, chart.  It completes the posting of all Pennsylvania court calendars for 2012.

The chart appeared on the website for Pennsylvania courts, operated by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), which increasingly offers online resources essential to interaction with the Commonwealth's legal system, as summarized in its Web Portal webpage:
The AOPC’s Unified Judicial System web portal site has recently been redesigned to provide more useful information in an easier-to-navigate format. All aspects of the site, including the look and feel and the technology upon which the site is based, were reprogrammed.
Both public and secure information is available on this site. Secure information is available through specialized e-services for users with a secure login. Approval for these services must be granted by a county clerk of court or district court administrator.
Listed below are some of the e-services available to users:
Some of these links are secured to specific groups of users in the court system or law enforcement, while other resources are made available publicly, such as the Public Calendar Schedule, explained on the website.

The AOPC website also lists or links calendars for Pennsylvania appellate courts and their support offices in 2012, as follows:
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania:
Superior Court of Pennsylvania:
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania:
One more tip:  Attorneys licensed in Pennsylvania should create a personal account on the AOPC website to interact on law license matters.

Personalized AOPC accounts are also available to the pubic for informational purposes.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Phila Inquirer Reports on Elder Abuse

On December 23, 2011, The Philadelphia Inquirer posted an article, Financial abuse of the elderly is approaching a crisis, researcher says, by Chris Mondics, that reports the opinion of Mark Lachs, a geriatrician and social scientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, who believes "an epidemic of thefts and fraud targeting the elderly -- by lawyers, financial advisers, family members, and others -- is fast becoming a national crisis."
Their work suggests that millions are victimized every year. But only a fraction of the incidents ever comes to the attention of authorities.

"There are millions and millions of people who are affected, and it is enormous in its scope; you go to a dinner, and everyone has a . . . story," Lachs says. "If this were a disease, we would probably say it is an epidemic."
The article identifies and explains the immediate implications -- personal and communal -- of financial elder abuse:
Projected on a national stage, the results suggest that at least 2.5 million people over 60 are victimized by family members, financial advisers, scammers, and others. Even Lachs' tally was likely an undercount because elderly people suffering from severe mental decline, a group at high risk for being preyed upon, were not polled.
The resources lost in those schemes will not be passed down to heirs or donated to charities. Nor can the assets pay for nursing-home care. Elderly victims who lose their savings often turn to Medicaid, the government health-care program. * * *
The article expands those implications, however, to include poorer health and reduced life expectancy for victims.
To this day, their work remains the only epidemiological research quantifying the effect of financial exploitation, neglect, and physical abuse on elderly survival rates. Adjusting the results for chronic diseases, race, income, marital status, and the quality and strength of social networks, the key finding was that abused members of the study group died at three times the rates of those who had not been mistreated.

In the dry and technical language epidemiologists favor, the group reported that "the need for adult protective service generally and elder mistreatment specifically were independent predictors of early death."

The study offered no medical explanation for why abuse victims might die sooner than others; it was not designed to do so. But Lachs finds the answers self-evident.

Apart from the chance that abuse victims might succumb to the effects of their injuries, he sees many nuanced linkages between exploitation, abuse, and failing health. * * *
See: Study: Mortality rate of elderly abuse victims is 3 times higher. 

The Inquirer compiles its recent elder abuse reporting on a "project page" entitled Financial Fraud: A Big Risk for the Elderly.   

It offers links to helpful, reputable resources advocating for victims and against perpetrators of elder abuse, particularly affecting finances.
Pennsylvania and its eastern counties:
New Jersey and its Philadelphia-area counties:
Another useful linked resources is the Clinician's Pocket Guide ("Preventing Elder Investment Fraud:  Assessing for Vulnerability to Financial Exploitation", 80 sheets), created through Baylor College of Medicine's Huffington Center on Aging.

Monday, November 14, 2011

PA Courts, then Joe Paterno

What can we learn from the tortuous events of last week here in Central Pennsylvania, which unfolded following criminal charges filed against a former Penn State University coach alleged to have molested or assaulted many young boys?  See: Thirty-Third Investigating Grand Jury Presentment (Nov., 2011; 23 pp.; PDF).

Juvenile dependency proceedings can result from similar initial complaints, then investigations, of child neglect, abuse, or assault by a caretaker. The Presentment does not mention the word "dependency", but the common theme is protection of minors.

We cannot change past events.  People involved can be criticized, fired, imprisoned, and sued, as a judgment; but are those actions a healing "remedy"?
rem·e·dy  (rm-d)    n. pl. rem·e·dies
1. Something, such as medicine or therapy, that relieves pain, cures disease, or corrects a disorder.
2. Something that corrects an evil, fault, or error.
3. Law A legal order of preventing or redressing a wrong or enforcing a right. * * *
One commentator today recommended some remedies that could be initiated by someone at the center of the controversies.  In his article How Paterno can promote healing, posted by CNN (11/14/11), Prof. Jeffrey W. Pollard, of George Mason University (and a past president of both the American Board of Counseling Psychology and the American Academy of Counseling Psychology), made a suggestion -- to Joe Paterno:
Ironically, it is Paterno who is now uniquely able to help child sexual abuse victims summon the courage they need and to use this tragedy as a teachable moment that will benefit many. What should he do? * * *
Paterno is in a unique position to educate the nation that reporting child sexual abuse, and supporting those who have been harmed, often involves more courage than standing up to a blitzing all-American linebacker. 
Late in life, baseball legend Mickey Mantle admitted that his hard drinking had harmed his family. It also led to alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver, and Mantle's untimely death at age 63. In a Sports Illustrated cover story and other forums, Mantle urged others not to do what he had done and to get treatment for alcoholism. 
Through humility, and concern for others, it was Mantle's finest hour, on or off the field. 
Paterno's finest hour, which would facilitate healing for child sexual abuse victims, greater public education and more offenders' being locked up could still be ahead of him. 
More than any other play Paterno has had to call, this is clearly the most important one. But this is not a game: it is about children's lives. Let us hope and pray he gets it right.
If Paterno did so, he would be in good company -- Pennsylvania judges and the Commonwealth's court system.

A set of criminal prosecutions in 2008 arising from Luzerne County, PA, investigations, simply labeled thereafter by the media as the "Kids for Cash Scandal", is described in Wikipedia:
The "Cash for Kids" scandal unfolded in 2008 over judicial kickbacks at the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Two judges, President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan, were accused of accepting money from the co-owner and builder of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities, in return for contracting with the facilities and imposing harsh sentences on juveniles brought before their courts in order to ensure that the detention centers would be utilized.
Ciavarella and Conahan pleaded guilty on February 13, 2009, pursuant to a plea agreement * * *.  [Reparagraphed; footnotes omitted.]
Responses to that scandal were not limited to criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits, but led into extensive study and then institutional changes, as represented by the Pennsylvania Courts' issuance of the Pennsylvania Dependency Benchbook (May, 2010):
The Pennsylvania Dependency Benchbook is a comprehensive reference guide designed to assist family court judges and child dependency practitioners in the process of helping abused and neglected children and their families. The Benchbook was written by Pennsylvania judges for Pennsylvania judges. * * *

The document is a comprehensive resource that combines Pennsylvania law, organized pragmatically to allow quick and efficient use, with a series of state and national best practices that will provide judges and practitioners, from the least to most experienced, with the best possible information to support children and families safely.

Read the Introductory Letter from Justice Max Baer

View The Benchbook Online

Download The Benchbook (PDF– 2.7 MB)
See: Press Release, Supreme Court Releases New Dependency Guide (07/23/10) which announced the "guide developed by Pennsylvania trial judges to aid lawyers and other judges in deciding whether, in juvenile dependency cases, a child should be removed from the home." See also:  Pennsylvania Dependency Benchbook Resource Companion.

The Benchbook was a product of those intensive investigations and self-examinations, which also resulted in creation of the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, in July, 2009, as noted in that Wikipedia article:
In the aftermath of the federal charges and defendant pleas, the Pennsylvania General Assembly moved to create a commission to investigate the entire set of circumstances surrounding the miscarriage of justice in Luzerne County. 
Sponsored by Representative Todd Eachus of Butler Township in Luzerne County, House Bill 1648 established the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice in July 2009. The commission comprises 11 members, appointed from each branch of government in Pennsylvania, with four members chosen by the judiciary, four by the legislature and three by the governor. 
In signing the legislation on August 7, 2009, Governor Ed Rendell castigated Ciavarella and Conahan, saying they "violated the rights of as many as 6000 young people by denying them basic rights to counsel and handing down outrageously excessive sentences. The lives of these young people and their families were changed forever." 

Scheduled to meet a minimum of once per month, the commission was organized to investigate the actions of and damages caused by the two judges and review the state of the Luzerne County courts left in the wake of their tenures. The commission was given power of subpoena and was required to complete its work and report its recommendations and findings to the three branches of state government by May 31, 2010.
The Commission's Final Report, along with a Summary of Recommendations, was issued in May, 2010.

Awareness can be expanded, lessons can be learned, change can occur; and that is what we can remember, and how we can find inspiration.  

It is how we react to find a "remedy" to wrongs that defines our character and that alters the future.  That re-action can become our legacy and others' hope:
Mickey [Mantle] died in Dallas on August 13, 1995.  During the first Yankee home game after his death, Eddie Layton played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the organ because Mickey had once told him it was his favorite song.

In his eulogy, sportscaster Bob Costas described Mickey Mantle  as “a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic.” 
He added: “In the last year of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be. And, in the end, people got it.”  
-- Mickey Mantle: The Man Behind the Legend, posted by Self-Help Daily
Update: 11/15/11:

In "Joe Paterno legacy needs new final chapter" (11/14/11) posted on ESPN's Big Ten Blog, Brian Bennett argued that the "legacy of Paterno" could, and should, be altered by his future efforts against child abuse:
It's inarguable that JoePa has done a lot of good for a lot of people in his life. Now he must undertake his greatest challenge. He cannot let this be the final chapter of his story.

When Paterno emerges from his cocoon, he has only one choice for going forward. He should spend the rest of his time working for victims of child abuse. * * *

Paterno could travel around the state of Pennsylvania and across the country leading fundraisers and charity events, telling his story and letting everyone know how truly sorry he is.

He could star in public-service announcements and lead a movement to locate all the victims and give them whatever help they need. Paterno knows how to rally teams together, and he has led fundraising campaigns before. * * *

[H]e can spend the rest of his life atoning and doing whatever he can to ease the pain of those victims -- and working to make sure a similar situation never happens again. That's a much more fitting final act. * * *
Update:  07/23/12:

Coach Paterno's debilitating lung cancer leading to his death on January 22, 2012, at age 85, may have prevented him from embarking on a new crusade for awareness and remediation of child sexual abuse; but others here in Central Pennsylvania will do so as part of an educational mission.

Today, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) issued program sanctions against, and required remedial actions by, the Pennsylvania State University arising from Sandusky-related child sex abuse crimes.  See:  NCAA's statement, Penn State failures draw unprecedented NCAA sanctions (07/23/12).

The NCAA's harsh judgment of Penn State and its clear warnings to other educational institutions, stands in contrast to the accepting and remorseful message, President's statement regarding NCAA decree, posted on the Penn  State website by its current leader, Rodney Erickson.
* * * Penn State accepts the penalties and corrective actions announced today by the NCAA. With today’s announcement and the action it requires of us, the University takes a significant step forward.

The NCAA ruling holds the University accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the University community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.

The NCAA also mandates that Penn State become a national leader to help victims of child sexual assault and to promote awareness across our nation. Specifically, the University will pay $12 million a year for the next five years into a special endowment created to fund programs for the detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse. This total of $60 million can never reduce the pain suffered by victims, but will help provide them hope and healing. * * *

It is important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and making necessary changes. We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative. * * *
The NCAA decree was entered voluntarily by Penn State before the announcement was made.  According to the NCAA's Statement:
Penn State fully cooperated with the NCAA on this examination of the issues and took decisive action in removing individuals in leadership who were culpable.

"The actions already taken by the new Penn State Board of Trustees chair Karen Peetz and Penn State President Rodney Erickson have demonstrated a strong desire and determination to take the steps necessary for Penn State to right these severe wrongs," said Emmert.

I said many months ago in my blog posting: "It is how we react to find a 'remedy' to wrongs that defines our character and that alters the future."

These rigorous pledged actions, in the process of fulfillment over not just the ensuing five years, but beyond, will emphasize values of caring over competition, will encourage us at all levels to be aware, responsive, and accountable, and thereby will protect helpless children from future abuse.

This is not punishment; it is a proper "remedy".  Such processes should occur not only at Penn State, or in Pennsylvania, but across America.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"Tax Talk Today" Online

Browsing through the Trusts & Estates website recently, I noted a useful learning service regarding federal tax laws and return preparation, available on the Internet: Tax Talk Today.
Sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service, Tax Talk Today is a live Internet program featuring industry tax experts and professionals and top representatives from the IRS.
Each program features discussions, real time interaction and the opportunity for viewers to participate in the discussion by e-mailing questions directly to the studio. Late-breaking news from the IRS may augment or pre-empt original programming, making Tax Talk Today a primary you heard it here first source of news about IRS initiatives, rules and decisions.
In addition to the Live webcast, the FREE programs are available for up to 12 months through Tax Talk Today archives, as audio Podcasts or on DVD (perfect for conducting group viewings or for staff training).
This service began in 2001 as a public service of the IRS, according to "Website of the Month: Tax Talk Today" (2004), by  Susan B. Anders, posted by The CPA Journal, published by the New York State Society of CPAs.  Since 2009, the presentations have been produced by Tax Talk Today, Inc., a private company in Bethesda, MD, with content provided by tax-related companies in coordination with the IRS .

Tax Talk Today is promoted as a free service for those "auditing" presentations -- that is, those who do not expect to receive certified professional education credits.  Without payment (but still with a required online registration), you can replay any presentation, either live or archived, over an Internet-connected device.  Also, you can read the word-for-word transcripts of any past session, including any post-presentation supplemental materials.
Free of charge, viewers can tune in to each program and watch live, in addition to watching for up to 12 months by going to the Archives, or listening to the Audio Podcasts.
Earning CPE credit requires a purchase.* * *
The topics are varied, current, and important for tax professionals.  Past presentations are archived for a year, so listening or retrieving materials can be done conveniently.

Examples of archived presentations in 2011 instructive for a trust and estates lawyer, an accountant/preparer, or a consumer interested in this federal tax principles and procedures, include:
To watch a presentation or access transcripts of past sessions, you must first provide an email address and create a password, then reply to an automated message sent to that email address.  When you log in for the first time, you must complete a registration form with basic information.

All that is simple.  Far harder is recalling what email address and password you supplied originally -- so keep both with your tax records.
"Our office thinks these tax talk sessions are a great idea.
An easy way of getting information out."
-- A Tax Talk Today participant

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

PA Inheritance Tax Summarized

Pennsylvania is one of 22 states (and the District of Columbia) that imposes an estate tax due after the death of an individual, and is one of only six states that applies an inheritance tax upon residents receiving assets from a decedent or against real estate located here.

With the increased asset thresholds applicable to federal estate, gift, and generation-skipping taxes, which reduce return reporting and tax payments, there is renewed focus on state death taxes. See: Where Not To Die In 2011 -- June Update (06/10/11), by Ashlea Ebeling, and How to Cut Estate Taxes -- Without Moving (07/19/11) by Hani Sarji, both posted by Forbes.

For those seeking a quick overview of the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax, read the short, official summary that appeared on page 19 in The Tax Compendium (Dec., 2010), issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

The cover letter to that report notes its educational use, in the form of a disclaimer: "The Tax Compendium describes the basis, rate and history of Pennsylvania taxes and is intended for research and background information. It is a general guide to Pennsylvania taxes, not a tax manual." 

With that said, here is its useful introductory summary about Pennsylvania "Inheritance and Estate Taxes":
The personal representative of the decedent’s estate or the transferee pays inheritance and estate taxes using proceeds from the estate. The local Register of Wills acts as the Commonwealth’s agent in the collection of these taxes.
The inheritance tax is imposed on the value of the decedent’s estate transferred to beneficiaries by will or intestacy. Certain inter vivos transfers are also subject to inheritance tax. A fractional portion of property held by the decedent and one or more other persons jointly with the right of survivorship is taxable in the decedent’s estate. Specified deductions may be taken in determining taxable estate value.
Inheritance tax is not levied on transfers of assets to certain types of entits. Transfers to governmental entities are exempt. Also exempt are transfers of property to charitable and fraternal organizations when the property is used exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes. Transfers to qualified veteran organizations are not subject to inheritance tax.
The tax rates levied against estates are based on to whom property is bequeathed. Inheritance tax on the transfer of non-jointly held property to spouses is levied at 0%. The transfer of property from children twenty-one years of age or younger to their parent (either natural, step, or adoptive) is taxed at a rate of 0%. All other transfers to lineal heirs are taxed at the rate of 4.5%. Transfers to siblings (defined as those having at least one parent in common with the decedent, related by blood or adoption) are subject to a tax rate of 12%. Transfers to all other persons are taxed at a rate of 15%.
The estate tax is a pick-up tax imposed to absorb the maximum amount of cedit allowed by federal estate tax law toward state death taxes. For residents, the estate tax represents the difference between the Pennsylvania inheritance tax plus death taxes paid to other states and the maximum federal credit for state taxes allowed by federal estate tax law.
If a resident owned or had an interest in real property or tangible personal property located in another state, the estate tax is reduced by the amount of death taxes paid to the other state or by a proportional amount of the federal credit, whichever is greater.
For nonresidents who owned or had an interest in property located in this Commonwealth, the estate tax is the difference between the Pennsylvania inheritance tax and a proportionate share of the federal credit in the same ratio that the property located in this Commonwealth subject to federal estate tax bears to the decedent’s gross federal estate.
The federal credit upon which the Pennsylvania estate tax is based is phased out between 2002 and 2005. Once the credit is completely phased out, the Pennsylvania estate tax is eliminated. However, estate tax collections will rebound when the federal credit is fully reinstated in 2013.
Inheritance and estate tax payments are due upon the death of the decedent and become delinquent nine months after the individual’s death. If inheritance taxes are paid within three months of the decedent’s death, a 5% discount is allowed. No discount is permitted for estate tax paid within three months of the death of the decedent.
The enabling legislation is Article XXI of the Tax Reform Code of 1971 (P.L. 6, No. 2), as amended, and Chapter 17 of Title 72 (Taxation and Fiscal Affairs), as amended.
For a technical analysis of the underlying law, see the law review article Individuals and Inheritance Taxes: A Praxeological Examination of Pennsylvania’s Inheritance Tax, by Timothy J. Witt, published in the Penn State Law Review, 114 Penn St. L. Rev. 1105 (2010), as noted in PA EE&F Law Blog posting PA Inheritance Tax as Law Review Subject (06/24/10).

The Department offers a few resources online to explain and administer Pennsylvania Inheritance and Estate Taxes, including a general explanation, a "Find Answers" Q&A Section, and official forms, returns, and instructions. The best explanations are found in primary documents -- the Inheritance Tax Return -- Resident Decedent (REV-1500 Form and its Instructions (REV-1501).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Granny Snatching" Prohibition Pending in PA

Would you remember what "UAGPPJA" means, or what it could do in Pennsylvania, without an association to "granny snatching"?  Maybe that's why such a Scrabble of title letters is linked to a simple, silly phrase.  The serious and unremedied abuse situations involving transport of incapacitated elderly persons must be corrected by a dry, but effective, proposed model statute.

[Note:  See last Update below as to enactment of the proposal on July 5, 2012, effective sixty days thereafter.]

The term "granny snatching" was referenced in a November 12, 2007 article in The National Law Journal entitled, Dealing with 'Granny snatching' -- Model law aims to untangle adult guardianship, by Peter Page.  That article addressed the final version of the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA), which received approval at the 2007 annual meeting of the National Conference of Commissioners for Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL).   See also:  Uniform Laws Needed to Deal With Interstate 'Granny Snatching' (03/22/06), posted by the Senior Journal.

UAGPPJA deals primarily with jurisdictional, transfer and enforcement issues relating to adult guardianships and protective proceedings.
NCCUSL explains, on its website, Why States Should Adopt UAGPPJA:
  • Provides procedures to resolve interstate jurisdiction controversies. 
  • Facilitates transfers of guardianship cases among jurisdictions.
  • Provides for recognition and enforcement of a guardianship or protective proceeding order.
  • Facilitates communication and cooperation between Courts of different jurisdictions.
  • Addresses emergency situations and other special cases.
Since 2007, the UAGPPJA has been adopted by more than half the states, with many considering it this year.  All states should adopt this law to prevent forum shopping and transport of persons with weakened mental condition.

Pennsylvania is considering it now.

On September 28, 2011, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives' Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Tim Hennessey, held an informational session (videotaped by the Pennsylvania Cable Network) on House Bill No. 1720, which had been introduced into the House previously on June 22, 2011.

This is a second initiative this year that would upgrade and improve guardianship laws.  The first initiative remains before in the Legislature only in the form of two reports with recommendations, not in pending legislation.  See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting Proposed Amendments of PA POA, Guardianship & Health Care Directive Laws (06/14/11).

I understand that HB 1720 was widely and strongly supported by those at that session and within the House.  It is promoted by AARP-Pennsylvania (offices in Harrisburg & Philadelphia).  [Note:  It is also championed by the Pennsylvania Bar Association -- See Update below.]

Nationally, UAGPPJA is supported by the American Bar Association ("Guardianship Jurisdiction"), the Alzheimer's Association ("UAGPPJA Fact Sheet"), the National Guardianship Association, Inc. ("UAGPPJA Links"), the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys ("Endorsement"), AARP ("Radio Report"), and the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators ("Endorsement").

As a practitioner, I too support it.  Unfortunately, present law in Pennsylvania will confound a court as to jurisdiction, can disconnect a local Area Agency on Aging as to protective services, and can create litigation in both home and foreign jurisdictions among family members at great cost and inconvenience.

The federal Elder Justice Act (effective March 2010) is not yet funded in the area of conflict of laws or interstate transport of elderly persons.  See:  The Elder Justice Act: What It Says, What It Means, And When Will It Be Implemented? (10/26/10), by Bill Benson and Bob Blancato.  Furthermore, the EJA does not codify state laws on the issue of state jurisdiction, so there is no framework of uniform state laws other than this proposal. 

NCCUSL's final model UAGPPJA must bear a few minor tweaks to conform it with existing Pennsylvania law in Chapter 55 ("Guardianship") of the PA Probate, Estates & Fiduciaries Code, for example, on matters such as emergency guardianship and also its use of the term "conservatorship" (not used in our law).  Also, it would need cross-referencing if it would become a new Chapter 59 of the PEF Code. 

WHYY's Newsworks posted an article on October 7, 2011, entitled Pa. plan aims to alleviate 'granny-snatching', which reflected both the need for, and growing momentum of, HB 1720:
Stories of elderly parents being fought over by their children or relatives who want to be the sole guardians are familiar to Rep. Tim Hennessey of Chester County.

"Somebody dies, and then someone else comes in and tries to assume control and the other siblings don't like it. And it could be county to county or it could be state to state," Hennessey said. "You know enough of these stories circulate that you think, oh, geez, somebody, here's a problem, we have to solve it."

When a group called the Uniform Law Commission approached him with legislation to clear up the murky legal issue, Hennessey agreed to sponsor it.
His proposal sets up rules to follow when multiple courts are involved in a dispute over who's responsible for an incapacitated adult. * * *
See also: New court rules proposal aims to prevent so-called "granny snatching"  (10/12/11), by Mary Wilson, posted by WITF. 

HB 1720 appears to be moving quickly in the House.  Today (October 25, 2011), it received second consideration and was referred to the Appropriations Committee.

This bill should be adopted by the House, and then by the Senate; and then it should be signed by the Governor into law.

And, while doing so, the Legislature should address that still-pending first initiative too, so that Pennsylvania's guardianship laws can be more effective and fair.

Update: 10/26/11:

On October 26, 2011, I received in the mail a copy of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Bar News.

On the first page, under the heading PBA President and Elder Law Section Officers Take Part in State House Roundtable on Adult Guardianship Bill, and below a color photograph taken at the September 28, 2011, informational session, was this text:
PBA President Matthew J. Creme, Jr. and PBA Elder Law Section officers Sally Schoffstall and Jacqueline Shafer participate in a roundtable discussion Sept. 28 in Harrisburg with members of the state House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee about House Bill 1720.
The bill would amend Title 20 by adding the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act to provide a uniform mechanism for addressing multijurisdictional adult guardianship issues.  The PBA supports the bill.
In a prior Bar News issue (09/05/11), I found a report of the PBA's action authorizing such an appearance:
The PBA Board of Governors met July 28, at Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort and took the following actions:  * * *

Unanimously approved the resolution of the PBA Elder Law Section that the PBA support the addition of a new §5503 to the existing Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code at 20 Pa. C.S. Chapter 55, also known as the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA).
The UAGPPJA provides a uniform mechanism for addressing multijurisdictional adult guardianship issues that have become time consuming and costs for courts and families.  Because the PBA had been asked to testify at a legislative hearing on this issue in September, the Board took action on behalf of the House of Delegates.
Update: 11/08/11:

Today's emailed update to PBA members noted recent approval by the House of HB 1720, as follows:
House Bill 1720, sponsored by Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-Chester), passed the House 196-0 on Oct. 26 and was referred to the Senate Aging and Youth Committee.
The bill amends Title 20 (Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries) adding the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act, which provides for uniform adult guardianship and protective proceedings jurisdiction.
Update:  01/09/12:

HB 1720's legislative history indicates that it has not moved beyond the Pennsylvania Senate's Aging & Youth Committee.  That is unexplained, and unfortunate.  It should be a priority.

It remains a priority for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, which states on its "Advocate" web page, as follows:
The Alzheimer's Association strongly supports the adoption of UAGPPJA in Pennsylvania and across the country. Due to the impact of dementia on a person's ability to make decisions, individuals living with Alzheimer's disease may need the assistance of a legal guardian. The process of appointing a guardian is handled in state courts. Complications with appointing a legal guardian for an adult may arise when the guardian lives in a different state than the individual with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia.

If we adopt UAGPPJA, we make it easier for families across the country to help their loved ones state to state without the hassle of re-filing for guardianship.
 * * *
Update: 07/02/12:

The Pennsylvania Bar Association reported today that the Legislature approved HB 1720, PN 2589 and sent it to the Governor for consideration of signature into law:
H.B. 1720, sponsored by Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-Chester), is on the Governor’s desk. The legislation amends Title 20 (Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries) by adding the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA). UAGPPJA provides a mechanism for addressing multi-jurisdictional adult guardianship issues.
The Legislative History of HB 1720 indicates that it was adopted by the House on October 26, 2011 by a vote of 196-0, and then by the Senate on June 26, 2012, by a vote of 49-0.  It was presented to the Governor on June 28, 2012.

Update: 07/06/12:

House Bill 1720 (Printer's No. 2589) was signed by the Governor on July 5, 2012.  In sixty days, it will become law in Pennsylvania.  See: PA Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Law post, New "Granny Snatching" Law in PA (07/06/12).

As Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, late of Harrisburg, PA was known for saying, TREMENDOUS!!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ain't Law Tweet? PA Supreme Court on Twitter

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has joined the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and even the Joint State Government Commission, in "tweeting" about its activities.

On October 18, 2011, PennLive posted a brief article, "Pennsylvania Supreme Court will start tweeting opinions and rulings":
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is all a Twitter about a new way to access its opinions and rulings online.

The state's highest court will issue "tweets" to people who sign up to follow the court's activities at http://twitter.com/SupremeCtofPA.

The tweets will alert followers to any orders, new rules, and opinions posted by the court and its justices. * * *
The new communication service was announced by the AOPC in a Press Release, dated 10/18/11, "Pennsylvania Supreme Court To Tweet Rulings Online".
The specially designated site will provide instant notification of the online posting of most Supreme Court information, such as orders, new rules, opinions and concurring and dissenting statements written by the justices. Anyone can sign-up to receive alerts from the Court’s Twitter page, which can be accessed at http://twitter.com/SupremeCtofPA.  “Follow Us On Twitter” links also will appear on the state court system’s Web site to take interested parties directly to the page.

“The manner and pace in which the Commonwealth’s citizens expect to receive information from their government is changing rapidly,” said Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, who has spearheaded the move in behalf of the entire Court. “This is a logical extension of an ongoing commitment to enhance the delivery of court information and services in an efficient and cost-effective manner.”
All new rulings posted to the Pennsylvania Judiciary Web site will be linked to a Tweet, and available immediately on a follower’s personal home page. The new service complements an expands the Pennsylvania Judiciary’s online offerings by maximizing the convenience of the Internet through cell phones and other devices. * * *
The Court invited participation by anyone in the one-way informational service, which began on Monday, October 17, 2011:
Follow us on Twitter @SupremeCtofPA for the latest available dispositional orders and opinions. For press releases and general information about the Court please follow @PACourts 
I signed up as "follower" number 231. 

This was the Court's first tweet:
Five Miscellaneous Orders posted today
I could not find a topic designated as "law" or "legal" on Twitter's webpage recommending Who to Follow for members. Time to add one!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Revised PA RW-02 "Petition for Grant of Letters"

On October 11, 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a revision of a Form RW-02 (Petition for Grant of Letters) (PDF, 2 pages) for use in all Registers of Wills offices in the Commonwealth beginning thirty days later, on November 10, 2011.

In a Per Curium Order, which was posted by the PA Supreme Court on the website of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts on October 12, 2011, the Court acted upon the recommendation of its Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee.

The new Form RW-02 (Petition for Grant of Letters) bears a revision date of 10/11/11, and replaces a prior form adopted five years ago (Rev 10/13/06), which bore a longer title.

It will become available among the other "fill-in" forms on the AOPC's website. However, posting of the replacement form may not occur until its effective date.

I explored the need for a revision of this form previously.  See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting Update to Probate Petition in PA (01/18/2011).  Changing the current form was required due to the passage of Senate Bill 53, PN 2228, which was signed by the Governor as Act 85 of 2010, to become effective on December 26, 2010.

That Act inserted into the Pennsylvania Probate, Estates & Fiduciaries Code new provisions that eliminate a spouse's interest in an estate if a divorce action is pending (instead of finalized, as formerly provided), and if the grounds for divorce have been established. 

This revision of the form, however, goes beyond that substantive change, and offers a revised layout and order of data. The form also will serve as a formal entry of appearance for counsel, and will highlight whether a surety bond is required or not. The form will continue, at its end, to serve as a Register's Decree, if granted.

As a member of the Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee who participated in the recommendation process, I am pleased with the Court's actions, which were posted as follows:

In Re: Amendment of Form RW-02 (Petition for Probate and Grant of Letters) -- Appendix to Supreme Court Orphans' Court Rules, No. 548 Supreme Court Rules Docket
Opinion By: per curiam
Posted By: W.D. Prothonotary
   Date Rendered: 10/11/2011
   Date Posted: 10/12/2011
   Opinion Type: Rules548spct.pdf

   Date Rendered: 10/11/2011
   Date Posted: 10/12/2011
   Opinion Type: Rules548spct.attach1.pdf

   Date Rendered: 10/11/2011
   Date Posted: 10/12/2011
   Opinion Type: Rules548spctattach2.pdf

   Date Rendered: 10/11/2011
   Date Posted: 10/12/2011
   Opinion Type: Rules548spctattach3.pdf

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Penn State/Dickinson Law School and Elder Law

Each monthly issue of the electronic newsletter, Alumni Connection, sent to graduates of The Dickinson School of Law of the Penn State University (generally now known as Penn State Law) includes a link to a legal blog. The September, 2011 issue includes a link to this PA Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Law Blog.  

Such a selection shows consistency between this Blog's focus, and the past and present involvement of PSU/DSL in elder law study, research, and clinic practice.
When an elderly person is caught in the snares of financial abuse, a professional such as a nurse, physician, banker, or attorney can only provide help if he or she knows what to look for and what to do when elder abuse is suspected. * * *

“This is a rare opportunity to speak with an experienced elder law attorney and better understand this important issue, which has become an enormous problem for older adults in recent years,” said Patricia Webb, project administrator at the Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing at Penn State, which is sponsoring the event.

“Financial abuse can be a complex interdisciplinary problem. We would shortchange vulnerable people by addressing this problem through the eyes of just one profession,” said Professor Pearson, who is a scholar of legal issues facing older adults and focuses on interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to elder care.
Beyond teaching law school courses on elder law, she is well-qualified to discuss elder abuse. For example:
Beyond such faculty involvement, DSL/PSU law students in Carlisle, PA, support the Wills for Heroes Foundation program locally, providing free basic estate and personal planning for first responders and their families.  See: "Wills for Heroes" (10/11).  Students there also offered legal assistance to local senior citizens.  See: "Students Expand Outreach through “Senior Law Day” (02/08).

Most importantly, the Law School has operated its Elder Protection Clinic continuously since 2001.  See:  "Partners in Outreach and Advocacy: Interdisciplinary Opportunities in University-Based Legal Clinics" by Katherine C. Pearson & Lucy Johnston-Walsh, published and posted by the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, Volume 11, Number 4, p. 163, (2006).

I've noted the Elder Protection Clinic's periodic Newsletters previously.  See: PA EE&F Law Blog postings PSU-DSL Publishes Its Elder Law Clinic Newsletter (12/19/07) and "Adventures in Law & Aging" -- Spring, 2009 Issue (04/27/09).

As I've said recently, I'm proud to be an alumnus.

Whether anyone will notice the Law School's posting of a link to this particular blog is not important.  It is the Law School's sensitivity to this area of the law -- demonstrated by including such a link -- that is so important. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

IRS Issues Revised 706 Instructions & Preparer Requirements

On September 22, 2011, the IRS issued revised Instructions for the recently-finalized Form 706, according to Vincent F. Lackner, Jr., Esq., who sent an email to customers of The Lackner Group, Inc. today.  

As a software developer, he has tracked the development of that form and its instructions carefully.
Early yesterday [09/22/11] evening, the IRS authorized a final draft of the US 706 Instructions for 2011 for release to the general public.
Please feel free to download it from the following link and to circulate it to interested parties:  www.lacknergroup.com/Draft_11i706.pdf

The IRS's ability to post new forms and instructions to its website has been temporarily interrupted due to scheduled maintenance. When it is again able to post to its website next Wednesday morning (9/28/2011), the "Draft" watermark will be removed from this version.

The key change in these instructions relates to the portability of an unused exclusion amount for a married couple from the 1st estate to the 2nd estate. This feature is currently available only for 2011 and 2012 estates. * * *
Once finalized, those Form 706 Instructions should be updated on the IRS Online Instructions for Forms web page.

Vince also sent a detailed comparison of prior Form 706 Instructions and the latest issuance, which relates to the revised Form 706, issued on September 8, 2011.  See: PA EE&F Law Blog postings Revised IRS 706 Form Released (09/12/11) and 2010 Decedent Estates Granted Federal Filing & Payment Relief (09/13/11).

Vince emphasized an important point regarding filing of a Form 706 under certain circumstances:
Even for a married 2011 decedent with a gross estate of $5m or less (there are about 950,000 of these annually), you would need to file a timely and complete 706 in the 1st estate in order to preserve the unused exclusion amount for the 2nd estate.
You might consider filing an extension request (Form 4768) to gain more time to analyze this issue pending the IRS' release of the final 706 Instructions for 2011 sometime next week. * * *
Separately, on September 21, 2011, the IRS issued a Press Release entitled IRS Issues Guidance to Further Implement Return Preparer Oversight, IR-2011-96, which provided "clarification for tax return preparers about when to renew their preparer tax identification numbers (PTINs), how suitability testing will be conducted, and when the continuing education requirement will begin."

Key points include:
  • The return preparer initiative requires anyone who is paid to prepare all or substantially all of any federal tax return or claim for refund to register with the IRS and obtain a PTIN. PTINs must now be renewed on a calendar year basis. 
  • Certain preparers (individuals who are not attorneys, certified public accountants, or enrolled agents) also must pass a competency examination, undergo a suitability check and complete continuing education courses annually. 
  • The IRS will designate individuals who meet these requirements as a Registered Tax Return Preparer, who will be authorized to prepare federal tax returns and claims for refunds and to represent their clients during an IRS examination of a tax return or claim for refund that the individual signed as the paid tax return preparer.
  • All PTIN holders must renew their numbers using the online PTIN application or paper Form W-12 and pay the required fee ($64.25 for 2012) after Oct. 15 and before Jan. 1 annually.
  • Certain tax return preparers who must pass a suitability check will have to provide their fingerprints so that a Federal Bureau of Investigation database search can be conducted. Generally, the fingerprint requirement will affect those preparers who currently have provisional PTINs.
  • Attorneys, certified public accountants, enrolled agents, enrolled retirement plan agent and enrolled actuaries also are expected to be exempt from the fingerprinting requirement at this time.  However, these individuals also must answer all the suitability questions asked on the PTIN application, such as whether they have been convicted of a felony in the previous 10 years.
Also on September 21, 2011, the IRS published proposed regulations (REG-116284-11) that would establish user fees for fingerprinting and taking the competency examination. 
As proposed, the IRS portion of the fingerprinting fee would be $33, and the IRS portion of the testing fee would be $27. These user fees are in addition to any fees charged by the third-party vendors administering the programs. The fees to be charged by third-party vendors are not being announced at this time, but the total fees, including the IRS user fees, are expected to be between $60 and $90 for fingerprinting and $100 and $125 for testing.
For IRS guidance regarding its PTIN program, visit www.IRS.gov/ptin.  You can watch an introductory video here (01/11).