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Pittsburgh Family Law And Estate Planning Legal Blog

Estate planning for the future

Pennsylvania residents may wonder what's necessary to include as part of an estate plan. While thinking about the future may be a sensitive issue, it can also be an important means to make life easier for loved ones and ensure that a person's wishes are carried out. Many people put off making decisions about estate planning, especially in their younger years. However, even young people can benefit from making an estate plan, especially if they have any kind of assets, are married or have children.

There are a few steps that people can take to start the estate planning process. Among the most important documents for people of any age is a durable power of attorney for matters related to finances, property and health care. This document would allow a named trusted person to make decisions on the creator's behalf in case he or she is incapacitated. This can be especially important when critical health care decisions need to be made in an urgent situation. It can also be essential to ensuring that people are able to pay the bills in case of an emergency.

What constitutes an annulment in Pennsylvania?

What if there was a way to erase your marriage as if it never happened? Luckily, there might be. This procedure is known as an "annulment."

Similar to a divorce, an annulment is a legal procedure used to designate the end of a marriage. An annulment goes farther than a divorce decree, because it legally voids the marriage. As a result, the law does not recognize that the marriage ever existed.

Dividing the family business during a divorce

Pennsylvania business owners considering divorce may find themselves wondering how they can protect their investment in the enterprise and emerge from the end of the marriage with a fair deal. One of the most important pieces of information that can allow a business to be handled properly in a divorce is an accurate valuation, including the assets, liabilities, contracts and future growth of the company. Understanding the numbers can help ensure that the negotiations proceed on clear and straightforward grounds.

In addition, how the ownership of the business is structured can make a significant difference. If there are other business partners in addition to the divorcing couple involved in the business, the other partners could participate in buying out one spouse in order to protect the company during the divorce. In some cases, business partners or angel investors may insist on a prenuptial agreement to protect the company from being involved in property division issues. When one or both spouses are the only owners, however, others are unlikely to be involved. In some cases, the vast majority of the business' wealth may remain with the spouse who owns the business. In other cases, the split may edge closer to equal shares.

Estate planning lessons from the Bushes

While many people in Pennsylvania may not expect that they have much in common with George and Barbara Bush, the couple's passing may lead people to consider some factors that could be important for planning their estates. It is a known phenomenon for long-term, older married couples to pass away in quick succession. Sometimes called "broken heart syndrome," the widow or widower may die shortly after their spouse passed away. In the case of the Bushes, George Bush died less than eight months after his wife Barbara's death.

High-visibility couples may not generally be known for their close emotional connection, but the Bushes had long been an exception to that general rule. Many older couples who have spent decades together and are highly dependent on one another may die in quick succession. In one of the most well-known cases, handbag designer Judith Leiber and her husband died within hours of each other of heart attacks.

3 common living will mistakes

Living wills are an important aspect of estate planning. A living will is a document in which a person specifies what he or she wants to have happen when it comes to medical care in the event he or she loses the ability to make health care decisions. There are mistakes it can be important for people to steer clear of when it comes to these planning documents. Today, we’ll touch on three common ones.

The adoption process when a biological parent is unknown

You love your step child like they were your own biological child. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the law you likely have no legal right to make decisions for them. This includes where they go to school, medical and religious decisions and other important choices. This can be changed, though. If you and the child’s biological parent choose to pursue adoption, you can legally become the child’s other parent.

Something many adopting parents do not know is that if the other biological parent is unknown, then there is an added wrinkle in the adoption process. Some parents try to sidestep resolving this wrinkle but doing so only invites potential future problems should the other parent appear.

Smart ways to protect your finances after getting a divorce

Combining incomes and sharing most bills such as rent, mortgage, car payments and more can undoubtedly save you money while married. It is one of the conveniences of having a partner. However, it can be easy to forget how to scale-down and live independently again after a divorce. Women are especially vulnerable to crippling finances when frequently custody orders are granted to the mothers.

Divorce is one of the most vulnerable times in your life to adjust financially and not collapse into high amounts of debt, bad credit and more. Without a stable foundation of income and a plan of how to thrive throughout your split, you could find yourself in trouble. It is highly essential to take into consideration the impact divorce will play on your finances, and prepare accordingly.

Legal Custody Battle in London: A Daughter's Dying Wish

Recently a legal custody battle arose between two divorced parents from London involving their fourteen-year-old daughter's dying wishes. The girl, who had cancer and only a short time to live, had begun making arrangements to be cryogenically frozen with the hopes that in years to come, she would be able to be woken up and cured. However, the procedure required the consent of both of the girl's parents. This meant consent from her father, who she had not had contact with in eight years, was also required. As her father opposed the procedure, her mother brought a suit on the girl's behalf in London's equivalent of a family court. The mother was ultimately successful in getting full rights to decide what would happen to her daughter's remains upon her death. The girl, who has since passed away, has been transported to the United States and is being stored in Detroit.

This is a unique case, because although it involved legal custody of a child and the focus was on the wishes and welfare of the child, most legal custody cases do not involve what will happen to the child after his or her death. If this case were handled in Pennsylvania or in another jurisdiction in the United States, a family court may have declined to hear it and may have deferred the matter to orphans' court after the child's death. However, there are some factors that may have led a Pennsylvania family court to hear the matter. First, the case was brought while the girl, who has not been named for privacy reasons, was still alive and able to testify as to her wishes. Courts in Pennsylvania, when deciding any custody matter, will consider the well-reasoned preferences of a child, giving consideration to the child's age and maturity. 

Custody and Relocation: What Grey's Anatomy Got Wrong

Fans of Grey's Anatomy tuned into a full-scale custody trial last week as Callie and Arizona battled over their daughter, Sophia. For those unfamiliar, Callie and Arizona are the parents of an 8 year old child whom they have shared custody of since their divorce on the prime time medical drama based in Seattle. Recently, Callie's girlfriend received a job offer in NYC precipitating Callie's request to move with the child. Nearly a full episode was dedicated to a custody trial as a judge heard testimony from witnesses and determined whether the child would relocate with Callie to NYC or remain in Seattle with Arizona. As Grey's has always focused on the medical field, it should come as no surprise that the depiction of a custody trial wasn't quite on the mark, at least based on Pennsylvania Law. Read on to see three things Grey's got wrong:

Burden of proof - Technically the type of case Callie and Arizona went to trial on would be considered a Relocation. Callie is asking the court to grant her the right to relocate with the child. Under Pennsylvania law, the party requesting a relocation must notify the non-custodial parent 60 days prior to relocation, at which time the other parent can either consent or object. If a party objects, the court will ultimately make a ruling as to whether the relocation can occur. The custody trial on Grey's Anatomy seemed to place the burden on Arizona to convince the court why the child should not be uprooted from her home in Seattle. Under PA law, the burden is on the party requesting the relocation to prove the relocation is in the best interests of the child. The court will utilize 10 factors, to determine whether the relocation is appropriate. The court will also address the 16 general PA custody factors in any order. The relocating parent must show the court why the child should be permitted to relocate and how the relationship with the other parent will continue if the relocation is granted.

Effect of adoption - There came a time during Arizona's testimony that Callie's attorney started to insinuate that because Arizona was not the birth mother of the child, her claim for custody was 

Kate & Jon Gosselin: Custody and Co-Parenting Troubles Mount

Die-hard TLC fans will remember Jon Gosselin as the other half of the popular show Jon and Kate Plus 8. Parents, Jon and Kate Gosselin had twins and then, several years later, conceived sextuplets bringing their total number of children to a whopping eight. Fast-forward to the present, Jon and Kate are no longer married and are attempting to co-parent their eight children. On a recent appearance on The Steve Harvey Show, Jon shared the following custody woes with the audience: he has not seen all eight children together in three years; when the children are dropped off at his residence, he often has no idea which of his children will be arriving; he hasn't seen or spoken to one of his sons in over a year; and there is "zero" communication between Jon and Kate.

While in many cases, co-parenting is by no means an easy task, especially when the marriage or relationship ended on a bad note, the vital importance co-parenting plans in custody cannot be downplayed. Not only is it beneficial for the children to see parents who can successfully work together, even though they are no longer in a relationship, but the court also looks favorably upon those parties able to co-parent effectively.

Using Jon and Kate as the example, here are some do's (and don'ts) of good co-parenting. First, all children under a custody order need to be at all custody exchanges. This means that if Jon is entitled to exercise custody of all eight children, Kate needs to be dropping off all eight children for Jon's custody time. One party shouldn't have to guess which, if any, of their children will be showing up for custody time. Obeying a court order or agreement will keep any co-parenting relationship running smoothly. If issues come up and the current arrangement isn't working for the parties or the children, it may be time for a modification rather than ignoring or disobeying the court order. Second, communication is key so Jon's allegations that he doesn't know which children will be coming for his custodial periods and that he and Kate have "zero" communication make it impossible to co-parent. 

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