Estate Planning: What You Should Know Before Your Next Vacation

Anita D’Amico November 13, 2018

will anita pic.jpg

It may still feel like winter, but spring is actually here, and summer is just around the corner.  With the change in seasons, many people decide to take spring break and summer vacations. Between packing for your trip, planning activities and creating itineraries, the last thing on your mind may be the possibility of a catastrophic accident occurring, or worse, not returning home.  While we often times avoid considering the worst-case scenario, there is a real possibility that something can happen to you while you are on a vacation, and you should be prepared.

One thing that can put your mind at ease so that you can better enjoy your time away is to seek legal advice for Estate Planning and get your estate documents in place before you leave.  Specifically, you should speak to an attorney who drafts Wills, Advanced Health Care Directives and Power of Attorney documents. Without executed Estate Planning documents, your desires for the disbursement of your property and the care you wish to have in the event of a medical emergency will either be decided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or your loved ones, and those final decisions may not necessarily be what you want and ultimately put unnecessary stress on your family members during an already difficult time.  Here is a breakdown of the purpose of each document and how they can protect your interests:

Will:  A Will is a legal document that allows you to distribute your property and debts as you see fit.  Any type of property from investment accounts and other financial assets, to furniture, jewelry or other important pieces of tangible property, can be included in your will.  When drafting a will, you can choose an Executor, who is the person that ultimately carries out the terms of your will. If you name any Beneficiaries (people who receive assets from your estate) who are minors, you have the option of creating a trust for the assets they inherit, until they reach the age of majority.  If you have pets, you can arrange for their care if you predecease them.

Advanced Health Care Directive:  An Advanced Health Care Directive is also known as a Living Will.  This document takes effect in the event that you suffer a medical emergency and become incapacitated.  You have the ability to appoint a Health Care Directive Power of Attorney, who is responsible for carrying out the terms of your Advanced Health Care Directive.  Through this document, you state whether you want to be on life-sustaining treatment if you become incapacitated.

Power of Attorney:  A Power of Attorney document can take many different forms, but for Estate Planning purposes, a General Power of Attorney appoints a person, known as the Attorney-in-Fact, to make important decisions on your behalf. Examples of such decisions include decisions relating to the purchase or sale of real estate, bank accounts and other financial functions, and dealing with business affairs.  Your Power of Attorney will not go into effect until a certain event is triggered, most commonly, in the event that you become incapacitated.

D’Amico Law, PC specializes in Estate Planning.  We are available to assist you with any questions you may have regarding the drafting and execution of Estate Planning documents.  If you are interested in learning more about estate planning, please contact our office by calling 610-444-4555 or emailing us at info@damicolawpc.com.

Family Law Mediation – An Excellent Alternative to Divorce and Custody Litigation

Anita D’Amico November 13, 2018

conflict-mediation-1-721x407.jpg

One common misconception regarding divorce and custody matters is that the issues have to be litigated in court.  Did you know that even though you may be dealing with a divorce or custody issue, you do not even need to set foot in a courtroom? One way to avoid timely and expensive litigation is to participate in mediation.

Mediation is a voluntary process that occurs outside of the court system and can be a successful alternative in divorce and custody matters.  It is a confidential informal process where two parties discuss their issues with each other in front of a third-party neutral (the mediator).  Mediation encourages parties to address the underlying interests of the family in order to resolve their issues rather than using the court system to litigate issues between the parties.  The parties attempt to collaborate and come to an agreement on their own. The mediator’s role is to actively listen to both parties and attempt to clarify the issues, aiding in communication and better understanding between the parties.  If the parties are able to come to an agreement, the mediator prepares the agreement. While a mediator may also be an attorney, the mediator is not acting as an attorney while in mediation. A benefit of having a mediator who is also an experienced family law attorney, is that the mediator can advise the parties on the applicable law which assists the parties in making decisions on their own and not seeking a court to make decisions that effects their lives.

The process encourages the parties to be future-oriented regarding resolution of issues.  The parties are urged to communicate and understand one another which promotes a more peaceful relationship moving forward, and, in cases involving child custody, typically results in a better co-parenting relationship that ultimately benefits the children.

Most parties find mediation a great way to retain control of their personal matters.  Remember, if a judge or master is required to decide your matter, then you are asking a third-party (who more likely than not) has never met you or your children to determine what is best for you and your family.

D’Amico Law, PC offers a wide variety of services, including divorce and custody mediation. The attorneys at D’Amico Law, PC are experience family law attorneys and certified mediators who handle both private and court-appointed family mediation matters. The Mediators at D’Amico Law, PC can walk you through every step of your divorce and custody matter without setting foot in Court.  If you are interested in mediating your divorce and custody issues, please call 610-444-4555 or email us at info@damicolawpc.com to learn more about our mediation services.

Grandparent Custody Laws

Anita D’Amico September 17, 2018

oldage.jpg

How the New Grandparent Custody Laws May Help or Harm your Custody Case.

by D’Amico Law, PC

The rights of parents to raise their children as they choose, without interference from others, is recognized a fundamental constitutional right; however, the Courts also recognize the important role that grandparents and other third parties play in children’s lives, from both a best interest and safety perspective, and in doing so have placed parameters in place to allow for custodial time, when appropriate, so as not to interfere with parent’s rights.

Chapter 53 of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code addresses custody and grandparent’s rights.  Specifically, Pa. C.S.A. Sections 5324 and 5325 currently address the issues of grandparent’s rights in custody.  With the enactment of Senate Bill 844, those sections will be modified effective July 3, 2018.

The current law

Currently, in order to bring a claim for any form of physical of legal custody, the law states that a grandparent who acts in loco parentis (in place of the parent) has the ability to file for physical or legal custody of a child who they act as a parent towards.  Additionally, a grandparent who does not act in loco parentis may also bring a claim for custody of the child if: 1) the relationship with the child began either by a court order or with the consent of the child’s parent; 2) who is responsible for the child; and 3) when one of the following occurs: a) the child is established to be a dependent child, b) the child is at risk of being exposed to parental abuse, substance abuse, neglect or incapacity, or c) the child has lived with the grandparent for at least twelve (12) consecutive months and was removed from the home by the parent.

Additionally, the law provides for the ability of a grandparent or great-grandparent to bring a claim for partial physical custody or supervised physical custody.  In order to have standing to bring either of these claims, the following circumstances must occur: 1) the child’s parent is deceased and the grandparent or great-grandparent bringing the claim is either the parent or grandparent of the deceased; 2) the child’s parents have been separated for at least six (6) months or have began a divorce proceeding; or 3) the child has lived with the grandparent or great-grandparent for at least twelve (12) consecutive months and was removed from the home by the parent.  The new law that is about to go into effect does not enforce the provision that the child’s parents must be separated for at least six (6) months.

The updated law – more opportunities for grandparents and third parties to seek partial physical custody

Beginning July 3, 2018, new laws enacted in Pennsylvania give grandparents more standing (or the right to bring the action before the Court) to bring a custody claim.  The laws are particularly helpful for grandparents or third parties who are looking to bring claims for partial physical custody. This change in the law is partially attributed to the opioid epidemic, and the growing need for grandparent or third party caretakers to stand in as caretakers for children.

The new law for standing provides that if a child is in the care of any third party, which could be a grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc., then the third party would have standing to bring a claim for custody as long as that person has a “sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the welfare of the child.”  This provision only applies when it is a third party versus a third party in a claim for custody of a child. The third party must also show that he/she is responsible for the child or willing to assume responsibility for the child. An additional requirement is that the child is in neither parent’s care.

Additionally, the new law adds to the provision were the grandparent’s relationship with the child began by either a court order or with the consent of the parents.  Another requirement is added to the provision, providing that the parents of the child must either a) have started a custody proceeding in court; or 2) do not agree that the grandparent or great-grandparent should have custody of the child.

At D’Amico Law, PC, our family law attorneys have significant experience with grandparent and/or third-party custody rights issues.  If you have any questions regarding grandparent rights and/or third-party custody rights, please contact us at 610-444-4555 or email us at info@damicolawpc.com.