Blue Bell Probate and Estate Administration Law Blog

The role of incapacitation documents within estate planning

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Mar 4, 2016.

For many in Pennsylvania, the idea of falling victim to a serious illness or injury seems like an incredibly remote possibility. This is especially true for young people who are unmarried and have no children. While the risk of a young person becoming incapacitated is remote, it is not outside of the realm of possibility. Young adults should set aside the time to create a plan for such a set of circumstances and to draft the estate planning documents that outline those plans. Incapacitation planning begins with selecting the party or parties who would be entrusted with handling one’s health care and finances in the event of a serious illness or injury. It is imperative to discuss the matter with the chosen person, so that the role and the expectations are clearly defined. It is also important to make sure that the designated party knows where the documents are stored and can access them if the need should arise. It is also important to outline any specific wishes that one has in regard to medical treatment. Some people hold strong beliefs about blood transfusions, organ donation and the application of life support technologies. These wishes should be laid out within the estate planning paperwork, so that one’s chosen proxy will have clear guideline on how to make decisions. As with any estate planning documents, it is important for Pennsylvania young people to make a periodic review of their plan once it has been put into place. Over time, changes may […]


Estate planning should include personal property

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Feb 25, 2016.

When most Pennsylvania residents remember a loved one, it is the small details that define those memories. Afternoons spent reading in an old rocking chair, learning to mix cake batter in a bowl that has been handed down for generations … these are the things that people remember. When a loved one passes away, it is often these small items of seemingly little value that create the most intense family conflicts. It is important to address items of personal property during estate planning efforts, to help surviving family members avoid contention after their loss. There are a number of different approaches that can be taken, and each family will have to determine which offers the best fit for their needs. In some cases, it is possible to simply ask family members which items they would most like to have and compile a list. It can be helpful to give all parties a copy of the final list, so that everyone knows what to expect.  In some instances, however, there will be disagreement concerning who should get what. In those cases, it might make more sense to simply outline a system through which loved ones can gather and take turns selecting items when the time comes. This forces family members to prioritize the items that mean the most to them and is a fair way to handle the matter.  No matter what estate planning approach is chosen, it is important to place the plan into writing and to make sure that […]


Options for avoiding probate and simplifying inheritance

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Probate Litigation on Feb 18, 2016.

One of the primary purposes of estate planning is to ensure the assets that a Pennsylvania family has accumulated over a lifetime will pass down to the intended heirs. This simple desire can become incredibly complicated, especially in cases where there is a challenge to the will. Even when no one initiates probate litigation, the probate process can be costly and time-consuming, leaving heirs waiting for anywhere from three months to three years before they can make use of their inheritance. There are options for avoiding probate, some of which are outlined below. One of the most simple ways to ensure that assets pass directly to the intended heir is to establish joint ownership prior to death. This can be a good fit when the asset in question is real estate, vehicles or items of personal property that have significant value, such as a boat or motor home. When one owner passes away, the joint owner owns the property in full, immediately. The downside of joint ownership lies in the fact that jointly owned property is subject to loss during divorce, tax liens or legal judgments. Another option lies in creating a revocable living trust. Assets are placed within the trust, and beneficiaries are named. Once the grantor passes away, the assets held within the trust are available to the named beneficiaries. There is no need to go through the probate process, and changes can be made to the trust any time prior to the grantor’s death. The process of […]


Estate planning after a serious medical issue

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Feb 12, 2016.

At the heart of Pennsylvania families lies the desire to take care of loved ones. This is the primary focus of estate planning, which can be viewed as a means of ensuring that accumulated wealth is handed down to those who are left behind. In some cases, however, the focus of estate planning must shift, and assets must be allocated to the loved one who needs the most assistance. An example lies in a family member who is involved in a serious accident. When an individual has been incapacitated, his or her ability to provide for the family is often impacted. At the same time, the injured loved one will require significant medical care, which can continue for the remainder of his or her life. Families will adjust to their changed circumstances, and will find a new “normal” that will define their days. It is important, however, to turn attention to the long term needs of the injured loved one, and to look at how estate planning should be altered to provide for those needs. One thing to consider is whether the uninjured spouse should purchase increased life insurance coverage to protect against the risk that he or she might predecease the injured spouse. Another thing to consider is whether a medical needs trust is a good option. By placing assets in a trust, families can ensure that a loved one will have the means to obtain quality health care assistance, while also qualifying for Medicaid if the need should […]



On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Tax on Feb 4, 2016.

Say Goodbye to the Pennsylvania Capital Stock and Foreign Franchise Tax Governor Tom Wolf recently confirmed that as of January 1, 2016, Pennsylvania’s Capital Stock and Foreign Franchise tax (the “CST“) has been phased out. There have been several last minute resurrections of the CST, but it looks to have finally met its slow and painful end. These taxes were imposed on corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs), business trusts, and other companies doing business within Pennsylvania. Domestic corporations were subject to the Capital Stock Tax, while foreign corporations were subject to the Foreign Franchise Tax on capital stock apportioned to Pennsylvania. These taxes were imposed in addition to any applicable taxes on net income. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has also noted that the elimination of the CST means that many business types, such as S corporations, LLCs taxed as pass-through entities, and business trusts will be filing their final corporation tax returns for 2015. These returns should be marked as “final returns”. As a result of the elimination of the CST, it is likely most real estate investments will be acquired in LLCs rather than Limited Partnerships. Historically, Limited Partnerships were the entity of choice for real estate because they were not subject to the CST. LLCs are considered a more efficient entity because, unlike limited partnerships, LLCs do not require the creation of a second entity to act as the general partner. For more information, please contact Maury B. Reiter, Esquire at (610) 941-2476 or

Avoiding probate litigation over gifts to caregivers

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Probate Litigation on Feb 4, 2016.

For many in Pennsylvania, close ties to family members have long been severed. This occurs for a number of reasons, but the end result is often a permanent cessation of all contact. In such cases, an individual may wish to leave his or her estate to a caregiver or close friend. In doing so, there are a number of considerations that must be taken to protect the intended heir from lengthy and stressful probate litigation. There are laws in place to protect older people from fraud and coercion when it comes to their estate plans. These laws are important, as many elderly or incapacitated people are subject to criminal acts aimed at stealing their assets. However, those same laws can make it difficult to bypass one’s surviving family members in favor of a caregiver. The best way to ensure that one’s assets are distributed according to his or her wishes is to draft a clearly and carefully worded will. It can also be helpful to work with an estate planning attorney who is willing to include a statement asserting that the individual was fully informed of his or her rights, and that the decision to leave an inheritance to a caregiver was made willingly and without undue influence. A similar statement can be obtained from one’s physician, noting that the person was in good mental health at the time the decision was made. Having these safeguards in place can help one’s chosen heir fend off any legal challenges that may […]


Without care, estate planning can benefit former spouses

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jan 27, 2016.

When most Pennsylvania spouses go through a divorce, it is in the hope of severing all ties with their former spouse. Those who share children may have to maintain a degree of cooperation until their kids are grown, but very few divorced spouses will continue to take an active interest in the lives of their former husband or wife. Even so, without the proper level of estate planning effort, it is possible to provide one’s ex with a substantial financial windfall in the event of death. This occurs because many people fail to update their beneficiary designations after they divorce. They may change their will, and will begin choosing a different person or persons to inherit any new accounts. It is not uncommon, however, for individuals to overlook accounts that already exist, and where their former spouse remains listed as the beneficiary. No matter what is stated in a will, beneficiary designations will prevail. That means that an old life insurance policy or retirement account that still lists a former spouse as beneficiary will be paid out to that individual, no matter what other provisions have been taken to avoid that outcome. The same is true for bank accounts, investment accounts and pensions from previous places of employment. As people age, many will accumulate a significant number of these accounts. Very few, however, will be conscientious about reviewing the beneficiary designations and updating that information as needed. In addition to the displeasure that comes with the thought of leaving an […]


Estate planning questions concerning gift taxation

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jan 21, 2016.

A primary goal of many Pennsylvania families is to hand down wealth to the next generation in a manner that preserves as much of that wealth as possible. In fact, many estate planning measures are aimed at that goal. Some families are unsure how to structure their estate plan to ensure that their loved ones receive the greatest possible share of accumulated wealth, without incurring undue taxation. One option is to begin passing on wealth prior to death. Gifting is a powerful means of reducing an individual’s taxable estate, while also giving adult children a portion of their inheritance early. It has the added benefit of allowing the older generation to see their children and grandchildren benefit from this generosity, which can be incredibly fulfilling for some. Individuals can gift as much as $14,000 per year to one individual. That gift can be repeated as many times as desired, as long as the recipients are different people. A married couple can combine their gift allowance, and can give $28,000 per individual recipient. Any gift amount beyond that will be subject to a gift tax. If the gift is in the form of an appreciated asset, the tax ramifications become more complex. The recipient will be taxed on any gains that occur between the time he or she receives the gifted asset and the time the asset is sold. For families who wish to make a gift of an appreciated asset, it is important to discuss the matter with both the […]


Is it possible to be fair in estate planning?

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jan 15, 2016.

For many Pennsylvania families, the top priority in structuring an estate plan is to create a fair distribution of wealth down to the next generation. This is an admirable goal, but one that is troublesome in practice. Achieving equality assumes that one’s adult children are equal in all measures, which is almost never the case. In order to create an estate planning solution that is in line with the goal of equality, it is necessary to take a close look at the matter. Parents must consider how their adult children have already benefited from parental financial support. For example, children who attend college often receive help from their parents, whether in tuition payments or expenses. A child who earns a scholarship to a state school is likely to need far less financial support than one who chooses to attend a costly private university. A child who chooses an education in a more hands-on field such as carpentry or construction may have required almost no financial support. The same goes for other significant expenses where parents have provided support. A lavish wedding will cost far more than a simpler affair, and eloping will cost virtually nothing. Some children will be given help on a down payment for a home, while others are content to travel and rent their homes. Parents must take these factors into consideration when working out inheritance plans. For those in Pennsylvania who want to truly achieve equality in their estate plans, these and other issues deserve careful consideration. […]


Choosing beneficiaries is a key component of estate planning

On behalf of Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Jan 8, 2016.

For most Pennsylvania residents, the primary focus of estate planning is to facilitate the smooth transfer of assets from one generation to the next. Most people want to ensure that the wealth they have worked to accumulate will go to the desired heirs. Selecting those individuals, however, can be a more difficult task than many imagine when they first sit down to address their estate planning needs. Most people have a list of loved ones that they would like to include in their estate plans. However, the manner in which that wealth should be divided poses something of a challenge for many. Should all heirs be treated equally or should wealth be distributed according to need? These are just some of the questions that must be answered in the early stages of planning an estate. Some families try to take a simplified approach and leave their wealth to their children in equal shares. This tactic fails, however, to consider that various assets have different types of value and are not easily divided. Real estate, for example, is an asset that can be expected to continue to gain value over time. It is not easily liquidated, and it also requires an investment in order to maintain its value. Therefore, an heir who inherits a home valued at $200,000 and a sibling who inherits a trust that contains the same amount are not inheriting assets that are truly “equal.” Other families decide to pass down their wealth according to need. Loved ones […]


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