Free Seminar – Bankruptcy After 60

Bankruptcy After 60 – More Common Than You Think

A Free Seminar from DZMM

Bankruptcy After 60

Join DZMM for a free seminar – Bankruptcy After 60. Click for details.

While many people think that someone who is 60 might be immune from needing to file for bankruptcy, the reality is quite different.  Whether it be medical bills, prescription costs or credit card debt, many older Americans are unable to pay their bills. As a result, the need for a bankruptcy after 60 has become quite common.

Join Our Seminar on August 14 in Lemoyne

In order to help those who are 60 and older understand their rights and options, DZMM’s attorneys are pleased to offer this free seminar on Thursday, August 14th.  “Bankruptcy after 60″ is part of our community outreach series. We are offering this series of seminars to the public because the Harrisburg bankruptcy attorneys of DZMM want to make sure that you make the best choices for you and your family.

Bankruptcy After 60 – How to Register

Bankruptcy after 60  will be offered in DZMM’s offices at 635 N. 12th street in Lemoyne.  The time is 5:30-6:30 pm. Light refreshments will be served.

Call today at 717-724-9821 to reserve your seat. Ask for Donna.

 

PA’s Legalization of Same Sex Marriage And The Affect on Real Estate Transfers

How Same Sex Marriage Impacts Real Estate Transfers Between Spouses

Same Sex Real Estate Transfer Tax in PennsylvaniaAs many of you are aware, Pennsylvania joined a number of states in legalizing same sex marriage. On May 20, 2014, a Federal Judge in the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act in Pennsylvania was unconstitutional.   The decision did two things: 1) It allowed same sex couples to begin marrying in Pennsylvania; 2) It immediately legalized same sex marriages that were officiated in other states where gay marriage was previously legal.

In among the many changes that this decision has brought, is the issue of real estate transfers between same sex spouses.

Real Estate Transfers Before Same Sex Marriage

Before the legalization of same sex marriage, many same sex couples were unable to transfer real estate to each other, or to make real estate owned by one partner “joint” by gifting a portion of real estate to the other partner, because of the high Pennsylvania transfer tax and potential Federal estate tax issues. In other words, these couples, regardless of the length of their relationship were treated as strangers under the law. Even for “gift” or “one dollar” transfers, realty transfer tax was computed on the fair market value of the interest transferred. This obviously deterred these transfers and complicated estate planning for these couples.

Real Estate Transfers After Same Sex Marriage

Now that same sex marriage is legal in Pennsylvania, these adverse tax consequences are no longer a problem.

For instance, if one gay partner owns real estate at the time that he or she joins a relationship with a same sex partner, this property can be transferred tax free for both Pennsylvania transfer tax purposes, and Federal gift tax purposes, if the same sex partners are married.

The Federal Estate and Gift Tax law does not tax transfers between spouses. Additionally, Pennsylvania does not tax spouses for real estate transfers between spouses. Therefore, now is a good time for same sex couples to create “entireties” property by transferring interest from one spouse to the couple as a unit. This creates survivorship interests that are shared by traditional married couples.

How We Can Help You

My firm is available to assist with tax advice, as well as the necessary drafting and recordation of Deeds for either same sex couples that were married in the states where gay marriage was legal before May 20th, and for those Pennsylvania residents that are choosing same sex marriage after the May 20th decision. Contact us today to discuss how you can take advantage of this historic decision.

From Same Sex Marriage to Marriage in Pennsylvania

Same Sex Marriage is Now the Law in Pennsylvania

Same Sex Marriage in PennsylvaniaBy now most of you have heard that Judge John Jones, U.S. District Court Judge in Harrisburg, has permanently enjoined the provisions of the Domestic Relations Code that allowed only traditional marriage in Pennsylvania. The Domestic Relations Code defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. For reasons cited in his Opinion, Judge Jones has ruled this law unconstitutional. Additionally, it is the writer’s understanding that Governor Corbett and his legal team have decided not to appeal Judge Jones’ Order. This means that ”same sex” marriage is now given the same standing as any other marriage in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Estate Planning for Gay and Lesbian Couples in Pennsylvania

This has broad implications for estate planning for gay and lesbian couples. As many of you know, the process of preparing Wills, Powers of Attorney and Trust documents for same sex couples has been very complicated and expensive. Gay couples have struggled to minimize tax liability by creating Trust arrangements and other types of Domestic Relations Agreements because they did not enjoy the same laws as heterosexual couples in Pennsylvania. This has now changed. For this reason, gay and lesbian couples should carefully examine their estate planning documents, and consult with an attorney to determine their new rights under the decision known as Whitewood v. Wolf. For instance, with the law change, a number of legal issues must be addressed.

The Legal Process of Marriage – What Documents do Gay Couples Need After They Get Married?

First, for gay and lesbian couples contemplating marriage, they should go through the legal process like any other couple contemplating marriage. That is, purchase a marriage license and go through a legal or religious ceremony. At that point, estate planning documents can be drafted which give all of the legal protections accorded any other married couple in Pennsylvania. This includes far easier transfer of assets at death with minimal or no taxation on the transfer.

Likewise, for Power of Attorneys relating to business and medical issues, legal spouses will be given presumptive authority to deal with any kind of necessary decision where his or her spouse is unable to make those decisions on his or her own.

Married in Another State Already?

For gay and lesbian couples that have married in other states where gay marriage has been legal, you should also immediately review your documents with your attorney. Very likely they can be simplified since you now have all of the legal protections accorded to heterosexual couples in the past. Moreover, some of the complicated planning may no longer be necessary, which may actually slow down estate administration or cause unnecessary legal expense. Likewise, Powers of Attorneys for medical and business decisions should also be carefully examined. If you have done estate planning with Trusts, these documents should also be looked at too.

Not Married but Prepared Documents Previously?

Finally, for long term couples that did not enjoy marital status in Pennsylvania or any other state where gay marriage is legal, they should review their documents and determine whether or not marriage makes sense to them. Very likely, Domestic Partnership Agreements and similar documents should be reviewed to see if they still serve their intended purpose. For people that are not contemplating marriage at this point, it is certainly worthwhile to determine whether these documents are still viable under the current state of the law.

Contact the Harrisburg Family Law Attorneys of DZMM for Help

Readers are advised to seek legal counsel to determine what is most favorable to each individual’s or couple’s situation. Daley Zucker Meilton & Miner and the writer, Steven P. Miner, Esq., are available to answer your questions. Contact us at 717-724-9821.

 

Congratulations to all Pennsylvanians on this historic decision making “same sex” marriage just marriage!

More Elderly Filng for Bankruptcy

The Number of Elderly Filing for Bankruptcy is IncreasingElderly and Harrisburg Bankruptcy Lawyer

 

We have all been taught to believe that the “greatest generation” was careful with its  money and its members were very good savers.  We are now surprised to find that the elderly in America are one of the fastest growing segments of  bankruptcy filers. Those who are older and possibly in retirement should not be ashamed at the need to file for bankruptcy. Seeking legal help and filing bankruptcy can help an older person find peace from bills at a time in life when he should be able to relax and enjoy himself.  The elderly can, and do face financial problems that can be alleviated by bankruptcy.

Why the Increase in Bankruptcies Among the Elderly?

Older people are living longer, and consequently they are outliving their savings.  Additionally, many elderly have chronic health conditions that require expensive prescriptions and doctor visits.  Many times, the elderly often suffer from isolation and depression.  This can lead to activity like “QVC shopaholics.”  The allure of interesting products sold by attractive people, who allow you to participate along with your friends, can be almost hypnotic.  The elderly are particularly susceptible to this type of sales activity. Older people are also frequently targets for scam artists, leaving them vulnerable to losing substantial amounts of money to these criminals.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy for the Retired

Many elderly are very conscientious about paying their credit card bills, but the minimum payments often don’t allow them to pay their other bills.  A Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be a responsible way to resolve these debts, especially if the person stops using credit cards. Rather than paying high credit card interest rates and late charges, bankruptcy can provide a way to pay off credit card balances. Most elderly people are very responsible and are quite embarrassed about filing bankruptcy. But, allowing them to repay their debts through Chapter 13 bankruptcy benefits not only themselves, but their creditors. For example, by repaying their debts through bankruptcy, the elderly can generally maintain and keep their other assets, including their residence and automobile.

Contact a Bankruptcy Attorney in Harrisburg, Lemoyne and Carlisle

For further information about filing bankruptcy, contact Harrisburg bankruptcy attorney Steven P. Miner at (717) 724-9821. Steve understands your concerns and the emotions that seeking a bankruptcy can cause.

Asset Planning For Nursing Home Admissions

Harrisburg Asset Planning Lawyer Discusses Planning for Nursing Home Admissions

 

Harrisburg Nursing Home AdmissionAs most of us grow older and arrange care for our parents we often anticipate the need for long term care ourselves.  As such, it is important to know some basic concepts in paying for nursing care.

Nursing home care is expensive.  Currently in Pennsylvania, the cost of skilled nursing care ranges from approximately $7,000.00 to $11,000.00 per month.   Most nursing home admissions involve a stay of at least twenty-four (24) months, therefore, life savings can quickly be depleted with this type of continuing expense.

For this reason, it is important to consult an attorney to see what steps can be taken to maintain your assets or the assets of a loved one when nursing care is required.  Additionally, it may be prudent to investigate the purchase of long term care insurance before the need arises.  This post, however, generally addresses the funding of nursing care and the preservation of assets.

Paying for a Nursing Home

Most people understand that when they enter a nursing home they will be responsible to pay the monthly bills.  Generally, this is true, yet, what happens when the money begins to run out?  In most situations where only one spouse of the married couple is admitted to the nursing home, the spouse that remains in the home (“the community spouse”), has options to maintain a certain lifestyle and to retain certain assets.

For instance, the primary residence can be maintained by the “community spouse.” This asset then is not available for nursing home expenses.  The law may limit this exclusion, so it is important to consult with an attorney on the latest applicable rules.  Likewise, the community spouse can keep and maintain her own vehicle.  This is important, because our society greatly relies on personal automobiles for its transportation needs.  Again, consult an attorney on the specifics of these rules.

Other “liquid” assets can also be maintained, so that the community spouse is not left destitute.  These guidelines change on an annual basis, so it is important to consult an attorney to make sure that you make appropriate planning decisions.

Finally, certain transfers made by the nursing home patient and the community spouse are permissible under the law.  If assets were transferred to children more than five years before the parent is admitted into a nursing home, these transfers are protected from paying for the cost of nursing care.  Likewise, even on the eve of admissions, certain transfers are permitted to set up qualified Medicaid annuities.

Contact Us for Help

The concepts I have discussed can be very complicated and far beyond the scope of this post, so anyone contemplating admission to a nursing home for themselves or their loved ones should consult with a qualified attorney to discuss these and other related issues. Please feel free to contact our Harrisburg Asset Planning Attorneys at 717-724-9821 for more information.

 

 

Copyright DZMM, October 2, 2013.

Job Loss – Myths and Reality

Harrisburg Employment Attorney Explains Myths and Realities Behind Job Loss

Harrisburg employment attorney, unemploymentIt’s Friday afternoon and you know the worst is going to happen.  Things at work have gone from bad to worse.  It appears that your employer has been “setting you up” for termination.  Your performance evaluations have been bad recently, but surprisingly over your time at the company they have been generally good.  You are very anxious because you have a family to support and bills to pay.

This post gives you some idea of your rights under Pennsylvania and Federal law at the time your job is terminated.  Please feel free to contact the Harrisurg employment law attorneys of DZMM if you need counseling about job loss or potential job loss.  It is always better to contact an attorney before you are terminated so you know your legal rights.

Myths about That Last Day at Work

If you are unable to contact an attorney before termination, here are some commonly held myths about the last day.

Severance Pay

First, many people mistakenly believe that they are entitled to severance pay at the time of termination.  While severance pay will soften the blow of the immediate income loss, it is not legally required.  Pennsylvania still uses the concept of “at will” employment.  This means that you can be terminated for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all.  Likewise, you can leave your employment any time you wish.  While a two-week notice is customary and helps to maintain relationships with former employers, it is not legally required.

However, what happens if you are terminated on a Friday afternoon and it is five o’clock and you are presented with a severance package?  You are told by your employer that if you don’t sign the Release forms, that you will not receive your severance.  What do you do?

This depends on your age.  If you are over forty (40) years old, you are protected by the Federal law known as the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act.  This Act ensures that older workers have at least twenty-one (21) days to review any Severance Agreement with their accountant, attorney or family members.  They are permitted to review the document before signing, so that the employer does not have an unfair advantage at employment termination.  This is the appropriate time to seek legal help to determine whether or not the Severance Agreement is fair.  The Severance Agreement will often contain a Release that will require releasing your employer from all claims related to discrimination or public policy issues related to your employment.  This means that you can no longer sue your employment for these types of issues.  For this reason, the Severance Agreement should be reviewed by an attorney to determine whether there were any possible issues outstanding.  Generally speaking, an employer cannot require that you give up unemployment or workers’ compensation claims, since they are benefits which are available to you if you fit other State law criteria.  The purpose of the Severance Agreement generally is to seek your waiver of claims, and give the employer some comfort that you will not be disparaging them or possibly suing them in the future.  The advantage to you is that you will have some compensation available to you to pay bills while you begin your job search.

 Unemployment Benefits

Another reason that you may want to consult an attorney after termination is to determine whether or not you are eligible for unemployment benefits.  This will be a subject for a further blog.  However, it is important that you consider whether to resign before you are terminated.

That letter of resignation can disqualify you from unemployment benefits.  Regardless of your age, this is an important consideration. If you “voluntarily” resign, you are not eligible for unemployment. You may be told by your employer that “it is better to resign than be fired,” but you should always consult with an attorney to determine whether or not this will disqualify you from unemployment.  In the current economy, it may take a considerable amount of time for you to become re-employed.  Unemployment benefits can help you to pay bills until you can find other suitable employment.

If you have any questions about job loss or unemployment benefits, please feel freee to contact Daley Zucker Meilton & Miner, and ask for Steven Miner.

 

 

 

Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) and Estate Planning in Pennsylvania

How Does the End of DOMA Impact Pennsylvania Estate Planning?

As you may have heard, the United States Supreme Court has struck down the Federal Statute known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The case was interesting because it involved an estate between two lesbians that were married under New York law.  The Complaint filed by the surviving spouse, Windsor, was based on her requirement to pay Federal Estate Tax upon the death of her wife.  She and Thea Spyer had originally gotten married in Canada.  When they lived in New York their gay marriage was recognized by New York State, but not by Federal law.  Ms. Windsor challenged the Federal Statute because she felt that it was unfair that a heterosexual married couple will pay no Federal Income Tax for any transfers between spouses, but since she was subject to DOMA, she was required to pay $360,000.00 in Federal estate taxes.

She sought assistance from the Supreme Court to have this taxable claim refunded. The Court agreed with her and refunded the Windsor’s tax with interest and also struck down the Statute.

What to Remember about the end of DOMA

The important thing to take away from the Court case is that whether you are unmarried heterosexuals, or, an unmarried homosexual couple, you should look at estate planning. Currently, under Pennsylvania law, there is no provision for “gay” marriage.  This means that gay people living together are treated as unrelated people and pay higher tax rates than married people.  This is obviously unfair.  To mitigate this taxable “hit,” it is suggested that you consult with an attorney to use a variety of estate planning devices to minimize taxable transfers.  This includes both heterosexual and homosexual unmarried couples.

If you need further information about estate planning after DOMA, please feel free to contact me, Steven P. Miner, at (717) 724-9821 or sminer@dzmmlaw.com.

Answers to Bankruptcy Questions

Answers to Common Bankruptcy Questions For Individuals Considering Filing for Bankruptcy

(1) Q. Will I lose my house?

A. Generally speaking, no. Most bankruptcies involve the use of substantial exemptions provided by State and Federal law, so it is unlikely that you will lose your house, unless you do so voluntarily. For instance, you may wish to surrender your house because you can no longer afford to make the payments. But, as a general rule, if you are able to afford your mortgage you most likely will retain your property.

(2) Q. Will I lose my car?

A. Again, this question is very similar to the issue relating to your house. The maintenance of payments on secured items determines whether or not you keep secured personal property. In other words, if you can afford to make your vehicle payments, you most likely will keep your car. However, if you cannot afford your car, or, you decide that you wish to surrender the car because it is a “lemon” you may do so voluntarily.

(3) Q. Will my name be in the newspaper?

A. Usually, only business bankruptcies are printed in newspapers. Additionally, because many newspapers are going to a limited publication, the chance of public notice is even less. However, bankruptcies, like any other public record, are available for public inspection in the Federal Courthouse, and certain creditors may have access to PACER which is a subscription to access Federal records.

(4) Q. Will my boss find out about my bankruptcy?

A. The answer is similar to number three. While the bankruptcy filing is a public record, it is unlikely that your employer will be aware of your bankruptcy unless you choose to pay your Chapter 13 Plan payments through wage attachment. In other words, you can make payments with voluntary wage attachment to ensure payment in your Chapter 13. A Court Order will be necessary to make these deductions and will be sent to your payroll department. However, your employer cannot discriminate against you because you filed bankruptcy, so the voluntary wage attachment process should not have any impact on your employment.

(5) Q. Will I have to go to court?

A. Yes, you will attend a Creditors’ Meeting regardless of which Chapter of Bankruptcy that you file, Chapter 7, 13 or 11. However, the Creditors’ Meeting is an informal process presided over by a Bankruptcy Trustee, not a Bankruptcy Judge. Most of the people in attendance are also bankruptcy debtors, and your privacy will be respected.

There are occasionally creditors that attend these meetings, but they are seeking information about your case that is provided in the bankruptcy petition and schedules, so attendance from creditors is fairly limited.

(6) Q. Will I have to pay taxes on the debts that are discharged in my bankruptcy?

A. No. The good news is that debts discharged or forgiven in a bankruptcy are not subject to Federal taxation for “loan forgiveness”. This is subject to Section 108 of the Internal Revenue Code. This is one advantage that bankruptcy has over credit counseling, since debt forgiveness usually does incur tax liability.

(7) Q. Will I lose my retirement account?

A. No. The happy news is that your retirement account, whether in the form of an Individual Retirement Account, or, a 401(k) Plan or traditional pension are excluded from your bankruptcy estate. This means that you do not use bankruptcy exemptions to shelter these assets. Rather, they are not considered assets of the bankruptcy estate. This is a
good public policy, because it permits you to discharge your debt while maintaining retirement assets.

Hopefully, these answers to the FAQ’s are helpful to you. If you want more specific information, please contact my office for a free consultation.

New Pennsylvania Mortgage Programs

MORTGAGE DIVERSION PROGRAMS AND MORTGAGE MEDIATION PROGRAMS

 

Since my last blog about foreclosure remedies, I am happy to report that there are now additional programs to assist homeowners in foreclosure or nearing foreclosure.  Many counties in Pennsylvania and other states now have mortgage diversion programs.  The purpose of these programs is to permit homeowners in foreclosure, or, on the verge thereof, to apply for mortgage modification through a Court supervised process.  Because of Court supervision, and the cooperation of the parties the resulting mortgage modifications are more numerous, and involve more satisfactory results.

Basically, the procedure requires the homeowner to notice the mortgage holder to participate in the program.  At this point, a Mediator is appointed.  Based on Court rules, the homeowner is required to provide necessary documentation for review by the mortgage holder.  This process creates a standard whereby the mortgage company can be assured that they receive the documentation in a timely fashion.  Moreover, the homeowner can be satisfied that their documentation is being promptly reviewed by the lender.  Based on the strict time lines and Court supervision, the chances of success are greatly enhanced.

Based on the success of County Courts, some of the Bankruptcy Courts have also adopted the mortgage mediation process.  The process is very similar to the County Court process, but involves cases where foreclosure has been stayed by bankruptcy proceedings.  Again, the mortgage mediation process is governed by the Bankruptcy Court rules, so there is a standard by which the parties understand the process and the necessary documentation required for mortgage review.  Additionally, because of the timeline set out by the Court rules, the lender and homeowner have the same expectation of the duration of the process. Additionally, the parties can avail themselves of assistance of the Court, if necessary.  If you need more information about these programs, contact your County Bar Association in Pennsylvania, or, the Clerk’s Office in Bankruptcy Court.

Bankruptcy in Pennsylvania: Myths v. Reality

Many people have misconceptions about bankruptcy and what it means to them.  This post is devoted to dispelling some of the various myths that I have encountered from discussions with my clients.  As with all of the posts provided by my firm, this is general advice and is not intended to apply to every individual debtor.  However, these general concepts should help dispel some of the fears and myths associated with bankruptcy in Pennsylvania.

First, there is a common myth that a bankruptcy debtor must turn over all of his/her property to the Court.  This is generally not the case.  In fact, most bankruptcy debtors keep all of the property that they own at the time of bankruptcy.  The reason for this is every bankruptcy debtor is eligible to keep certain property based on exemptions provided for in the Bankruptcy Code.  Please consult an attorney for specifics, but this allows most people to keep their house, cars, bank accounts and most importantly any retirement savings.

Secondly, many people believe that filing a bankruptcy is very expensive.  To the contrary, bankruptcy attorneys often offer free consultations to discuss whether or not to file a bankruptcy and the bankruptcy fees charged by attorneys are generally reviewable by the Court or Court-appointed Trustees to make sure that they are fair and reasonable.

Thirdly, many bankruptcy debtors are concerned that if they file bankruptcy, they will never be able to obtain credit again.  Their fear is that they can no longer borrow money for an automobile or take out a mortgage for a house.  To the contrary, while the bankruptcy discharge will remain on a debtor’s credit report for up to ten years, most people will again have access to credit after their bankruptcy discharge.  This does not mean that credit will be available at market rates, but credit will be available and creditors will evaluate the interest rate based on the credit worthiness of the former bankruptcy debtor.  Obviously, a discharged bankruptcy debtor’s credit score will improve over time as the bankruptcy debtor continues to earn a living and pays his/her bills on time.