Recently, many Lancaster County residents received an email from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health emphasizing the significance of being prepared for a medical emergency and having the necessary documents, such as an advance directive.  In light of this reminder, we want to delve deeper into advanced care planning and highlight the importance of having updated estate planning documents, including the Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will.  We applaud Penn Medicine for drawing attention to this crucial aspect of healthcare and encourage readers to seek assistance from experienced estate planning attorneys who can guide them through the process and alleviate potential burdens for families.

The Importance of Advance Care Planning:

In medical emergencies or situations where an individual cannot make their own healthcare decisions, advance care planning helps clarify what that individual wants.  You can communicate your desires regarding medical treatments, life-sustaining interventions, and end-of-life care by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney or establishing a DNR, MOLST, or POLST with your physician. 

Estate Planning Documents in Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania has two essential estate planning documents that guide medical decision-making: the Healthcare Power of Attorney and the Living Will.  Pennsylvania also permits a Combined Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will, which our attorneys recommend in most situations.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to appoint a trusted individual or individuals, known as your healthcare agent or proxy, who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot, such as when a patient develops Alzheimer’s or is unconscious and can’t communicate.  Choosing someone who understands your values, beliefs, and medical preferences is crucial and will abide by your wishes, even when pressured by others.

A Living Will, on the other hand, allows you to specify your preferences for end-of-life care, including decisions about life-sustaining treatments.  In addition, this document provides clear instructions to healthcare professionals and your loved ones about your desires in various medical scenarios, organ donation, and sometimes funeral and burial instructions.  By having a Living Will, you can relieve your family members from the burden of making difficult decisions during emotionally challenging times.

The Importance and Purpose of a Power of Attorney:

It is also essential to consider a broader spectrum of estate planning.  For example, a Financial Power of Attorney is another essential document that should be part of your estate plan.  It grants authority to an individual, known as an Agent, to manage your financial affairs, make legal decisions regarding your assets and debts, pay your bills, manage your investments, and handle other important matters if you are unable to do so, such as incapacity, unavailable, or military service.  By appointing an agent or attorney-in-fact, you can mitigate potential challenges for your family during difficult times.

Take Action and Seek Professional Guidance:

We commend Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health for highlighting the importance of proper planning and preparation for medical emergencies.  If you aren’t sure your loved ones are protected and your wishes are respected, we strongly encourage you to contact one of our experienced estate planning attorneys at Russell, Krafft & Gruber.  They possess the expertise to guide you through creating and executing estate planning documents, such as the Healthcare Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Financial Power of Attorney.  Don’t wait until it’s too late—take the proactive step of securing your future and easing the burden on your family.

Act 115 of 2022 will amend the Pennsylvania Uniform Condominium Act and the Uniform Planned Communities Act to change the ways meetings and elections are held. In Part One, I listed many ways that Act 115 will help communities. In this part, I will talk about some of the ways Act 115 may make things more difficult.

Elections in Big Associations

If a community has 500 Units or more, Act 115 will add a lot of “process” to elections. For these bigger communities, all votes need to be submitted to an “independent reviewer.” The independent reviewer needs to count and certify the election results.

An independent reviewer is defined as:

  • A person who is selected by the Executive Board and satisfies all of the following:

A “vote management system” is:

A third-party vendor who operates a digital or subscription service that securely manages the conduct of elections and voting procedures.

Remember, this cannot be the board or the property manager. Plus, the independent reviewer has to disclose what they are getting paid to do the job.

If an association has fewer than 500 Units, it can opt in to this process. This requires the approval of at least 51% of all unit owners.

This independent reviewer requirement also applies to master planned communities who have 500 or more units. This leads to a big legal question. In many, if not most, master planned communities, each of the sub-communities elect their own representatives to the composite master planned community board. That means that there is never a ballot that goes out to every member of every sub-community to elect the master board. I am not sure whether this provision requires every master planned community use an independent reviewer, or whether it only applies where the master board is elected at large.

Amendments to Bylaws

Up until now, there have been several different ways to amend Bylaws. Generally, the way to amend Bylaws was whatever the Bylaws said. Act 115 standardizes Bylaw amendments, requiring:

The bylaws may be amended only by vote, vote by proxy or agreement of unit owners of units to which at least: … fifty-one percent (51%) of votes in the Association are allocated ….

The vote may be taken only at a scheduled meeting and following notice to the unit owners that was advertised 14 days in advance to the unit owners. Absentee voting shall be permitted to unit owners provided that the ballots must be submitted to an independent reviewer by the commencement of the scheduled meeting.

Again, this concept of an independent reviewer comes into play.

Recording Member Meetings

Act 115 gives guidance on recording members’ meetings. It says:

Recorded Meeting. … meetings of the Association may be recorded by the Executive Board via audio or video technology, provided that an announcement is made by the presiding officer at the commencement of the meeting that the meeting will be recorded. A recorded meeting under this subsection shall be maintained and available to unit owners for a period of no less than six months after the date of the meeting.

This does not apply to board meetings.

Pre-Election Sessions

The biggest example of Act 115 giving an answer to a question that no one asked deals with pre-election sessions. This section forces the association to have a “meet the candidates” session if any of the candidates request it. The Act requires:

Pre-election sessions.–the Bylaws must require that, in the event that there are more candidates than open positions on the executive board, then, upon request of one or more of the candidates, the association shall hold a special session at least seven days before the election of an executive board member to allow the unit owners to meet each candidate for an executive board position. Each candidate for an executive board position shall have equal time to address the unit owners during a special session under this subsection.

It is hard enough to get people to show up for an election meeting. Imagine having them come out a week before to meet their neighbors?

Removal of Board Members in Condominiums

Act 115 gives the process for removing a board member in a condominium. It requires a two-thirds vote of all persons present at any meeting of the unit owners at which a quorum is present. Notice needs to be provided of the intention to remove a board member.

This requirement was already in Section 5303(f) of the Planned Communities Act. I think that this is a terribly low bar to do something as drastic as removing a board member. Remember, in Part One, if there is not enough for a quorum after two meetings, then whoever bothers to show up at the third meeting counts as a quorum. That means two-thirds of whoever is at the third meeting can remove a board member.  

Associations are Forced to Amend Their Bylaws

Other than forcing large associations to hire independent reviewers, the worst part of Act 115 is that it requires associations to amend their bylaws to incorporate some of these provisions. There are a number of places in Act 115 that say “the bylaws must provide,” of the “bylaws shall/must require” one of these provisions.  

I believe that this means just about all of the associations out there will need to amend their bylaws. This will not require a vote of members. The Acts allow for “corrective amendments” if they are necessary to comply with current law. Unfortunately, a corrective amendment also requires that the association get a completely independent attorney to provide an opinion that the bylaw amendment is permitted. This will be one more job and one more bill for communities. Many of the changes in Act 115 will help people become more involved in their community meetings and elections. Unfortunately, some associations will have a lot of work to do to comply with the law. And just about every association will have to do a little bit of extra work because of these changes.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly prevalent in our daily lives, from chatbots like ChatGPT to virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa. While AI has the potential to revolutionize industries and improve efficiency, it also comes with its own set of perils. In Pennsylvania, there are legal concerns surrounding the use of AI that should be taken into account by individuals and businesses alike.

One of the primary legal concerns with AI is privacy. AI systems are often designed to collect and analyze large amounts of data, which can include sensitive personal information. Under Pennsylvania law, individuals have a right to privacy that extends to their personal information. This means that businesses that use AI systems must ensure that they are collecting and using personal information in a way that is consistent with state and federal privacy laws…

STOP!! Stop reading. I didn’t write any of that. But it sounds like something I would write, doesn’t it? That’s because I asked ChatGPT to “write a legal blog using Pennsylvania law about the perils of AI like ChatGPT. The tone, syntax, and style should be similar to the blogs found here and here.” (Those links are to blogs that I have previously written).

While there are countless issues with AI, including privacy, as pointed out by ChatGPT, one of the biggest problems is that for most of us, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between content generated by AI and content generated by a human. Bad actors have already started to use AI to take advantage of this and to scheme victims into disclosing sensitive information.

For example, one emerging pattern is the use of voice-generated AI to convince unknowing people that a family member is in danger and needs money. In that situation, criminals are using AI software to call someone pretending to be a family member, using what sounds like the actual voice of the person they are purporting to be. When the caller states that they are in trouble and need money wired right away, the victims are falling into the trap and sending the money. By the time they realize their family member is okay and that it was a trick, the money is long gone.  

Other problems arise with AI due to its limitations. While it seemed like a simple solution to ask ChatGPT to write a blog to save me some time, the information that it provided was not completely accurate. While ChatGPT was able to recite some law, it was not able to fully comprehend and apply Pennsylvania-specific law to the set of facts that I entered. Hence, the problem. For a non-lawyer looking for legal advice, it is impossible to be sure that the advice generated by AI is accurate. This can lead to costly problems down the road for anyone who follows incorrect legal advice.

I must admit that playing around in ChatGPT is a lot of fun and I am getting a kick out of coming up with obscure requests, which, for the most part, have been satisfactorily met. Asking ChatGPT to generate a packing list for a week-long trip to the beach with 3 kids under 6 has definitely made my summer vacation planning easier!

My advice for anyone looking to explore what modern AI has to offer is to be cautious about the information you are receiving. And, as always, to always second guess anything that seems too good to be true, too convenient, or just doesn’t feel right.

* I didn’t write this title either. I asked ChatGPT to “write a title for a legal blog about AI using the words pitfalls peril and another word that starts with P that means fun”.

Congratulations! You married the love of your life…but what if you are not legally married according to the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court?  In other words, what if the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court does not have a record of you and your partner ever getting married? Or, what if the minister who was ordained via the Internet cannot legally officiate your wedding?

To be legally married in Pennsylvania, you and your partner must apply for a marriage license. In Lancaster County, that can be done either in person at the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court or through an online application.  Marriage licenses are valid for 60 days from the date of issuance. 

Solemnizing the Joyful Occasion

Getting a marriage license alone does not mean that you are married. You and your partner must also have your marriage solemnized by a person qualified to solemnize a marriage. But can you ask just anyone to solemnize your marriage?

The answer, like many things in the law, is “it depends.”  In Heyer v. Hollerbush, a minister was ordained via the Internet and officiated a couple’s wedding.  A York County judge ruled that the couple’s marriage was not valid because the minister did not serve a congregation or preach in a physical house of worship, therefore, could not officiate a wedding ceremony.

Approximately two years later, another case, In re O’Neill, conflicted with Heyer v. Hollerbush. In this case, a judge ruled that a minister who was ordained via the Internet, who has no congregation and no church to preach in, may officiate wedding ceremonies.  Neither case has been appealed to a Pennsylvania Appellate Court, making it unclear as to whether a minister who has been ordained via the Internet, who has no congregation and no church to preach in can officiate wedding ceremonies. Due to the conflicting rulings, a majority of the counties’ Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court offices throughout Pennsylvania have a warning displayed on their websites about Internet ordinations.

For this reason, you should be cautious about having a minister who was ordained via the Internet officiate your wedding ceremony.

Sign on the Dotted Line

After the marriage is solemnized, the marriage certificate and the duplicate must be signed by the person solemnizing the marriage and the duplicate must be returned for recording within 10 days to the court that issued the license.

I have helped clients who thought they were married to their partner for many years and applied for a certified copy of their marriage certificate, only to find out the Lancaster County Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court had no record of their marriage. To their shock, they were not legally married! This can occur when the officiant does not return the duplicate copy of your marriage certificate to the court, resulting in the marriage not being recorded. 

For this reason, it is crucial that your officiant signs the duplicate copy of your marriage certificate and returns it to the court within ten days.

If you would like to make sure you are legally married in Lancaster County, you can search for your marriage record here. Keep in mind that just because you may have gotten married in Lancaster County, you may have obtained your marriage license from a different county in Pennsylvania.

If you find yourself in need of an attorney to help you and your partner record your marriage, your marriage wasn’t properly recorded or if you have questions about ministers who were ordained via the Internet , contact one of our family law attorneys.

New amendments to the Pennsylvania Uniform Condominium Act and Uniform Planned Communities Act (“UPCA”) will make huge changes in the way communities hold meetings and elections. These Amendments are found in House Bill 1795 (Act 115 of 2022). Some of these changes make it easier to hold meetings and vote electronically. Others will make it more difficult – and potentially more expensive – to hold elections. The new requirements take effect on May 3, 2023. Here is a summary of the changes.

The Problem with Electronic Notice and Virtual Meetings

During COVID, most Communities wanted to have virtual meetings and elections. And they wanted to be able to vote without an actual physical ballot or proxy. The problem is that most bylaws are very specific about holding election meetings in person, and having votes cast in person or by proxy. The same requirements apply to giving notice for meetings. Most people would prefer getting notice by email, but most bylaws call for written notice.

Even though the Pennsylvania Business Corporation Law allows alternate ways to meet, many people (including me) are uncertain whether the specific language in the bylaws needs to be followed. In many communities that staged virtual meetings and elections, the outcomes were challenged by people who insisted they had to be in person, or that notice needed to be written. For the last few years, lots of communities sent out electronic notices, and held meetings and elections over Zoom. But none of us have been completely comfortable doing these things.

Permission for Electronic Notice and Virtual Meetings

The best thing that Act 115 does is give formal permission for electronic notice and virtual annual meetings. Section 3308(a) of the Condominium Act (5308(a) of the UPCA) says:

The notice of a meeting may be delivered by electronic means if the unit owner has agreed in writing to accept the notice by electronic means or where the bylaws permit electronic notices.

This means that an association can keep a record of who wants to receive electronic notice, and who does not. Keep in mind that unit owners need to “opt in” to electronic notice.

Act 115 also formally permits virtual annual meetings. It says:

Use of remote technology.–Except as otherwise provided in the bylaws, an individual may participate in a meeting of the executive board or association by means of a conference telephone or other remote electronic technology, including the Internet, which allows participants in the meeting to hear each other. Participation in a meeting as authorized under this subsection shall be deemed in-person attendance at the meeting.

Permission for Electronic and Absentee Voting

Many associations have a problem with the difference between a “proxy” and an “absentee ballot.” Many unit owners would just like to fill out a ballot and drop it at the community building or email it to the property manager. Act 115 allows electronic and absentee ballots. It says:

Approved methods of voting.–The voting rights of a unit owner may be cast or given in the following ways: in person or by proxy at a meeting of the association or by absentee or electronic ballot. An absentee or electronic ballot may:

  1. be counted as a unit owner present and voting for the purpose of establishing a quorum, and otherwise, only for agenda items appearing on the ballot.
  2. not be counted even if properly delivered, if the unit owner attends the meeting to vote in person. A vote cast at a meeting by a unit owner supersedes a vote submitted by absentee or electronic ballot previously submitted.

The practical question is “How reliable is an electronic ballot?” The amendments say:

The term “electronic ballot” means a ballot cast or given by electronic transmission over the internet, vote management system or the Association’s community network, whether by direct connection, intranet, telecopier, electronic mail or other technological means, if the identity of the Unit Owner submitting the ballot can be confirmed and a receipt of the electronic transmission and ballot can be made available to the Unit Owner.

These last parts – confirming the identity of the unit owner and providing a receipt, might take some work. If a unit owner is emailing a ballot, it is easy enough to confirm their identity and provide a receipt. But if the meeting was held on Zoom, that might be much more difficult.

Finally, the Act also allows for election by “acclamation” if only one person is running. It says:

Acclamation.– In the event that an election for a position on the Executive Board is uncontested, the officer or chair presiding at the election meeting may declare the nominee elected by acclamation after determining there are no further nominations.

Help to Achieve a Quorum for Elections

Act 115 may also help associations who have difficulty getting a quorum for their meetings. The amendments provide that if an association fails to get a quorum at two “subsequent” (which is probably not the word they were looking for) meetings, it can establish a quorum according to §5756 of the Corporation Law. This section says that whoever shows up for a meeting that has been adjourned for lack of a quorum gets to be counted as a quorum.

This means that an association can try two times to get enough people out to vote. If they cannot establish a quorum, then they can hold a third meeting. At that third meeting, anyone who shows up counts as a quorum. Of course, holding three meetings seems like a lot of work (and it is). But with electronic notice, it can help associations that have not held elections for years actually have a legitimate election.

The changes that I have discussed in this article are all positive. They allow the association to be flexible in holding their meetings and gathering votes. Act 115 gives permission for associations to hold meetings the way that they want to, or gives them cover for the way they have been doing things since the start of COVID.

In Part Two of this article, I will go over some of the ways that Act 115 makes things harder, more costly, or potentially more controversial for associations.

The internet provides us with access to infinite information and helps us find answers in nearly every aspect of life. The second our pet starts acting weird, our car engine light goes on, or the toilet doesn’t flush properly, we immediately use Google to find the easy solution to our problem. Sometimes the very first website gives us the perfect direction and we can solve the problem without any other guidance. We have all been lucky to find a solution from Google, but not every answer can be found on Google. More dangerously, sometimes Google can mislead us and create a situation even worse than what we had before taking Google’s advice.

As an attorney, I find Google particularly dangerous for someone seeking legal advise for just that reason: it can be extremely misleading. This article will outline the concerns with using Google or any internet search to find answers to legal issues and how the guidance of an attorney can protect you.

The website gives no legal citation for its answer

            Like everything else, there is a mountain of legal information online for the general public to access. Google is a fantastic resource for learning the basics, but the answers Google can provide become increasingly more dangerous when the researcher relies exclusively on this research for their specific legal issues. One of the biggest dangers with relying solely on Google is that the answer might not actually be based on the law.

For example, take a researcher who wants to sue a contractor for doing bad work at their house. The researcher wants to figure out how long they have to sue the contractor. They type their question into Google and find an article written by an attorney. This attorney says that they have 10 years to sue. The answer makes sense to the researcher, but nowhere in the article does it tell them WHERE that answer can be found in the law. Without a legal citation, the researcher should be skeptical.

We learned this concept as early as middle school English class. Without a citation, there is no way to confirm that the answer is right. Just assuming that the website article is correct is extremely risky. If the article is wrong, the researcher might lose their opportunity to bring a suit.

The website information does not apply to the researcher

            Let’s assume that the researcher finds an article that answers their question, and this one has legal citations to support the facts. Based on my information above, the researcher might now think they hit the jackpot and have everything they need to represent themselves. Well, the dangers of Google don’t stop at the lack of citations. There is still a great risk that the information provided in that article does not apply to the researcher and will still lead them to a completely wrong answer.

Let’s go back to the short example from above. The researcher finds an article written by a Florida attorney in 2017 that says that a homeowner must bring a suit against a contractor within four years. The attorney cites the Florida statute where he found that answer. All seems good and well with the information the research found, but there is no guarantee that the answer is right for that researcher.

            There are so many factors that go into getting the right answer for an individual’s unique legal issue. In this example, if the researcher does not live in Florida, that answer is already useless because each state applies its own law. Next, the article is from 2017, so the law could have changed in the six years since it was written. Lastly, the article and answer might not discuss any exception to that general rule that might apply to the researchers unique situation. Maybe the researcher’s situation does not fall into the general rule, once again misleading them. Finding the right answer on Google  is like finding the needle in the haystack.


            While Google is an excellent research tool, there are situations when it is not the right resource. When it comes to legal research, especially, it is likely that the Google answer will be misleading or incorrect. It should not be the only thing the researcher relies on. It presents the same risks as trusting Google when trying to fix our car, or nursing our pet back to health, or fixing our plumbing. If the answer is wrong, the costs to undo it can add up quickly. The same is true for the law.

In nearly all situations, consulting an attorney will be cheaper and more effective in the long run. Obtaining the information from a professional gives you confidence that the information is tailored to your unique situation. So next time you’re tempted to trust your Google search, consider consulting an RKG attorney who, unlike any of the online search engines you are using, will tailor their answer to your situation and give you answers you can trust.

A festive crew from Russell, Krafft & Gruber participated in the Junior League’s Run4Luck Fundraiser on Saturday morning. The dismal forecast of wind and snow showers did not deter the crowd, who showed up to support a worthy cause and participate in the St. Patrick’s themed 5K, 2-mile walk, and a kids’ fun run. There were a few surprise appearances, including the Barnstormers’ Cylo, a unicorn, a runner dressed as Spiderman, and many leprechauns. RKG’s team, Keep Calm & Leprechaun, was proud to receive top honors as the best-dressed team. 

Thank you to the Junior League for hosting, and kudos to Laura McGarry for organizing such a fun event for our community. We can’t wait to gather an even larger team for next year. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!   

Since COVID has changed the way that we live and work, I have seen a handful of legal issues come up over and over. This blog series addresses some of these issues. The first article in this series talked about what happens when your adult child moves in and will not leave. Another scenario that has come up a lot since COVID began happens when two unmarried people buy a house together, but then split up, leaving them with a house to deal with. This becomes even more complicated when one of their parents pays for the house or provides money for a down payment.

A Deed is Not a Wedding Ring

Maybe it is because the rental market is so tight and expensive and couples do not want to pay for two rents. Or maybe it is because the housing market is so tight that someone finds a house and feels like they cannot pass up an opportunity to buy. Or maybe so much time apart has made people rush into living together. For whatever reason, we have seen an increase in the situation where two people buy a house together and then break up. When the two people are married, the laws of divorce and equitable distribution take care of what happens to the real estate when they break up. But when the parties aren’t married, the same laws don’t apply. The couple has to decide what to do with the house. Either both people want to sell the house, or – more often – one person wants to stay in the house and the other wants to move on.

Legal Status of Non-Married Co-Owners of Real Estate

When two people who are not married purchase real estate together – that means both names are on the deed – they are called either “Joint Tenants” or “Tenants in Common.” Most of the problems that come up in this situation are the same regardless of the type of legal ownership. So for the purpose of this article, we will just call the two people “co-owners.”

When both co-owners want to sell the house, they both have to cooperate with signing agreements with realtors and signing settlement sheets and the deeds.

When only one person wants to sell the house, they can file a “partition action.” That is a lawsuit where the co-owner who wants to sell forces the property to be put up for sale. They can do this even if the other half of the couple wants to remain in the house.

Regardless of whether the sale is voluntary or is forced through a partition action, the general rule is that both co-owners share in whatever equity they have in the house.

Common Mistakes: Unequal Contributions

One of the most frequent problems that we see is where one co-owner puts more money into the house than the other. This happens when one person pays the downpayment and closing costs. Or when the parents of one of the couple pays the down payment or even buys the house completely. If they agree to sell the house and move on, the general rule is that they split the proceeds evenly. Obviously, this is not fair if one person contributed more than the other.

We also see two variations of this problem. The first is when the couple (remember, freshly broken up) cannot agree on their contributions. One person paid closing costs, but the other paid for the new roof or paid the mortgage. The second variation is when one person moves out and the other continues to live in the house. If they are sharing the mortgage, then the person living in the house is living there rent free.

In all of these cases, one person might feel entitled to more of the proceeds of a sale than the other co-owner.

Common Mistakes: “I’ll live here and make the mortgage payments.”

One of the situations we see over and over is where one co-owner moves out, but the other wants to continue to live in the house. The person remaining in the house promises to continue to pay the mortgage. Of course, they never refinance or take the other person’s name off of the mortgage. This also happens a lot when people are married and finalize their own divorce.

The problems come when the co-owner living in the house stops making those mortgage payments. When this happens, the mortgage company forecloses on the house. This hurts the co-owner who is not living in the house, because:

  • If both co-owners are named on the mortgage, the foreclosure goes on both people’s credit reports.
  • A foreclosure means that the mortgage company will put the property up for a public sheriff’s sale. If the house is sold, any proceeds will be split evenly between the co-owners. This has the same problems as the section above if the co-owners have unequal contributions.
  • If the co-owner living in the house stops paying the mortgage, he or she is probably living there rent free. Even if the co-owners contributed evenly at the start, the co-owner who was supposed to be paying the mortgage is getting more of a benefit.
  • If the property was put on the market and sold right after the break-up, there might be some proceeds to split up. When a mortgage company forecloses, they add interest, penalties, attorneys’ fees and court costs. This means that very often there are no extra proceeds to split up if the house is foreclosed upon.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

There are a few ways to protect yourself from financial harm in this situation. At least, a few ways that do not include relationship advice. Some things to consider are:

  • Sign a “co-tenant agreement” before you purchase the property. A co-tenant agreement spells out the contributions of each person and how the proceeds of a sale are divided between them. For example, a typical provision in a co-tenant agreement might say that co-tenant A contributed $20,000 in down payments and closing costs. If the house is sold, co-tenant A gets the first $20,000 in proceeds, and the rest will be split evenly after that.
  • Do not let one co-tenant live in the house while both people are named on the deed and/or mortgage. This might sound like relationship advice, but it isn’t. If one person wants to keep the house, then they should buy it. Or they should refinance the mortgage in their own name (which is practically the same thing). If the co-owner cannot afford the house, you should put it up for sale and move on. You have broken up with the other person, split up your photos, settled ownership of the dog, etc. You should do the same thing with this big financial investment, too.
  • If you cannot agree, file a partition action. Putting the house up for sale needs both co-owners to cooperate. If you cannot get your former partner to cooperate, consider filing a partition action to protect yourself and your investment.
  • One for the parents: Don’t buy a house for your kids without taking back a mortgage. Maybe one of the sets of parents is able to provide money for a down payment or even purchase the house. You should consider a mortgage on the house. If not, the two co-owners are going to split up the money that the parents put into the house. If you are in the wonderful position to buy a $200,000 house for your child and his or her partner, and those two split up, the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend could walk away with half of your payment. If you put a mortgage on the property, and they split up and sell the house (whether voluntarily or in a partition action), your mortgage gets paid before they get any of the sale price.

The best, most general piece of advice when two co-owners break up is not to agree to anything without thinking through the financial outcomes. All of these suggestions help the parties move on without adding a financial heartbreak onto the emotional one.

Since COVID has changed the way that we live and work, I have seen a handful of legal issues come up over and over. While these are not new problems or opportunities, they have come up a lot more since COVID began. They could be a result of remote work, or the Great Resignation, or inflation and higher gas prices. Whatever the cause, our clients and friends have asked these questions more now than they ever have before. I wanted to write a series of posts to talk about these post-COVID scenarios. Hopefully these articles will help you plan to avoid problems, or let you know what you can do if you find yourself in the middle of one of these stories.

The Unwanted Houseguest

The first scenario that keeps coming up involves an adult child who moves back in with his or her parents (or into a house owned by his or her parents). The issue is when that adult child starts causing problems and refuses to leave. When I say, “causing problems,” I mean things like drugs, threats of violence against the parents, damaging the house, creating conflict with the neighbors, and things like that. In our post-COVID world, we are encountering this problem much more often. Parents come to us with their patience exhausted, asking what they can do to fix this situation.

The Adult Child’s Legal Status

When a client comes to us with this problem, one of their first questions is “Why can’t I call the police and remove our child from our home?” Our experience is that – unless there is a real, immediate threat of harm – the police will treat this arrangement as a matter between the two parties and will not interfere.

The best way to think about this living arrangement is as a lease, where the parents are the landlords, and the adult children are the tenants. Even if there is no signed lease agreement, the children probably have some sort of legal right to remain in the place where they are living. And the best way to remove them from the home is to treat them like a tenant and go through the process of “eviction.”

Overview of the Eviction Process

The eviction process in Pennsylvania is set out in the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act. Generally, the process goes like this:

  • The landlord gives an “Eviction Notice” to the tenant. The notice period needs to be 10 days for a failure to pay rent, or 15 days for a breach of the Lease or the end of the Lease term.
  • After the notice period is over, the landlord files a “Landlord/Tenant Complaint” with the local Magisterial District Justice. The MDJ schedules a hearing within a week or two from the date of the Complaint. The Complaint can ask for possession (i.e., kicking the tenant out), past due rent, and/or paying for damage to the property.
  • If the MDJ awards possession of the property to the landlord, after ten days, the landlord can go back to the MDJ and ask for an “Order for Possession”. The Order for Possession will order the tenant to leave the property within another ten days.
  • If the tenant does not leave the property in ten days, the sheriff or constable will forcibly remove them from the property.

Why Treat the Living Situation Like a Lease?

I think the best reason to treat this situation like a lease is because leases and eviction are predictable. Put yourself in the position of police or the local District Justice. No one wants to get involved in a family argument. But it is easy for a District Justice to look at one person as a landlord and one as a tenant. Their offices handle landlord/tenant matters nearly every day. There is a law and a process that they are bound and happy to follow in those kinds of problems.

This also makes the process predictable for the family members. If you provide a written Notice of Eviction, with 15 days to leave, then your intentions are very clear. Sometimes it is easier to follow a very exact legal schedule of events than to negotiate a move out date. Remember, this article is for the times when nothing else has worked, and adult children have become a real problem.

How Can You Make This Easier?

Since the best way to fix the problem is to treat it like a lease situation, the best thing you can do is to prepare a simple lease agreement at the start. This can be as simple as a piece of paper that says I am the landlord, you are the tenant, and there is a month-to-month lease term. That means that the parent/landlord can say that the lease has expired at the end of any month and start the eviction process. The lease agreement can have more in it than that. If there are rules and regulations that need to be followed (like no drugs, or following up with therapy), putting them in a written document helps emphasize them.

If you did not start with a written lease, and now find yourself in a situation where you need to remove your adult child from your home, all is not lost. We will treat the situation as if you had a month-to-month lease agreement all along. So, we will go through the same steps of providing a written Notice of Eviction, giving 15 days notice, going to the MDJ, and getting an Order for Possession. Those things are easier if you have a lease up front, but they are not impossible to perform if you do not.

Look for future installments in my series for a post-COVID World, including “We Bought a House Together and Broke Up”.

The reporting requirements for Pennsylvania registered businesses and foreign associations are about to change in 2024 with the enactment of Act 122 of 2022 (“the Act”). According to the Act, business entities will now be required to file an annual report with the Department of State. Prior to this change, businesses were only required to file a report every ten (10) years. This was called the decennial filing.

Businesses affected by this change are; domestic filing entities, domestic limited liability partnerships, domestic electing partnerships that are not a limited partnership or registered foreign association. The new filing requirements are effective January 2, 2024.

Each annual report must include the following information:

  • business name,
  • jurisdiction of incorporation,
  • name of one director, member or partner,
  • names and titles of the principal officers,
  • address of principal office, and
  • the entity number issues by the state.

With the annual report, each business must also pay a $7.00 filing fee (excluding non-profit organizations). A business that fails to file the annual report or pay the filing fee risks an involuntary dissolution or could lose the right to use their name. While a business may request that they be reinstated at any time, they would risk that their name is taken by another entity during their dissolution period. These new changes will create more work for the average business, but it will help keep the State’s entity information accurate and up to date. Having access to more accurate information will benefit everyone in the long run.