When “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018, her family thought she died without a Will. There were many questions about what would happen to her estate and what Aretha’s wishes were upon her death.

In legal terms, it was believed that Aretha died intestate, or without a Will. You can read more about Pennsylvania’s intestate laws and how an estate is handled when someone dies without a Will here.

In many cases, when someone dies without a Will, it can cause controversy in an already grieving family. For Aretha Franklin, we can only assume that the vast size of her estate and the legacy attached to it left her heirs wondering Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Continue Reading Oh Me, Oh My It’s Time to Get Your Estate Plan in Order: Lessons from Aretha Franklin’s Death and Her Handwritten Wills

This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of the posts in the series is at the end of this article.

After lawyers have collected enough information through interrogatories (written questions) and requests for production of documents, it is usually time for depositions. But what are depositions and what do you need to know about them?

What is a Deposition?

A deposition is a formal interview conducted under oath to get information that the witness knows about the case. Starting with the lawyer who wanted the deposition (sometimes referred to as the one “calling” the deposition), each party’s attorney gets to ask questions. The answers are written down by a court reporter into a transcript that can be used later.

Who Can be Deposed?

Any person can be asked to sit for a deposition, including the parties to the lawsuit and other third parties. If you are a party to the lawsuit, the other lawyer only needs to ask and send your lawyer a notice about the deposition. Third parties receive subpoenas to attend a deposition and may also be asked to bring documents with them (just like a request for production of documents). Unless something unusual happens, a person can only be deposed one time per lawsuit. Continue Reading Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language (Part V) – It’s Your Turn to Talk

At the end of 2018, Pennsylvania passed the “Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act” or ASAIA for short. ASAIA is designed to eliminate fraudulent claims by pet owners asserting a need for an “emotional support animal” in order to bypass the Association’s rules on pets. I have written a number of articles on support and assistance animals. These are very difficult and confusing issues for Associations (and landlords) to decide. Let’s look at the ASAIA to see if it actually simplifies these questions.

To review, there are two federal laws to consider: The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). The ADA says that a service dog is permitted in all public places. A service dog is a dog that is specially trained to perform a task that is directly related to a person’s disability. Section 504 of the FHA applies to providers of housing – like a landlord or condominium association. The FHA says that a housing provider needs to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation could be an “assistance animal.” Unlike a service dog, an assistance animal does not need to be specially trained to perform a task. An assistance animal can be an animal that relieves the symptoms of a disability. Today, we see people with disabilities such as anxiety or depression using an animal to provide emotional support.

Does the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act change existing requirements?

Photo credit: guillermoluis21 on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

I think the Act is a good effort by the General Assembly. At the end of the day, unfortunately, I do not think it makes a big change in the way that associations (and landlords) need to deal with disabled individuals. Here are the reasons why:

  1. The ADA and FHA are both federal laws. I am not sure that a state law can be more restrictive toward disabled persons than the federal law. I think that most, if not all, of the federal requirements remain in place despite the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
  2. Under the ADA (which deals with service animals), a housing provider is only permitted to ask two questions. They are:  (i) “Is this a service animal that is required because of a disability?” and (ii) “What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?” These are the only questions that are permitted, even if a person’s disability is not readily apparent. Section 3 of the ASAIA says that an association can request documentation for either service or support animals. I do not believe that the ADA allows an association to ask for documentation for a service animal.
  3. The FHA (which, for our purposes, deals with support animals) permits an association to request documentation when someone asks for a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), however, limits this request only to situations where a disability is not readily apparent. HUD says that the housing provider is permitted to request documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional to confirm that the animal alleviates the effect or symptoms of a disability. A HUD notice states:  “Such documentation is sufficient if it establishes that an individual has a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support.”

Compare this to Section 3(b) of ASAIA.  The HUD guidance and ASAIA are generally the same. However, ASAIA seems to require more specific information. For example, ASAIA requires the documentation to be based on “direct knowledge” of the person’s disability and need for the support animal. Arguably, the FHA requires the same kind of reliable documentation. But the standard that needs to be met under the FHA has been pretty easy to establish. To the extent that ASAIA allows an association to ask for more documentation, the association needs to be careful.

Associations should not think that ASAIA allows them to make an independent judgment about whether the emotional support animal is needed. Simply put, if an association gets (i) a letter from a mental health professional that says (ii) a unit owner has a disability like anxiety or depression, and that (iii) the animal provides some sort of assistance or emotional support, the association needs to provide the reasonable accommodation. The association should not be using its judgment to determine whether the medical professional is correct or not. In this way, the ASAIA does not make that much of a change to the existing situation.

The final two portions of ASAIA are great news. Section 4 provides that an association (and landlord) is not liable for injuries caused by a service dog or support animal. Sections 5 and 6 create criminal penalties to misrepresent the need for a service dog or support animal. The penalties are more severe for people that fake documentation or fit an animal with a harness or vest that falsely indicates the animal is a service animal. I do not believe these are pre-empted by federal law. Hopefully they will make people think twice about misrepresenting the need for a support animal.

All of the associations that I work with want to provide accommodations for people who really, truly need emotional support animals. This is difficult to do when people can go online and get the required paperwork for $69.95 to “document” their need. [Note: A quick Google search of “emotional support animal certification” brings up about 10 million results. I am not going to link to any of these providers.] Although the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act might not be perfect, I hope it can help associations (and landlords) to make better decisions in this area.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

Photo credit: guillermoluis21 on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Now that April 15th has passed, the dust is still settling about how tax changes impacted taxpayers and many of us were surprised at the effects. The effects of the new tax laws also changed child and spousal support payable in Pennsylvania.

As of January 1, 2019 new guidelines are now in effect. These have been put in place largely to deal with the issue that alimony and temporary alimony or support payments to a spouse are no longer tax deductible by the person paying support, nor includable as income by the recipient. These new guidelines pertain to any new orders after January 1, 2019, but not the modification of prior orders. So it’s important to understand whether your case will be calculated under the old or new guidelines, as it makes a difference. Continue Reading New Tax Laws and Changes to Pennsylvania Support Guidelines

I first became aware of the spotted lanternfly (“SLF”) when, as a Penn State Football season ticket holder, I received a notice that I was supposed to search my car for any evidence of SLF presence before leaving my home in Lancaster County en route to State College. I became more concerned about the SLF after I read a news article about a family whose home was overtaken by SLFs that were attached to their Christmas tree.

The SLF is an invasive plant-hopping insect that can have a detrimental impact on local agriculture. The SLF was first discovered in Berks County and has spread to a number of nearby counties in southeastern Pennsylvania. As a result, several counties, including Lancaster County have been placed in a SLF quarantine zoneContinue Reading Does your business or organization need to obtain a Spotted Lanternfly Permit?

Each year SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon honors five local small businesses for their success. This year’s winners included both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses. It also included new companies and those taking their products and services to another level.

I could tell you about each of the award winners, but the best source of information about them is showcased in SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon’s acceptance videos for each winner (links on each name below):

Russell, Krafft & Gruber congratulates each of this year’s winners, along with all the winners from the previous Small Business Awards Luncheons. We are thrilled to partner with an organization as impactful as SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon. And we look forward to another year of helping small businesses throughout Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

Brandon Harter is litigator and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Civil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionMunicipal Law, and chairs the firm’s Tech Law Group.

This Thursday will be the final session of our three part series of Estate Planning Conversations. In the final session, we will focus on what happens when a loved one dies. Who should you call first? When should you be making this call? How do you pay for the funeral? What does probate mean? How long should it take? How do you know how much inheritance tax is due? Are you responsible for the tax? Join us at 6:30 on May 2 at Javateas Café at Doneckers to find out the answers to these questions and more!

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning and Estate Administration.

“Irrevocable Trust” sounds so formal and intimidating. Also, there are two very different pronunciations. Regardless of how you pronounce “irrevocable,” it can be intimidating if you are not properly advised during the drafting process. When a person creates an irrevocable trust, they relinquish ownership and control of the assets they are transferring to the trust. The assets are then controlled by the Trustee appointed in the trust document. The Trustee must control those assets in accordance with the rules outlined in the trust document. It is crucial that you are satisfied with the trust document before signing it, because unlike a revocable trust which can be amended at will in most cases, there are only a few limited circumstances where an irrevocable trust can be amended or terminated. Continue Reading Revocable versus Irrevocable Trusts

Next to a Testamentary Trust created for the protection of minor’s assets, the most commonly requested trust is a revocable trust. A revocable trust can be a great tool if you need a little more control over assets, have property in different states, or have some more complex estate planning considerations. However, there are some drawbacks to a revocable trust as well. Continue Reading Is a Revocable Trust Right for Me?

What is a trust and why do I need one? A trust is a great estate planning tool when used effectively and in the right situation. But most people know very little about trusts and often times think their estate does not warrant a trust. Over the next several posts, I hope to provide more information about trusts in general and help you decide if a trust is something worth considering.

When dealing with a trust, it can seem like the document is speaking another language. Below is a quick primer of terms commonly used in conjunction with trusts. After all you can’t decide if a trust is right for you if you don’t know what it says. Continue Reading Basic Trust Terminology