In a prior blog post, I explained that divorce cases here in Lancaster county are heard by Divorce Masters instead of Judges. Because the proceedings before the Master will be the only chance you have to present your case, it is important to understand the process.

Your lawyer will appoint a Divorce Master with a Motion with the Court.  Once appointed, the Master will hear the claims that you have raised which may include claims for the distribution of property and/or alimony. When a Master is appointed, a telephone conference is scheduled with the lawyers. The Master will deal with procedural issues and determine if the case is ready to move forward or whether there are any impediments to moving ahead such as disputes about the date of separation or missing discovery.

Discovery is the legal term for the gathering and sharing of necessary information to move a case forward. Your lawyer will ask you for information about your assets and income and may need to seek valuations of those assets by outside parties (such as real estate and pension appraisers). If you want a good outcome, you should prioritize getting your lawyer all of the information that he or she is asking for. It may seem burdensome, but since this is your only opportunity to present evidence, it is worthwhile to provide as much information as possible on the assets and incomes involved. This may require inquiries to the bank, to your accountant or even to your human resources department, but all of your efforts will matter very much to your case. Continue Reading Anatomy of a Divorce Case in Lancaster County

As a prior Divorce Master, I witnessed a lot of confusion from clients about the Divorce Master process. During one of my more contentious cases, I overheard a litigant talking to his attorney during a break, and he asked: “When will I get a hearing with a real Judge?” Clearly he was disgruntled about how the case was going, but it’s a fair question. And the answer here in Lancaster County is that you won’t–  your Divorce case will be heard by a Divorce Master, not a Judge.

In most counties in Pennsylvania (including here in Lancaster), divorce cases are heard and decided by Masters instead of Judges. Divorce Masters are court appointed officials, and they have jurisdiction to decide issues of property distribution and alimony. In Lancaster County, Divorce Masters serve as the finders of fact for the case. In practical terms, that means that the proceedings before the Divorce Master will be the only opportunity you will have to present your full case. So, be prepared and take it seriously. Continue Reading What is a Divorce Master?

Thank you to everyone who attended the first of three estate planning conversations Russell, Krafft & Gruber is hosting in Ephrata.  Gary Krafft, Kathy Krafft Miller and I had the pleasure of speaking with several people who wanted to have a better understanding of the estate planning process and the necessary documents.  It was an interactive session and we enjoyed talking with everyone.

Last night we focused on the three estate planning documents for everyone.  If you missed it, you can get a good summary here.  Our next session, on April 25 will be about Wills, Trusts, and determining what is right for you.  Javateas will again be providing excellent coffee and desserts!  If you’re not really sure about trusts and want some more information before our second session, look for some new blog posts in the next two weeks for some basic trust information.  Would you prefer to speak to someone about trusts?  Join us for the second session and you can join the conversation.

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.

This is the final installment of the intestate success series.  To see the other installments start here.

If you’ve already read the second post in this series, then you know that the intestate succession can be rather complicated when you leave a surviving spouse and other family members.  But what happens when you don’t have a surviving spouse?  How are assets distributed in those circumstances?  Well, it depends on who survives you. Continue Reading Intestate Laws – When You Do Not Have a Surviving Spouse

Headlines last week detailed the divorce settlement agreement between Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos. It was a huge marital estate estimated at 137 billion dollars; the largest asset was Amazon which Jeff Bezos founded during the marriage with help from his Wife MacKenzie.  MacKenzie agreed to accept 25% of the Amazon stock which amounted to about 36 billion in assets. Most of us cannot relate at all, but in reading the details, it occurred to me that there are pertinent lessons to take away from this. In this post, I have highlighted five takeaways that apply even when you are not the founder of Amazon.  I will elaborate on some of these subjects in future blog posts, but for now, here is the Cliffs Notes version:   Continue Reading Five lessons from the Bezos divorce settlement that could apply to your case

Wrestlemania was this past weekend, and Linda McMahon is rumored to be stepping down as the head of the Small Business Administration.  I have a rule that when those two things happen in the same week, it is time to link back to my favorite blog post: How Your Small Business is Like Professional Wrestling.

My son and I are still watching wrestling.  And there are even more lessons you can learn from wrestling.  Here are more to add to the list: Continue Reading Your Small Business is STILL Like Professional Wrestling

Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP is pleased to announce that Julia G. Vanasse (known as “Julie”) has joined the firm’s Family Law practice group. She returns to private practice after serving for almost 20 years as a Lancaster County Divorce Master, where she presided over numerous divorce cases during her tenure. Prior to being appointed by the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas as a Divorce Master, she practiced family law for ten years with a local firm.

Julie received a B.A. in Government and French from the College of William and Mary and earned her J.D. from The Dickinson School of Law of Pennsylvania State University. With her over 30 years of combined experience in Family Law, Julie brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. She represents clients in all areas of Family Law, including divorce, equitable distribution, alimony, custody, and support. As a long time Divorce Master, Julie distinguished herself for her particular expertise in handling complex and high asset divorce cases. She is well versed in dealing with the unique complexities that these cases often present such as business and professional practice asset values, pension values, and self-employment and business income issues.

Julie firmly believes that the key to serving clients well in the family law matters is with a comprehensive and compassionate approach. She works with each client personally to understand their concerns and goals.   As a litigator, Julie’s style is thorough and tenacious – as anyone who practiced before her can attest, she leaves no stone unturned. As a prior Divorce Master, she has a first-hand understanding of the court process and what strategies get results in litigation. Julie also understands that sometimes the best results are achieved outside of the courtroom and, as a Master, she aided in resolving many cases without a hearing. She brings those same skills in negotiating fair resolutions for clients without the expense, delay and emotional toll of court proceedings.

Julie has called Lancaster her home for over 30 years. She and her husband Mike (also a local attorney) live in East Hempfield where they raised three children. They are now empty nesters unless you count two golden retrievers.

This is the second installment of our Intestate Laws series.  In case you missed the first one, check it out here.

Probably the biggest misconception people have about dying without a Will is that their spouse will just get everything.  Unfortunately, this is only the case under a small select set of circumstances.  I don’t know about you, but taking a chance that my situation would fit one of the few circumstances where my husband would inherit everything we worked for is not enough for me to leave it to the intestate laws to determine the distribution of my estate.  So what are the circumstances that leave everything to your spouse without a Will?  The only way your spouse will inherit all of your intestate estate if you do not have a proper Will, is if you have no living parents or children.  That is it.  No other circumstances allow for your spouse to inherit your entire intestate estate.  Outside of the intestate estate,  the only other way to ensure that your spouse inherits everything is for you to be absolutely 100% sure that every single thing you own is titled jointly with your spouse with right of survivorship or that you have named your spouse as a beneficiary on everything.  Speaking from experience, even the most diligent people forget to change beneficiary designations or something happens before they get around to it.  It is simply too risky to leave something so important to chance. Continue Reading Intestate Laws – When You Leave a Surviving Spouse

Do you have a Will?  If you do, when was the last time you looked at it?  Does it really say what you think it does?  What about a Financial Power of Attorney or Health Care Power of Attorney?  Is each of those documents up to date?  Does it meet your needs?

If you are unsure how to answer any of those questions or if you have other estate planning related questions, please join us for an Estate Planning Conversation as we kick off our three-part series on April 11, 2019, at Javateas Cafe at Doneckers at 6:30 p.m.  At our first session, we will address these questions and more.  Our second session will focus on Wills & Trusts and determining what is right for you.  We will wrap up the series with an overview of the probate process.  Can’t make the conversation but still have questions?  It might be time to set up a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you determine what is important for you and your family.

This is the final installment in a three-part series about courtroom procedure and etiquette. The previous posts in the series are: How Do I Get There? and Who Are These People?

Last summer, I wrote a blog about a continuing education class featuring the film “My Cousin Vinny.” One of the funniest parts of the movie is when Vinny shows up to court in a classic 1980’s maroon tuxedo. The tuxedo would have been ridiculous at a fancy event, and was certainly ridiculous in a conservative courtroom in rural Alabama. Vinny’s inappropriate courtroom attire brings us to my final topic in this blog series: appropriate attire and other courtroom etiquette considerations.

Regardless of why you are in an courtroom, it is important to maintain decorum and respect for the process and those involved. This begins before you even enter the courtroom. If you are allowed to bring a cell phone into the courthouse, turn it off. Don’t just silence it. Turn. It. Off. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a cell phone go off in a courtroom and watched it’s red-faced owner frantically turning it off while mouthing “I thought I silenced it!” In the quiet of a courtroom, a blaring cell phone can be disruptive and embarrassing.

Next, remove any chewing gum, mints, chew tobacco, or anything else you may have in your mouth and dispose of any beverages and food. Most courthouses prohibit these things in the courtroom. You should also remove anything from your clothing and bags that may be loud or distracting in the courtroom.

One of the biggest concerns clients have when appearing in court is how to dress appropriately. Your clothing should show that you take the matter seriously and that you want to be judged on the merits of the case, not on how you appear. As a general rule, aim for clothes that are professional and conservative (and as an ode to my mother, not wrinkled!).

While you can’t go wrong with a well-fitting suit, there are other clothing options that will allow you to exude professionalism and confidence when you enter the courtroom. Think of outfits that you would wear to a nice family function, church, or work. A good rule of thumb is that if you look at a piece of clothing or an outfit and are concerned that it might not be appropriate for court, that’s a good sign that you should choose something else.

Before we get to what you should wear to court, let’s discuss what you shouldn’t wear. While not comprehensive the following is a list of things NOT to wear to court:

  • Workout clothing;
  • Tight or revealing clothing, including too short dresses or skirts, or anything with sequins, glitter, etc.;
  • Clothing that exposes bare arms, shoulders, midriffs, or legs;
  • Loud prints or vibrant colors;
  • T-shirts (especially those with inappropriate text or logos);
  • Jeans;
  • Hats;
  • Flip flops or other opened-toed shoes; and
  • Athletic shoes or sneakers.

You should also refrain from wearing an excessive amount of jewelry, makeup, or accessories. It is important to exhibit good hygiene and refrain from using too much cologne or perfume. You’ll want to make sure your hair is neatly groomed and away from your face.

For men, appropriate courtroom attire can include a suit and tie or dress pants and a long-sleeve button-down collared shirt, perhaps with a sports coat.  Shirts should be tucked in.

For women, appropriate courtroom attire can include a suit, long pants or a skirt with a blouse or sweater, or a dress that covers your shoulders.  Skirts or dresses should fall at or right above the knee.

If you still aren’t sure about how you should act or what you should wear to court, check with your lawyer. If that doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, you can follow my courtroom golden rule: If you wouldn’t wear it, say it, or do it in front of your grandmother, don’t wear it, say it, or do it in court.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.