Lindsay M. Schoeneberger

When I started law school it felt like the professors were speaking a different language.  And in a way, they were.  The legal profession uses so many terms that have very particular meanings, that even though lawyers tend to be very well spoken, it can be hard to understand what we are saying. A word can mean so many different things in different contexts.  Take the word harbor for example.  As a noun it is a sheltered area of water that is deep enough to anchor a boat in and as a verb it means to provide shelter.  A person can harbor a criminal on their boat which is docked in the harbor.  Sometimes words that people use regularly have a popular definition and a legal definition.  For example, people often say someone is harassing them when they receive a few unwanted text messages or phone calls.  Sure that can be annoying, but the behavior doesn’t meet the legal definition of harassment, which calls for behavior that goes far beyond the behavior of your average Joe with a texting problem.  So how are you to know what means what?  And how does this relate to National Estate Planning Week?  The estate world is no different than the criminal or civil world.  We have a vernacular all our own.  Below is a quick reference guide for some commonly used terms and a non-legal speak definition; terms you might find in some of my other blog posts.
Continue Reading

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.  That would be the sound of a text message showing up on my phone, watch, iPad, and computer all at the same time.  Don’t worry, I actually have the sound turned off on all but one of those devices, so I don’t drive myself and everyone around me insane.  I love the convenience of it.  No matter which device I am using, I can easily respond to a text or call without having to figure out where the heck I left my phone. And because my fiancé has sworn off all things Apple, I never have to worry about him seeing any surprises I’m planning.

But we’re not like most couples.  Most couples I know have the same type of phone and if it is an iPhone, they often share the same Apple ID.  Sure, this is convenient for a number of reasons.  But what happens when a couple decides to separate and forgets that their ex has access to all of their text messages?  Or can see their emails?  Sadly, I’ve had more than one client who discovered their spouse was unfaithful because the spouse forgot their devices were linked.  I’ve had clients who can’t figure out how their ex found out about someone they were talking to months after separating even though they were never seen together publicly and most communication was limited to texting.  If you shared an account or had your texts or calls going to another device that you do not have exclusive control over, you need to be mindful that your ex may still have access to what you assume are private calls or text messages.
Continue Reading

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

“Thank you.  We have received your automatic payment.”  “Sign up for automatic bill pay to reduce your student loan interest rate.”  “Ensure your payments are never late!  Sign up to automatically pay your bill.”  “Reminder, monthly payment scheduled.”

Those email subject lines are taken directly from my personal email account.  I receive regular inquiries trying to persuade me to switch to automatic payments for all of my monthly bills.  Clearly from some of the subject lines you can see that I do have some bills (the small ones) set for automatic bill pay and flatly refuse to set up others.  Why?  Well in my law school days it was more to prevent an inadvertent overdraft than anything else.  However, now, it is more to prevent a mess in the event of my death.  Horribly morbid.  I know.  But I have a very good reason.
Continue Reading

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog article about Facebook’s New Legacy Contact, wherein you can appoint someone to manage your account posthumously. When you fail to appoint someone, Facebook’s current policy allows your next of kin to only have partial access to the account in order to either turn it into an online memorial page or to delete it entirely.

It seems that the highest court in Germany has taken issue with this limited access for a legacy contact, having recently determined that a minor’s parents have the right to inherit their daughter’s Facebook account.  The parents of a 15 year old girl who passed away in 2012 sought access to her Facebook account in order to determine if her death was suicide.  Facebook refused, citing their Legacy Contact policy and concern for the privacy of the girl’s other contacts.  The Federal Court of Justice in Germany held that the account was similar to a person’s letters or private diary, both of which would pass on to a person’s heirs under German law.
Continue Reading

Almost 11 short years ago, the first iPhone made its debut on June 29, 2007.  This inaugural version featured the ability to take photos but not videos, maxed out at a whopping 16 GB hard drive and 128 MB of RAM.  The phone also lacked a GPS, digital compass, and forget about touch ID.  Fast forward to the iPhone X, Apple’s newest iPhone.  The X has 256 GB  of storage, 3 GB of RAM,  and unlocks using facial recognition technology.  And as for those videos the first iPhone couldn’t manage?  The X features 2 cameras that boast more features than most digital camera and offer 4K quality video recording at 60 frames per second.  Today a person can operate their business from the palm of their hand while on the go.  And it is not just our phones that are advancing leaps and bounds.  Cars have self-driving features and refrigerators can plan your meals and text you a shopping list.  The speed of technological advancements is mind blowing and getting ever faster. 
Continue Reading

By now, hopefully I have convinced you that you need a Will, Financial Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, and that you need to consult with an attorney that focuses on estate planning in order to prepare these documents.

But my job is not done.  Having all of these documents prepared is only half the battle.  Making sure these documents are kept up to date, is the rest.  These documents are not once and done.  You should be reviewing these documents every few years and every time there is a major life change.

When someone in your family gets married or divorced you should review the documents.  When a new family member is born or a family member dies, you should review the documents.  When you start a new job or retire, you should review the documents.  Often times, reviewing the documents may not mean changing the documents.  If the documents still reflect your wishes, you probably don’t need to change them. 
Continue Reading

Last week, I dispelled the myth that you only need a Will in order to have a proper estate plan.  This week, I am focusing on who you give power to in these documents.  The person you grant power to under a Will or Power of Attorney is generally known as a fiduciary.  As I previously explained a few years ago, a fiduciary is a fancy catch all word for personal representative (which is another way of saying executor, executrix or administrator, administratrix), guardians, agents, and trustees who are all subject to the jurisdiction of the Orphans’ Court in Pennsylvania.

Many times my clients feel a sense of obligation to name their children as their fiduciaries and use birth order as a method of selection.  Simply being the first born does not make a person more qualified to handle your finances than anyone else.  It is important to consider the nature of the position you are appointing the person to.  What kinds of decisions are they going make?  What kind of responsibilities are they going to have?  Who are they going to have to interact with?  How will others respond to them? Then look at the people you are considering for each position.  Who will fit best in each position?

Take for example Simon and Helena.  They have three children.  Eleanor, a doctor who is bad with money, Liam, an accountant, who is suspicious of medical professionals, and Robert, their oldest child who, while fine with money and generally trusting of medical professionals, tends to disappear for months on end and is unable to get along with either of his siblings. Eleanor and Liam, twins, get along well but are not on speaking terms with Robert.  Who should Simon and Helena name as their Fiduciaries for the Will, Financial Power of Attorney, and Health Care Power of Attorney?
Continue Reading

If you come to see me asking for just a Will, I will ALWAYS discuss with you whether you need a Financial Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will.  It is not because I am trying to upsell my services or print more paper and kill trees.  No, it is because I want to make sure you have the documents you need to protect yourself and to simplify things for your loved ones.

A proper estate plan deals with the here and now, the near future, and the distant future.  A proper estate plan is not just what happens when you die.  It has provisions for when your health declines and you can no longer act on your own behalf.  Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the possibility of future illness, incapacitation or death, nor do you want to.  Leave that to me to guide you through the process of determining what you need.

The key to recognizing which documents are necessary is to understand each document and when it becomes active.  Most people know that a Will becomes active on death and deals with the distribution of your assets.  It can also name a guardian for your minor children, and set up trusts to protect those assets. 
Continue Reading