“I’m so confused!  The woman at the bank said I have to keep this account here.  The guy at the insurance company said I should really do this.  And my friend said she didn’t do any of this.  I don’t know what to do!”

The above is a general excerpt of conversations I have with Executors all the time.  The first few months of handling an estate can be tough.  You have just lost someone close to you and now you need to sort out what they left behind and are dealing with so many people on so many matters.  You will get advice from almost everyone you encounter.  You will hear stories about how the person you are interacting with handled it.  And you will most certainly interact with someone who will adamantly insist they know the law and what they are telling you is the exact opposite of what your attorney told you.  Or at least you think it is the exact opposite.  Come to think of it, now you are not so sure because you have heard so many different things from so many different people. Continue Reading But my Friend Said… What to do When You Get Conflicting Advice

We’ve noticed a pattern recently. It is often that I receive a call from a client or a relative of a client the day someone dies asking what they need to do. A person bereft with emotion, overwhelmed, and sometimes in a state of shock just trying to make sense of everything coming at them at once. My advice is always the same: Take a deep breath and take a moment to grieve. We’ll walk you through what you need to do and when.

My job is to make this process as painless as possible. In a majority of the estates I handle, the person tasked with handling the estate was close to the decedent and impacted by their death. It is completely understandable that this person would be overwhelmed by all of the new information and questions coming at them. Continue Reading When a Loved One Passes

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 Common Estate Planning and Estate Administration Terms

The 11th National Estate Planning Week is upon us! Instead of focusing solely on estate planning, I’ll be focusing on what happens after the estate planning or the lack thereof, more specifically, the probate process. This is not meant to be a how to on the probate process or a substitute for consulting with a qualified attorney that focuses on estate administration. It is more of a primer or reference guide for those executors or administrators that are overwhelmed and would like guidance or clarification of the basics, or for the person that just wants to know more.

Last year, I touched briefly on what is probate. This year, I’ll go more in depth. Check in each day this week for a new article focusing on: what happens right after a loved one dies, an explanation of basic terms used during the probate process, what to do when you get conflicting advice, and the pitfalls of celebrity estates. If you are just too hyped over another National Estate Planning Week to wait for tomorrow’s blog article, you can look back over last year’s National Estate Planning Week articles here.

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 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 Automatic Bill Pay: Blessing or Curse?

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 Germany Cracks Down on Facebook

As an avid podcast listener, one of my favorite year-end activities is reading through the “best of” lists of the best podcasts and episodes of the year. Below are a few of my favorite lists of favorites (meta, right?) to get you started:

The Atlantic – The 50 Best Podcasts of 2017

Vulture – The 10 Best Podcasts of 2017

Vulture – The 10 Best Podcast Episodes of 2017

IndieWire – The 50 Best Podcast Episodes of 2017

My typical approach is to review the lists and their descriptions, then add episodes that sound interesting to a new playlist in my preferred podcast app, Overcast.

This year, I thought I’d share my own list of some of my favorite podcasts: Continue Reading My 2017 Podcast Picks

For those of you looking for your weekly myth, sadly, our myth series has run its course.  Now that we have covered commonly asked questions and the top 10 myths, I wanted to leave you with a few helpful tips- these tips are universal and not just for selecting an estate planning attorney.

  • Be open and honest with your lawyer
    • Your attorney is trained to know what is important. Chances are if they are asking about it, they need to know about it.  It might not seem like a big deal to you, but it could completely change their advice to you.
  • Make sure you are comfortable with your lawyer
    • Feeling comfortable with your lawyer will significantly increase your ability to be open and honest with him or her. This is key for you to get the best advice and for your own piece of mind.  Even if your attorney gives you the best advice in the world, if you are not comfortable with him or her, you may never fully trust what they’ve said.
  • Don’t price shop
    • Cutting corners now can cost you big time in the end. We are seeing a rash of people trying to do things on their own or do things piece meal because they are trying to save money.  While I will be the first to wait for a sale, cut coupons, and look for the best deal, legal dealings are not always the best place to do so.  Certainly you should inquire as to fees and not blindly hand over your hard earned cash.
  • Ask family and friends for referrals if you don’t know who to go to
    • Asking someone one who has actually worked with an attorney if they liked them can be far more effective than picking a name out of a random list. However, keep in mind your friend or family member’s personality.  If you are nothing like your cousin, will the same attorney work for you?  Ask the person what they liked and disliked about the person they are recommending.  Then decide if those are qualities you are looking for as well.
  • Have a trusted financial advisor or accountant? They can make referrals as well
    • Accountants and financial advisors work with attorneys all the time. They have seen the attorney in action and can make a referral based on real interactions.

Have a happy and healthy new year!

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.

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 Myth #10- Once and Done!

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 Myth #9 – I Must Appoint The Same Person For All Of My Estate Planning