November is National Adoption Month and over the years, Lancaster County Orphan’s Court Judges have celebrated it with balloons and LOTS of adoption finalizations on a single day. The tradition was begun by the Honorable Judge Jay J. Hoberg but was suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19. This year, with the help of the Lancaster County Children and Youth Agency and the Young Lawyers Section of the Lancaster County Bar Association, the Honorable Jeffrey J. Reich resurrected the tradition.

Thank you to LNP who featured the happy event in an article this morning. With more balloons, a celebratory banner, candy for attendees and a personalized gift from the Young Lawyers Section, twelve children officially became part of their forever family yesterday. I had the honor of representing the adoptive families and it was truly what the Honorable Judge Jeffrey Reich always refers to as “Happy Court.” Throughout the year, I am privileged to represent families in adoptions both through an Agency, privately, in step-parent adoptions, and internationally. But, Adoption Day is always just a little bit more fun because of the number of children and families who get to celebrate together. Special thanks to Judge Reich, the Children and Youth Agency, the Lancaster Bar Association leadership and the Young Lawyers Section for making this year extra special.  And a big thank you and warm virtual hug to all my adoptive families and their children who make my job a little sweeter throughout the year.

As a litigation attorney, I meet with many clients seeking advice because their new home construction or renovation project was done poorly. Whether these homeowners are dealing with big or small construction companies, the same problems arise when it comes to construction defects. Often, the contractor’s work was subpar, the homeowner spent thousands of dollars to fix the problems, and now the builder refuses to pay or has gone completely missing.

Many times, the homeowner comes to us believing  the solution is easy: find the builder’s insurance carrier and file a claim or sue them to get reimbursed. Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, we are prohibited from doing so.

Why Can’t You Sue Your Builder’s Insurance Company?

In 1992, the Pennsylvania Superior Court discussed this issue in detail in a case called Strutz v. State Farm, 609 A.2d 569 (Pa. Super. 1992). The Superior Court held that a third party (in this case the injured homeowner) cannot bring an action directly against the insurance company because the homeowner is not the beneficiary of the insurance coverage. In simpler terms, the Superior Court said that since the homeowner was not paying the insurance premiums and does not have a contract with the insurance company, the insurance company has no obligation to pay them.

This concept is difficult to comprehend since common sense would suggest that insurance is supposed to protect the injured party not those who were responsible for the damage.

How to Benefit from Your Builder’s Insurance Coverage

However, even though you can’t file a claim against or sue your builder’s insurance carrier directly, you can still benefit from your builder’s insurance coverage. In many cases, when a construction defect leads to litigation, the builder will contact their insurance carrier to request that the carrier provide legal representation to defend against the construction defect claim. The insurance carrier would then be responsible for paying for any settlement or judgment against the builder.

What Can I Do to Find a Reputable Builder?

So, what can you take from all this as you consider taking on a home construction project? You should work with a builder or construction company that has a longstanding reputation in the community, can provide personal references, has a brick and mortar office, and, most importantly, is insured. Those companies pride themselves on doing good work and correcting their mistakes when they happen. If there is a problem with their work, it is more likely they will do their best to fix the problem or compensate you for any damage they may have caused to protect their reputation in the community.

Dealing with businesses with little to no reputation in the community and no clear business address can be risky. Those types of builders often don’t have adequate insurance and, if they do bad work, may just disappear leaving you with very little chance that you will ever get paid for the damage.

For many people, it can be difficult to afford the larger more esteemed companies, but be aware that paying the right price can be the best way to avoid serious headaches. In the end, there is value in knowing you will be properly protected should any damage occur. Support smaller business by checking references and ensuring they are committed to quality work and have the insurance to back it up.

Did you know that October 17-October 23, 2022 is National Estate Planning Week?  National Estate Planning Week was established in 2008, in an effort to highlight the importance of having an updated estate plan.

It is widely estimated that up to 60% of Americans do not have a Will.  As an attorney who focuses primarily on estate planning and estate administration, I’d wager to say that a large portion of those that do have a Will have not updated it in quite some time.  A good estate plan is meant to grow with you and should be reviewed regularly.  I recommend that clients review their estate planning documents every 3 to 5 years and whenever a major life change occurs.

You should also check in with your attorney to make sure your documents are still current.  The laws are constantly changing and it is important to make sure your documents keep up.  In 2020 Pennsylvania finally adopted laws dealing with digital assets.  Over the last few years, changes have been made to the requirements in your documents to give your fiduciary access to your digital assets.  Think digital assets only refers to cryptocurrencies?  Think again.  Digital assets certainly includes cryptocurrencies, but also include photos stored in the cloud, passwords and login information for accounts, social media accounts, PayPal accounts, and so much more.  Do you have an Apple card? That Apple Cash card is a digital asset!  As technology continues to advance, digital assets will continue to grow.  Making sure your estate planning documents have the language necessary to grow with them is important.

Not sure if your documents have the required digital asset language or just think it is time to review your documents as a whole?  Our estate planning attorneys are happy to help.

Lindsay SchoenebergerThe law firm of Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP has named Lindsay Schoeneberger a Partner effective July 1, 2022.

Lindsay joined Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP following a clerkship with the Honorable Jay J. Hoberg of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Orphans’ Court Division.

Lindsay is a 2010 cum laude graduate of Widener University School of Law. She obtained her B.A. from Muhlenberg College in 2007. Lindsay was a member of the Widener Law Journal and a clinic leader at the Harrisburg Civil Law Clinic. She also worked as an intern for the Office of Inspector General through the Governor’s Office of General Counsel Summer Legal Internship Program.

Lindsay is the Chair of the Lancaster Bar Association’s Estate Planning & Probate Law Section. Her thorough approach to estate planning is appreciated by all of her clients regardless of their stage in life or the size of their estate. Lindsay’s attention to detail is important for clients needing a simple Will and for those requiring a complex trust or other estate planning strategies. She brings the same knowledge, skill, and level of care when probating and settling an estate. Lindsay recognizes and addresses the unique needs of each of her clients and their families.

Lindsay concentrates her practice in Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Elder Law, Orphans’ Court Litigation, Guardianships, and Adoption Law, providing personalized counsel and effective legal representation to a wide range of clients.



Katharine Costlow

Katharine Costlow is an experienced litigator with a history of winning difficult cases. Most recently, she was a public defender in Dauphin County, where she tried and won multiple felony and misdemeanor cases. She represented both adults and juveniles – whose cases required special attention. Katharine joins Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP with an established reputation for diligence, attention to detail, and tenacity during trial.

Outstanding results are not her only focus. Katharine represented hundreds of clients and regularly provided status updates and reviewed strategic options. She knows that the results of any legal representation, including trial victories, are meaningless if they don’t serve the client’s end goals.

Katharine graduated cum laude from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, with a biology degree. She went on to attend Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, where she graduated with a Business Advising Certificate with honors and finished first-in-class in her advanced legal analysis and alternative dispute resolution classes. She was on the Moot Court Honor Society Board and competed in the Jessup International Moot Court Competition.

Katharine has devoted a significant part of her life to service. In addition to spending nearly five years as a public defender, she is a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. She received the Presidential Gold Award for her service to AmeriCorps, where she served the Erie Community—specifically, at the Veteran Affairs Hospital. She also worked at the Civil Law Clinic during law school.

Pennsylvania businesses and taxpayers, beware. There is a new scam around.  On July 14, 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue issued a press release warning business owners that fraudulent letters are being delivered by U.S. Mail.

These letters impersonating the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue demand that the taxpayers turn over their tax and accounting records. They allege that there is a tax investigation of your entity by the “State Revenue and Cash Disbursements Unit,” who will be imposing penalties if you do not comply “immediately.”
Continue Reading Pennsylvania Businesses: Beware Fraudulent Government Notices

For many years, Pennsylvania has been one of the few states that did not recognize like-kind exchanges (also known as 1031 exchanges or land swaps).  Now, with the passing of Act 53 of 2022 by Governor Wolf, Pennsylvania finally has adopted 1031 exchanges. This change may lower your tax burden on real estate transactions and even encourage more investment in the state.

What is a Like-Kind Exchange?

A like-kind exchange is a strategy under the Internal Revenue Code to exchange property of the “same nature, character, or class” without paying federal income tax. The type of property usually doesn’t matter as all real estate is considered like-kind to each other so long as it’s located in the United States of America. For example, an investor may want to sell her residential rental to purchase an apartment building or an office building.
Continue Reading Like-Kind Exchanges Better in Pennsylvania

Mark Twain was right – no one is making any new land.  He probably had no idea there would be a shortage of developable land around the historically rural Lancaster County.  Two recent programs of the Lancaster County Commercial and Industrial Real Estate Council (Lancaster C&I) highlighted this problem and showed one possible solution to the shortage of available developable land: changing how you use the land you already have.

Continue Reading Leveraging Our Land: Promote Innovation, not Acquisition Says Lancaster C&I

With the headlines coming out of the United States Supreme Court, I thought this would be a good time to write about the different courts that make up the American judicial system and how they work together. Let this be the start of a new blog series I’m calling Capturing the Courts, where I will discuss the different levels of state and federal courts and how cases work through each of the various court systems.

For this post, I will delve into the US Supreme Court (“the Court”) but will follow this up with a general overview of how the state and federal courts work together before digging into each specifically.

What is the US Supreme Court?

The United States Supreme Court was established by Article III of the United States Constitution to act as the highest court in the United States.
Continue Reading Capturing the Courts: The US Supreme Court

What do cupcakes, a truck of rare Chinese pottery, and litigator Brandon Harter have in common? And how can they help your small business? Continue reading for the answer.

On Thursday, April 21, RKG Law’s Brandon Harter was honored at SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon’s Small Business Awards Luncheon as the 2022 Community Partner. Cathy Bonser, chapter president, recognized Brandon’s longstanding contribution as a SCORE Simple Steps presenter for almost ten years. She commended his ability to connect with small business owners and simplify entity formation considerations.

During the Simple Steps presentations, Brandon explains the importance of choosing and setting up the proper business entity. Many entrepreneurs focus only on the logistics of their business, but Brandon’s guidance helps them minimize risk and save time and money down the road.
Continue Reading Brandon Harter Honored at SCORE’s 2022 Small Business Awards Luncheon

Several years ago, I wrote a blog article about the three estate planning documents every person should have.  Fast forward to today, and my recommendation has not changed.  Every person over the age of eighteen should have a Will, a Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will, and a Financial Power of Attorney.

It is important to have all three documents because they each do different things and are effective at different times.  But how often do you really need to update them? And can’t the internet write most of these for you anyway? Let’s take a closer look.
Continue Reading Updating Your Estate Planning Documents for a Digital World