On October 23, 2014, Ello, the burgeoning social network, announced that it converted to a Public Benefit Corporation. Ello describes itself as “a simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers.” Ello’s business model appears to fly in the face of the current market trend of monetizing

Tonight I am speaking at the Pipeline Informational Event sponsored by Lancaster County Conservancy and Lancaster Farmland Trust.  I have been told that some property owners mistakenly believe that if they fail to accept the offer that is made to them or to negotiate an agreement with the pipeline company, their property can be taken

You may have heard about the new power of attorney legislation that became the law in Pennsylvania in July.  If you have executed a power of attorney or are thinking about executing a power of attorney, you may be wondering how that legislation affects you.

Some of the changes made by the law, such as protecting banks from liability, were effective immediately.  Other changes, such as changes to the Notice and Acknowledgement parts of the power of attorney will become effective January 1, 2015.  Almost every day, new articles appear and professional meetings are held as the various communities such as banks, lawyers and others concerned with estate planning and elder affairs consider the interpretation and implementation of the changes.

If you have a properly executed power of attorney, your power of attorney is valid and will remain valid even after all of the new changes take effect.

Under any circumstances, you should always look at your estate planning documents every few years, or when you have major changes within your family, to ensure that they still reflect your wishes. 


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Last Wednesday, I attended an excellent program sponsored by the Penn State Cooperative Extension, “Making Sense of Natural Gas Pipelines and Right-of-Way Agreements”.  Over the years, I have represented both condemnors and condemnees and was interested to hear how the acquisition process works with the pipeline proposed by Williams in Lancaster County.  I learned many practical and tactical considerations that landowners and their attorneys can use to their benefit.

What is commonly referred to as the “Williams Pipeline” (part of the Atlantic Sunrise Expansion Project to be built by Williams’ subsidiary, Transco) is an interstate pipeline and, therefore, acquisition of the property necessary to construct the pipeline is governed by federal law, not state law.  (Other pipelines, called gathering and distribution lines, are regulated under state law.) 

A natural gas company, such as Williams, is required to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  This process is currently underway and comments on the potential environmental effects, reasonable alternatives and measures to avoid or lessen environmental impacts can be submitted to the FERC on or before August 18, 2014.  Because the comment period is limited, in order to preserve rights, landowners and other stakeholders are advised to act now.  The FERC issued a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement which includes information as to how to comment. 


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 Last Monday, July 21, 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court entered what should be the final opinion with respect to whether a home seller in Pennsylvania needs to disclose that a murder/suicide took place in the home.  I had posted two previous blog articles, one on February 28, 2012, entitled “What Do You Mean My House Is Haunted”, and a second one on January 30, 2013, entitled “Real Estate Disclosures – Does It Matter If My House Is Haunted”.

You may remember that this case involved a lawsuit by a home buyer who, after settlement, discovered that the home she had bought and improved had been the site of a murder/suicide where a previous owner had allegedly killed his wife and himself on the property. She contended she would not have bought the house had she known of this crime. Originally a three judge panel of the Superior Court held, in a two to one decision, that the murder/suicide could be a material defect in the property requiring disclosure under Pennsylvania disclosure law. In January of 2013, the Superior Court reversed the panel’s decision on the basis that the disclosure of psychological defects would be a descent down a very slippery slope. 

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court and, in Monday’s decision, the Supreme Court, in what they stated was a matter of first impression, decided the underlying question . . . whether psychological stigmas are material defects. The Court determined that to require the disclosure of psychological defects would clearly be beyond the intent of the disclosure law. The Plaintiff argued that the psychological stigma on the property reduced its value and that the failure to disclose this tragic event constituted a material defect. The Court, again mentioning the slippery slope of determining what a particular buyer may find objectionable, stated that efforts to define those that would warrant mandatory disclosure would be a Sisyphean task. (We will all remember that Sisyphus was punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill.)


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The deadline for challenging your 2014-2015 Lancaster County property assessment is August 1, 2014.  Appeals filed after August 1, 2014 won’t be heard until 2015 and won’t take effect until 2016.  And if you are relying upon an appraisal to support your appeal, the written appraisal report must be filed with the Lancaster County Assessment Office by August 15, 2014.  This means the time to act is now.

How do you know whether an assessment appeal is warranted?  We look at the current assessment, the common level ratio, the current total tax millage rate and evidence of current fair market value.  Current assessments and property account numbers are posted online. (The property account number, and in some cases, the assessment, is listed on recently issued school district real estate tax notices.)  The common level ratio (CLR) is the factor applied to the assessment that converts the assessed value into fair market value. As of July 1, 2014, the common level ratio increased to 1.26. Total tax millage rates now include 2014-2015 school district taxes.     

Property owners should multiply their assessment by the CLR (1.26) to see if the fair market value is accurate. For example, an assessment of $100,000 implies a fair market value of $126,000 [$100,000 times 1.26]. 


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The other night I found myself sitting with my children watching America’s Got Talent. While America’s Got Talent is clearly a popular show, it is not one which I have seen before. That being said, my children and I became engrossed in the wonder of this all-American talent show where some acts were silly, others