John C. Lackatos, P.C.
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Including dogs in your estate planning

When Pennsylvania pet owners are planning the distribution of their assets prior to their death, many do not take their dogs into account. Canines tend to have significantly shorter life spans than humans, so it is easy to assume that Fido will pass away before you do.

However, estate planners should always prepare for the unexpected. When you die, you do not want your pet to go back to a risky shelter or be inherited by someone who does not want to take care of them. There are many options to consider when planning for your dog’s life after your death, and it is crucial that you are aware of all of them to find the best path for your pet.

What duties does a personal representative have in Pennsylvania?

Losing a loved one is an emotional process. When people are grieving, they may not initially be thinking of what will happen to their loved one's assets. However, there are legalities that must be followed with regards to the distribution of the deceased's assets.

Estates must be administered by a personal representative, either designated in a person's will or selected by the court if there is no will. A person's estate is comprised of both real estate and personal property. Personal representatives named in a will are known as executors, and those chosen by the court are known as administrators. In either case, a personal representative has many important duties.

Stepparent adoption is joyous but still takes careful handling

When one thinks of adoption, their thoughts may initially go to the adoption of infants and toddlers from other countries. While international adoption is one type of adoption that some Pennsylvanians may pursue, there are other types of adoption that occur closer to home. One of these is the adoption of a stepchild by a stepparent.

Stepparents in Pennsylvania who are especially close to their stepchildren may love their stepchildren very much, and may wish to formally adopt their stepchildren. Stepparents may be encouraged to hear that Pennsylvania has some of the least restrictive adoption laws in the nation. Through stepparent adoption, a stepparent can adopt a child that was born to their spouse from a previous relationship.

A divorce may require a second look at one's estate plan

When a married couple in Franklin creates their estate plan, they do so thinking they will live out the rest of their lives in wedded bliss. However, for any number of reasons, a married couple may end up divorcing. During the divorce process, their thoughts will be consumed with divorce legal issues. But, a divorce is a good time to also think of estate planning, and how key documents may need to be changed.

If a person has a healthcare proxy, while married, their partner may have been designated as the decision maker. This should be changed after a divorce to another trusted individual. Most people do not want their ex making key healthcare decisions on their behalf, should they become incapacitated.

Termination of parental rights: 101

It takes a powerful case for a state to terminate a person’s parental rights. If the situation warrants it, there are two approaches: voluntary and involuntary termination. Making the case for involuntary termination is where the best interests of the child come into play.

How are the best interests of a child determined? 

When will a DUI lead to license suspension in Pennsylvania?

Most people agree that driving is an integral part of their lives. Unless a person is fortunate enough to live in a city with a reliable public transportation system, most people need to drive to get to work, run errands or visit friends and loved ones. Therefore, should one lose their driver's license, life could become very difficult quickly.

One reason a person's driver's license could be suspended is if they were convicted of drunk driving. A DUI conviction carries with it numerous additional penalties, including fines and prison time. These penalties, when combined with the suspension of one's driver's license could affect a person's future. The length of time one's license will be suspended is based on the person's blood alcohol content level and whether it is a person's first or subsequent offense.

Senate bill would increase penalties for repeat DUI offenders

With Memorial Day weekend coming up, Pennsylvanians may be looking forward to cook-outs and parties celebrating the unofficial start of summer. This holiday is also a time when many people choose to relax with their favorite drink. However, police will be on high alert that weekend for those they believe are driving under the influence. And, if one recent Senate bill is passed, it could mean stiffer penalties for those convicted of DUI.

The Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill last month that would increase penalties for those with repeat DUI convictions. Under Senate Bill 961, if an individual receives a third conviction of DUI with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.16 or above, that will be penalized as a felony. Also, if an individual receives a conviction for a fourth DUI, refuses to submit to a breath test or is convicted of drugged driving, it will be penalized as a felony. The bill also institutes mandatory jail time if an individual unintentionally kills another individual due to a second or subsequent incident of drunk driving. The sentence will go up from three years to seven years in such incidents. The House of Representatives has yet to vote on this bill.

Can a Pennsylvanian be exempt from ignition interlock penalties?

When a person in Pennsylvania is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, they could find their world has been turned upside down. They may have to spend time in jail, pay fines and attend alcohol safety education. Also, they may be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicles. This device prevents a vehicle from starting if a breath test indicates the driver's blood alcohol content level is too high.

It used to be the case that if a motorist was convicted of a second or subsequent DUI, they could choose to serve an additional 12-month suspension of their driver's license instead of having an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle. However, that law changed in 2003, and this choice is no longer available. Under current law, motorists must place an interlock ignition device on all their vehicles when required to do so due to a drunk driving conviction. Their driving privileges will not be restored until this is done.

How to spot parental alienation

The National Parents Organization in Pennsylvania is currently working with lawmakers to address the concept of "parental alienation," a situation in which a custody agreement separates a child and parent, straining their relationship. The process involves one parent manipulating the child so that they turn against the other parent.

To the NPO, there isn’t a clear consensus if parental alienation is a legitimate syndrome for children. But to parents that deal with parental alienation, the impacts are clear. The process shifts slowly as a parent change visitation plans and putting down their former spouse in various ways. The child might start exhibiting strange behavior and raise tensions with the targeted parent.

Bird nesting: an alternative to traditional child custody

Divorce can throw a child's life into disarray. Not only does the child have to reconcile that his or her parents are no longer in love and will no longer be married, but traditionally the child would also have to adjust to living in two different homes, one with each parent.

Parents in Franklin, Pennsylvania, naturally want to reduce the amount of stress a child feels during a divorce. Therefore, some consider a rather unique alternative to child custody: bird nesting. In a bird nesting arrangement, the child stays in the family home and it is the parents who rotate living in it. Therefore, some days one parent will live with the child in the family home and the other parent will live in a separate apartment, and then other days the parents will switch roles.

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