John C. Lackatos, P.C.
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Choose the executor of your estate wisely

When a loved one or family member asks a Pennsylvania resident to become the executor of their estate, it is natural to feel honored at the request. If the testator is near death, then there is an even more pressing need to agree and ease their stress. However, it's important to know that being an executor is a difficult role and one should know what they are getting into before agreeing.

The first and foremost concern is whether the potential executor has time. The executor must sort through years of a testator's life, and this often requires lengthy and repeated phone calls, trips to the county courthouse and standing in long lines to send registered letters. Collecting information from financial institutions is also tedious, especially when someone is grieving for the loss of a loved one. Not only does one have to think about the time completing these tasks requires, but also the skill. An executor must be highly organized, so if they have financial difficulties of their own, it might not be the best idea to appoint them. An executor must also be aware of the rules regulating their responsibilities, along with the timeline for completing these tasks.

What is Pennsylvania's 'best interests of the child' standard?

What began as a passionate relationship can often go sour, with the passion evolving into heated arguments about everything from who keeps the paintings to who keeps the house. If there are children involved in a split, legal disputes can become even more contentious and drawn out as couples struggle to come to a parenting plan that both of them can agree on.

When a couple is able to present the court with a parenting plan that they both have committed to, then the court is likely to adopt that. However, when this does not happen due to disagreements between the parents, the court is left to make child custody determinations on the basis of the best interests of the child in Pennsylvania.

Aggravating DUI factors enhance potential penalties

If you didn't know it already, you may be discovering how quickly and completely a drunk driving arrest can affect your life. You may have already lost time from work, faced the expense of paying your bail and relinquished your driver's license, and you haven't even had your day in court. Even if it is your first offense, you may be concerned about how a conviction could change your future, your job and your relationships.

While all these things and more may be at risk with a simple DUI conviction, imagine how seriously any aggravating factors may impact your life. Aggravating factors are those circumstances at the time of your arrest that increase the severity of a DUI. With increased charges often come harsher penalties.

Do you know your fourth amendment rights?

Simply alleging that someone has committed a crime is not enough for criminal charges or an arrest to be made-allegations must be supported by proof. Law enforcement authorities and prosecutors need to collect evidence in a lawful manner, which means that they should not violate an individual's right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable intrusion from the government. Pennsylvania residents facing criminal charges may not be aware that they have certain rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and this includes the protection against unlawful search and seizures.

This means that warrantless searches are prohibited under the Fourth Amendment, unless the situation falls under very specific exceptions. If someone has given consent to a search, then a warrantless search can be lawful. Similarly, if the search is incidental to a lawful arrest, a warrantless search may again be lawful. Lastly, if there exists a probable reason to conduct a search and exigent circumstances exist, it might be possible to allow a warrantless search.

If you own guns, a gun trust can help avoid legal troubles

Owning guns is a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, that doesn't mean that you can't get into legal trouble with law enforcement. To make matters worse, when you pass away, whoever inherits your weapons could also end up with legal entanglements regarding your weapons.

One way in which you can protect yourself and your heirs or beneficiaries is through a gun trust. This estate planning tool is especially important if you own weapons that fall under the National Firearms Act (NFA) Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968 such as a suppressor, a fully automatic machine gun or a short-barreled shotgun.

Estate planning is important even if one doesn't have kids

People who do not have children or close family members often think that there is no need to engage in estate planning-their assets will go to their spouse and they do not have to prepare any other documents. However, estate planning encompasses more than just a will and testament-there are other events that should be covered in one's plans, situations that anyone can find themselves in.

Every Pennsylvania resident should plan for incapacity-the instance where they are unable to make financial and medical decisions for themselves. This does not only happen in old age-one could become injured in a sudden car accident or through a slip-and-fall incident. Without these documents, a spouse may not even be able to make certain decisions and family members may end up in court trying to prove they have the right to make them.

Parenting plans should cover schedules and holidays

Though it is difficult to fathom, a divorce means that children involved will no longer be spending their whole time under one roof with both their parents. Instead, their time, school events and holidays will be split between parents. One way to create a successful agreement about how time will be divided and child custody is handled is by creating a parenting plan.

A parenting plan can help judges figure out how to resolve a child custody disagreement between parents by putting forth an agreement about schedules and children's activities. Pennsylvania law outlines the contents of a parenting plan and the form it should take.

What factors may keep you from legally owning a firearm?

Many people want to own a firearm for different reasons. You may feel the need to own one for personal protection, or perhaps, you enjoy hunting game during the applicable seasons. No matter the reason, the purchase and possession of a firearm must adhere to the law, or you could face serious legal consequences.

Just like every other state, Pennsylvania has a set of state laws regarding firearms and gun control. Additionally, different parts of the state may have different protocols for specific areas of the law. For example, under state law, you do not need a license to open-carry a firearm, but you do need a license to do so if you are in Philadelphia.

Resolve to review your estate plan this year

Creating a will and an estate plan is just the first step in ensuring one's assets are distributed according to their wishes after their demise. To make sure that it takes into account changes in laws and life situations, it should be revisited every couple of years. As relationship and health changes, so do our wishes as to how our heirs inherit and what, but Pennsylvania residents often forget to update their estate plans accordingly. As the new year inches forward, one of the resolutions individuals should make is to review their estate plans and their life plans.

Estate tax has changed in recent years-it has been revised upwards which means that only estates that have a value of more than $11.2 million will be subject to federal tax. Therefore complicated estate plans that were created to minimize taxation may now be redundant. It's also important to make sure that asset designation is accurate-how it is titled determines how it passes through wills or trusts. A retirement fund that has designated beneficiaries will be distributed differently from a joint bank account that may end up going to the survivor even if that person is not included in the will.

Can I adopt my stepchild without a biological parent's consent?

When a Pennsylvania resident gets married to someone who has children from a prior marriage or has children him or herself and is getting married to someone other than the children's biological parent, one of their primary aims in the union is to give their children stability. While raising children in a loving and supportive atmosphere is one way to do this, another way to ensure children feel like they are a valuable part of the blended family is through stepparent adoption.

As all other forms of adoption in the country, state law governs the stepparent adoption process. However, stepparent adoption is generally an easier process than other types, and might have different requirements, such as the lack of a home study. However, one thing that is necessary for an adoption to become finalized is the consent of the biological parents.

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