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Pittsburgh Legal Blog

Steps you can take now to protect your family from probate court

If you have already taken the time to create a last will or an estate plan, you might think that you have done all you can to help your heirs avoid probate court after your death. However, there are other steps you can take that could benefit your heirs and your legacy in the future.

As your life shifts and changes, so, too, may the contents of your estate plan. This is why it is so important to review your estate plan routinely, at least once a year, and also discuss hopes about your legacy with your loved ones, especially when you make drastic changes.

Collaborative divorce is often a peaceful option

More often, couples who are considering divorce want the matter to be over as peacefully and painlessly as possible. Some may even attempt the process without the assistance of an attorney because they fear involving attorneys will necessarily turn their divorce into a battle. However, enough Pennsylvania attorneys have seen the heartache and destruction of litigated divorces that they include less contentious options in their practice, such as collaborative divorce.

Divorce through collaboration allows a couple more control over their settlement decisions because they negotiate outside of court with the guidance and assistance of professionals in diverse areas, such as finances and co-parenting, if necessary. The couple begins by signing an agreement to negotiate fairly and with an open mind toward a positive resolution. This means being forthcoming about assets and other issues.

Estate planning one step at a time

There are many understandable reasons for postponing making an estate plan or revisiting the plan one made years ago. For many in Pennsylvania and across the country, procrastinating can lead to tragic consequences with families left to trudge through the loss of a loved one without the guidance of a will, trust or powers of attorney. Fortunately, the process of estate planning is easily handled if broken into small steps.

It may seem overwhelming to inventory one's belongings and determine how to protect and distribute them. However, many undertake estate planning precisely to spare their loved ones that overwhelming burden. Creating a comprehensive inventory of one's assets may be time consuming, but it will actually streamline the estate planning process. This is the first step, and it is important to list all assets, including real estate, financial accounts, collectibles and digital assets.

Reviewing withholdings may prevent tax issues

Many Pennsylvania residents were shocked this spring when they completed their tax returns and discovered they owed money to the IRS. Others may have filled out their forms fully aware that they would be paying taxes since they owe money every year. Some may have tax debt on which they are paying installments with no end in sight. However, the Government Accountability Office recently released a report that includes advice for those with these tax issues.

The GAO report shows that two out of every 10 taxpayers have too little deducted from their paychecks to cover their taxes. This means they end up owing money to the IRS each year instead of breaking even or receiving a refund. New tax laws include drastic changes in deductions and exemptions for many people, so the GAO recommends that workers take the time to review their withholdings with their employers.

Business law: Many over 50 starting new businesses

As one long work week grinds into another, many Pennsylvania workers yearn for the days of retirement. In addition to making their estate plans to provide adequate income, those nearing 50 may plan to downsize their homes to allow extra money and time for travel, hobbies and long days of doing nothing in particular. However, a surprising new survey shows that a large portion of the over-50 crowd has no intention of kicking back during retirement. In fact, many are consulting experts in business law about their options as entrepreneurs.

The survey reveals that over half of the small business owners in the country are over the age of 50, and some of them are even in their 70s. The most common venture for entrepreneurs over 50 is servicing other businesses. Also, starting their own restaurants seems to be a dream many people work toward for their retirement. Others go into the retail, automotive or fitness industries.

Keep the focus of your custody practices on your children

For many couples facing divorce, child custody is one of the biggest disagreements. Both parents likely want to spend as much time as possible with the kids. In some cases, parents see the possibility of winning custody as a way of beating their ex in divorce. They will throw everything they have into "winning" the custody proceedings.

Unfortunately, both approaches can prove damaging for the children and could even hurt your chances at a positive outcome. Ideally, you and your ex will put aside your emotions toward one another and focus as much as possible on your children. That means putting a lot of effort into developing a healthy co-parenting relationship that is positive instead of acrimonious.

Signs that a marriage is heading toward divorce

No two marriages end for the same reason, and factors that may bring one marriage to an end may cause another couple to grow stronger. Sometimes, it is a major event that creates an irreparable rift between spouses. However, more often, it is a series of little things that build up until one spouse emotionally detaches from the other. Pennsylvania couples may wonder if there are signs when divorce is imminent.

When spouses lose trust in their partners, they may display this in various ways. For example, they may stop talking honestly with each other or respond to their partners with contempt or indifference. Communication is critical to the growth and intimacy of a couple, and if a couple cannot maintain a healthy channel of communication, they will not be able to resolve their conflicts effectively.

Tax issues related to taxable and untaxable income

For some, tax preparation is on their minds all year long. A Pennsylvania worker may have numerous sources of income, run a business or simply fear that again this year, he or she will owe hundreds or thousands more than anticipated. When these tax issues arise, it may help to seek professional guidance. A solution to the issue may begin with understanding which sources of income are taxable and which are not.

In most cases, payment for work is taxable. Whether this is a paycheck from an employer, tips from customers or a bonus for a job well-done, the recipient is required to include these amounts when calculating the income tax he or she owes. However, some work-related benefits are not taxable. For example, workers' compensation benefits, combat pay and any disability benefits when the employee pays the premiums are tax-free.

Collaborative divorce offers many advantages

It is likely that few people heading for divorce in Pennsylvania want the process to be one of contention and struggle. After all, if the marriage is coming to an end, it is possible the couple has already had enough struggle. A litigated divorce is not only expensive, but in some cases, it actually damages what is left of the couple's relationship, which could be detrimental if the couple has children. For this reason, many couples choose collaborative divorce.

Collaborative law allows couples to come to a more peaceful end to their marriages. It does not require that both spouses be in agreement on every issue, but it does mean that both spouses must be willing to negotiate toward agreement. For their own protection, each spouse hires an attorney with whom they meet privately before collaboration begins. This meeting is to outline the spouse's goals and limits. After this, negotiations begin in the presence of both spouses and their legal counsel.

Entrepreneurs must consider many aspects of business law

Starting a business in Pennsylvania means tending to many details. Depending on the industry, an entrepreneur may have many aspects of business law to address, especially when the new company will include employees. Drafting an employee handbook is one effective way to assemble many policies in a usable form for workers to access. However, failing to get the details right in a handbook can open a business owner to costly legal issues.

The high risk involved with many federal policies makes it critical for a business owner to get the facts straight. This includes issues such as harassment and discrimination policies, at-will laws and those policies related to the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Business owners must also account for those regulations set forth for their industries by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An employee handbook should contain the most current information about these and other federal laws.

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