Opening an Estate in Schuylkill County

When someone you love has passed away, you’re confronted with many difficult decisions, and an estate process that can feel very complicated. If the person that you love passed away while living in Schuylkill County, here are the first three steps you’ll need to take to open an estate and probate their will.

1. Determine Whether Your Deceased Loved One Had a Will

The first question to answer is whether the person who died had a will or not. Although wills are very important, not everyone has one when they pass away. If they had a will, the process is usually easier and more straightforward. The will tells you who’s in charge of the estate (that is who the “executor” is), as well as who will inherit the possessions, money and property left behind in the will.

If your loved one did not have a will, however, you are left without this road map. Don’t be afraid: Pennsylvania law provides, by statute, who will inherit and who will be in charge of the estate. This statute is called the “Intestate Statute,” and gives detailed instructions on how such an estate will be processed. A good probate attorney can help walk you through figuring out who is in charge of the estate, and how to make sure that process goes smoothly.

2. Open an Estate in Pottsville

Once you’ve determined whether there’s a will, it’s time to open an estate in Pottsville. This is known as the “probate” process. Probating a will includes drafting something called a “Petition for Grant of Letters” and attaching the will. If there is no will, then other documents can demonstrate the proof that you are the proper person to open the estate and begin the probate process. In Schuylkill County, this petition is presented to the Schuylkill County Register of Wills. The Schuylkill County Register of Wills office is in the courthouse in Pottsville on the second floor.

3. Gather Assets and Liquidate the Estate

We’ve written in depth about this process elsewhere, but once an estate is opened through the probate process, you can begin gathering the assets, selling them as necessary to pay debts, and ultimately distributing the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries. This process involves carefully ensuring that you are complying with the law. This includes paying taxes, paying creditors in the proper order, disputing claims filed against the estate as necessary, and occasionally seeking court orders for the transfer of real estate and other possessions.

The estate typically requires about nine months of work, though many executors are able to finish the process faster. The process ultimately culminates in filing a REV-1500 form, known as The Estate Inheritance Tax Return Form.

Conclusion

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our probate attorneys are able to help you in Schuylkill County. We will go with you to the Register of Wills in Pottsville and file documents with the Department of Revenue. We can assist­ throughout the rest of the process in providing advice, helping you to sell real estate, and properly valuing items belonging to the decedent. If someone you love has passed away in Schuylkill County and you need help processing their estate, call Cornerstone Law Firm for a free consultation today.

My Student’s Discipline at School Was Excessive – What Should I Do?

If your child is a K-12 student and has received discipline that you think is excessive, what options do you have? Can you sue the school or do anything to demand a lesser punishment? The answers to these questions depend on a few factors, but the most important factor is whether your student attends a private or public school. This article is specific to questions about Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade education. Different rules apply to the college level and other types of schools. As always, this article is not legal advice—each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney about the facts of your case.

Public School Students and Their Rights

In the public school setting, administrators are bound to follow the Constitution in making disciplinary decisions. This might sound strange at first because the Constitution doesn’t mention schools. But the federal Constitution does require that everyone has a right to due process when faced with punishment by a government entity as well as Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Our federal courts also recognize the Fourteenth Amendment as providing “substantive due process” rights that prohibit revoking someone’s rights in a way that violates various norms or rules. And of course, everyone has a First Amendment right to express their opinions and beliefs without fear of government reprisal, as well as to hold their religious views without interference by a government employee or entity.

Punishment handed out by a public school must comply with the provisions of the Constitution. This means that if a child is punished for expressing a First Amendment-protected viewpoint or for their religious beliefs, then the school is liable for this violation of Constitutional rights. In addition, schools must follow due process rights when punishing a student. They must give a student notice and a hearing before administering punishment.

The Supreme Court has drawn a general line at ten days of suspension. Punishment over ten days requires substantial due process rights, including a more formal hearing, often in front of the school board. The student and his or her parents have a right to present documents and witnesses, and should have the right to cross-examine the school’s witnesses and to present argument as to why lesser or no punishment should be considered. When students are punished for less than ten days, they still have a right to notice and a hearing, but the hearing can be informal and brief.

Students Rights and Private School

Private schools are generally not bound by the Constitution because, by their nature, they are private, not government-owned. As a result, like any private entity, they are free, as a general rule, to have rules or punishments that are not “fair” across the board.

But a few important restrictions still apply to private school discipline. First, private schools are still required to abide by the terms of their contract with the parents. Because parents are paying for their student’s education, what is laid down in any contract documents will be important.

Contract documents are not just the formal documents parents signed when they brought their child to the school. The documents that form a contractual relationship between parents and the school can include emails and correspondence with the school, and in most cases, also includes the parent or student handbooks that lay out expectations the parties can rely on.

Where a student is expelled, a refund or a partial refund may be required and to the degree that a student’s education is interfered with as a result of being expelled, there may also be damages available to the parents. Furthermore, if specific wrongdoing can be proven, a private party including a teacher or school may be liable if they harmed the student in more specific ways.

Conclusion

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys have helped parents and students in both public and private schools to stand up for their rights and receive vindication after wrongful suspensions, expulsions, and punishments. Our work has involved students who were expelled, suspended, or who lost “privileges” relating to extracurricular activities. Our attorneys are well situated to help you determine your rights and figure out how to handle a situation that you’re faced with. Call us today for a consultation and let us help you determine what steps to take.

Three Risks for Small Businesses

If you’re a business owner assessing risks and legal problems, there are three concerns that should be at the top of your list. Appropriately preparing for these risks can help you to avoid drawn out litigation and financial catastrophe.

1. Ownership disputes

Unfortunately, small businesses are more prone to ownership disputes and corporate freeze-outs than larger businesses. This is for a host of reasons, but one of them is because small businesses do not always adequately document their ownership structure. This can even be true in situations where there’s only one owner.

If you have a 50/50 business arrangement, do you have adequate safeguards in place to allow for what happens in a deadlock? Even with a larger board of owners, what happens when you have a tie? Or what happens when the board room becomes increasingly heated, and one group of voters feel that they’re being frozen out of the company by virtue of not having sufficient voting power? In all of these situations, expensive lawsuits can result, and the discord that goes along with such a lawsuit can kill your business success.

To avoid these problems, it’s important to have a sufficient operating agreement or bylaws to document contracts with highly compensated employees and ensure that frequent communication keeps your boardroom out of chaos.

2. Contracts with vendors

All too often, small-to-medium sized businesses rely on “course of performance” contracts, which are essentially unwritten deals between the business and its vendors. This can be acceptable when the deals are small and the amount of money being risked in each transaction isn’t enough to sink your business. It becomes very serious when large customers suddenly stop paying or large suppliers breach on essential terms of the contract and refuse to work out even a partial refund for their failures.

Businesses often find themselves in the difficult position of having to decide whether to bring an expensive lawsuit without clear contractual remedies to recover their attorneys’ fees and other costs. A business attorney can advise you on how to draft good contracts with your vendors that don’t tie anyone’s hands, and which allow for flexibility as your business relationship matures. This is another area where having a dedicated corporate council can be extremely helpful.

3. Insurance

Is your business properly insured? Having general liability and business insurance is important not just for slips and falls and delivery drivers, but also for situations where someone accuses you of using their artwork on your website, sues you for trademark infringement, claims you’ve violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and more. Obtaining proper insurance means not only that you are covered for any damages that you are found to have caused, but more importantly, a good insurance policy will ensure that your attorney is paid by insurance and not out of your general operating budget.

Running a business doesn’t have to be risky

These are just a few legal risks you should consider regarding your business. Give us a call today to speak with one of our attorneys about how we can protect you from legal risks and help you maximize your business success.