What is the credit counseling requirement of bankruptcy?

The credit counseling requirement is a crucial part of the bankruptcy process. Before an individual can file for bankruptcy, they must complete a credit counseling session with an approved agency. This requirement applies to both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies.

The purpose of the credit counseling session is to help individuals understand their financial situation and to explore alternative options to bankruptcy. The credit counseling session typically lasts for about an hour and can be completed in-person, by phone, or online. During the session, the individual will provide the credit counselor with information about their income, expenses, and debts. The credit counselor will then use this information to create a budget and to discuss alternatives to bankruptcy, such as debt management or debt settlement.

After the credit counseling session, the individual will receive a certificate of completion, which must be filed with the bankruptcy court. The certificate of completion serves as proof that the individual has completed the credit counseling requirement and is eligible to file for bankruptcy.

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the credit counseling requirement must be completed within 180 days prior to filing. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the credit counseling requirement must be completed within 180 days prior to filing and the individual must also complete a financial management course after filing. The financial management course is designed to help the individual understand how to manage their finances after bankruptcy and is a requirement for obtaining a discharge of their debts.

It’s important for the individual to choose a credit counseling agency that is approved by the U.S. Trustee’s Office. An approved agency must meet certain standards and must be in good standing with the Trustee’s Office. A list of approved credit counseling agencies can be found on the U.S. Trustee’s website.

In conclusion, the credit counseling requirement is an important part of the bankruptcy process and must be completed before an individual can file for bankruptcy. If you have questions about the bankruptcy process, contact Cornerstone Law Firm for a consultation on your situation and needs. Our experienced bankruptcy attorneys can help you navigate the process.

Liquor Licenses in Pennsylvania: A Uniquely Valuable License

Ever since the introduction of prohibition in America, alcohol has been subject to unparalleled legal controls. The passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution reflected the growing national mood around alcohol—namely, that it needed to be guarded against as a danger in society.

Even with the repeal of prohibition by the 21st Amendment (the only constitutional amendment to ever be completely repealed), one important piece remains. The 21st Amendment’s “section 2” gave states unusual power to legislate or prohibit the “transportation or importation…of intoxicating liquors.”

Pennsylvania has taken full advantage of the powers granted by the 21st Amendment. It created state sanctioned (and apparently constitutional) monopolies on alcohol. Each county is given a limited number of “liquor licenses” controlled by Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board. These licenses are extremely valuable, as each one represents a limited opportunity to sell one of America’s most popular commercial products.

The Responsibilities of Liquor License Ownership

Along with this monopoly power comes remarkable responsibilities for the license holder, however. The duties include requirements to keep precise records, available upon demand by the Pennsylvania State Police, and to keep licenses separate in ownership from one another. Generally, a person may not own more than one license, and other rules restricting the transfer of licenses to people of “sound character” mean that a liquor license is a valuable commodity.

This also means that penalties against this license are a big deal. If the Liquor Control Board receives citations filed by the State Police or other enforcement agents, they retain power to penalize the license. Such penalties “go with” the license if it is sold or otherwise transferred. This means that the value of the license is diminished permanently by “bad acts” or negligence of the owner.

If you’ve been cited as a liquor license owner, it is important for you to contact a lawyer immediately to discuss your options. It is also important to ensure that you are abiding by formalities as required and ensuring your license stays “clean” and up to date.

There are also a number of strategies available to you if you’re having trouble paying costs or taxes, including escrowing the license for a period of time, or even putting the valuable liquor license up as collateral for a loan. Anything is better than losing or damaging the license.

Conclusion: Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Liquor licenses are controlled very carefully in Pennsylvania by the Liquor Control Board. If your business owns a liquor license, it is important that you comply with the regulations and keep it clean from citations, back taxes, and other issues. Furthermore, when transferring liquor licenses, you have to be careful to comply with all appropriate rules and regulations. If your business owns or is buying a liquor license, contact Cornerstone Law Firm so that we can help you to comply with the law.

Dangerous Dogs in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s Dangerous Dogs Statute aims to take the bite out of potentially dangerous encounters with canines. A common misconception about dogs is that only certain breeds of dogs pose a threat of serious bodily injury, or that a dog must be a certain size to be dangerous, but this is not the case. Just browse through the state’s current Dangerous Dog Registry, and you might be surprised to see your favorite miniature breed on that list. This is because the statutory definition of a dangerous dog is based solely on the animal’s record of interactions with people and other domesticated animals. A single unprovoked attack on a person could be enough for a judge to find a dog to be dangerous and its owner or keeper subject to a host of additional legal requirements.

How can a person be convicted of harboring a dangerous dog in Pennsylvania?

Any person found to be harboring a dangerous dog is guilty of a summary offense and will be required to take certain measures with the goal of ensuring public safety. If the owner of the dog is convicted in summary court proceedings, the owner or keeper of the dog must confine the dog as defined by the statute, which includes certain controls while outside confinement. The owner or keeper also is prohibited from selling, offering to sell, or giving away the dog. If the owner or keeper intends to keep the dog after the proceedings are completed, he or she must register the dog with the Department of Agriculture. Pursuant to Chapter 27 of Pennsylvania’s Title 7 on agriculture, this registration will require proof of the issuance of a surety bond as well as a certain level of liability insurance coverage. Additionally, the dog must be confined and controlled according to requirements of Chapter 27 for the duration of its life.

The required “bond” or insurance policy is typically prohibitively expensive. As a result, the practical effect of being convicted of harboring a dangerous dog is to have to euthanize the dog. This is obviously traumatic for many dog owners, who would do anything to keep their pet safe.

If an encounter with a dog has risen to the level of a judge finding that the animal is dangerous, the matter must be considered serious regardless of the dog’s breed, size or previous history of gentle behavior. Although proper professional training can help correct a dog’s behavior, the owner or keeper of the dog is subject to all applicable rules for as long as the dog is kept regardless of whether any other such incident occurs again. From posting clear notice on the property of the dangerous dog’s presence to microchipping and muzzling, monetary restitution to the victim is not the end of the process if your dog injures a person or another domesticated animal. That is why it is prudent for all dog owners to take prophylactic measures to ensure that these types of incidents do not occur.

What do I do if I’ve been attacked by a dog?

If you’re the victim of a dog bite, you have certain personal injury rights. You can bring suit against the owner or keeper of the dog. But Pennsylvania does not embrace a “strict liability” approach to these cases. In other words, you must prove the owner or keeper was negligent in the way they kept the dog on the occasion in question. Failing to keep a dog on a leash in a public place, failing to secure the dog behind a fence or in a home, or failing to keep the dog appropriately fed can all contribute to a negligence finding.

Conclusion

If you’ve been charged with harboring a dangerous dog, it’s important to defend the case rather than plead guilty. Defending the case can involve showing that the dog was provoked into attacking or not “at fault” in a given incident. But it’s best to keep your dog out of this situation to begin with, if you can. Keep him appropriately secured and away from tempting situations if at all possible. If you have questions, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm for a consultation on your unique situation.

Three Things To Do When Your Nonprofit is Financially Struggling

Is your nonprofit organization at the point where you are considering winding it down and you are not sure what to do? Do you have any options about how to use the money in the accounts and the assets that you own in order to preserve the nonprofit? Here are three things you can consider doing if you are at a crossroads determining whether to shut your organization down or to continue its mission.

1. You can continue using the funds for a more limited purpose within the scope of your nonprofit.

When you are in possession of donor funds, you have to be very careful to continue using those funds for the purposes they were given. The IRS has strict rules about using the funds for the reasons they were given, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may also investigate what you have done with funds. However, you may certainly redirect your funds toward one of your several missions if you find that it’s hard to do everything your organization used to do.

For example, consider a hypothetical organization with a broad mission to help homeless individuals. The organization provides housing subsidies, pays utilities to keep people out of homelessness, runs a food kitchen and raises awareness through public advertising campaigns. If this organization finds that their staff are no longer able to handle the scope of this mission, or that they are receiving too many (or too few) requests for utilities, they might continue running their smaller food kitchen and redirecting the funds toward that piece of their work.

The IRS and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have generally recognized the use of funds towards one of your several missions as an appropriate use of donor funds. The exception would be if a donor gave money specifically for a purpose and does not consent (or cannot consent since they passed away) to the redirection of those funds to a separate purpose. For example, if a donor gave specifically for an advertising campaign, it may be a problem on both the governmental level and as a potential breach of an agreement with the donor to put that money into a food kitchen.

2. Consider redirecting the organization’s internal purposes.

Although you must be careful, as we said above, about using funds for different purposes than why donors gave them, the IRS and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have also generally approved the redirecting of an organization’s purpose. By appropriately changing your bylaws, filing appropriate documents with the department of state, and announcing to the general public your change in focus, you could change your organization.

For example, an organization that focused on veterans and received donations for veterans could redirect its focus toward global hunger. However, doing so would generally need to be a permanent shift in focus and would need to ensure the monies that were donated were going to that purpose rather than anything else.

This type of redirection is best done with the help of a lawyer to ensure that:

  • past obligations are met,
  • that the new direction is still approved within the nonprofit code and the 501c3 rules,
  • and that your organization cannot be accused of redirection toward any specific board member or officer’s personal pet projects.

3. You can wind up the organization and donate the remaining funds to a similarly-situated nonprofit.

Finally, however, if your organization is at the point where you feel that it can no longer operate due to waning donor interest or for other reasons, it may be appropriate to “wind down.” You can go through the process of “winding up” (or “winding down”) the nonprofit, paying off any debts, discharging any creditors, selling off any assets or land, and then donating any remaining finances to an appropriate nonprofit. In such cases you can pay the expenses of this process including legal fees, expert fees, realtors, and others out of the nonprofit’s funds. You can also continue paying salaries to those involved in winding up the nonprofit. In addition, there may be other ways to appropriately divert those funds into short term projects even while you are winding up the organization.

To find a similarly-situated nonprofit can sometimes be difficult, especially if your organization is fairly unique. Churches tend to look for other churches of similar values, and organizations try to find local nonprofits that do similar work. You should consult an attorney with nonprofit experience on how to select a similar organization to avoid running afoul of state and federal rules.

Conclusion: Contact Cornerstone Law Firm for a consultation

If you run an organization that is considering its options with dwindling finances or wants to consider refocusing the organization, contact Cornerstone Law Firm for a consultation. Our attorneys can help walk you through the process of winding up or figuring out how to donate money to likeminded organizations and redirecting funds appropriately to other uses.

The Purpose of a Home Study in a Custody Dispute

When you’re fighting for custody with the other parent of your child, you will be introduced to many new terms and pieces of the legal process. One of these is called a “home study.” Often in a custody case, you’ll be asked by your lawyer to obtain a home study, and sometimes you’ll be ordered to obtain one by the court. So, what is a home study?

A home study is provided by an expert who is paid by either one or both parties in the case. The expert will come in and look at the home that the children would be living in. He or she will then provide a report to the court about the home’s suitability. The expert might walk through the house and will want to look at safety features to ensure that your children will be safe there. The expert considers such factors as:

  • the age of your children,
  • any special needs they have,
  • the supervision or care necessary to maintain safety in the home,
  • and who else is living in the home. This can include the parent’s new spouse or live-in significant other, and any of their kids who may be living there.

The home study enables the hearing master or judge in a custody case to assess several of the factors that go into a custody award. Most notably, a home study will identify whether the parents involved are able to suitably keep the number of children involved. If there are five kids and one parent is living in a small apartment, this might preclude overnight visits for a while. Alternatively, if the home is not yet finished or is being renovated, this can also impact a home study finding.

Home studies are often requested from the Court by one side of a custody dispute when that parent believes the other parent’s home is unsuitable. This can be done out of jealousy in some cases, which is unfortunate. But in many cases, asking for a home study is the only way to verify what your co-parent’s claims are about their new house or apartment.

A home study plan is only one of many tools that are in the custody lawyer’s playbook. Furthermore, a home study plan isn’t necessary in all cases. The most important part of a custody dispute is getting it resolved in a way that is in the best interests of the children involved. This means that attorneys will sometimes find ways to come to agreements without having the parties spend even more money on expert witnesses to prepare things like home study plans.

If you have questions about home study plans or about the custody process in general, call Cornerstone Law Firm and speak to one of our family law attorneys. Our attorneys are empathetic and caring. We can help you walk through this difficult time for your family and obtain an outcome that is right for you and your children.

Your Car Insurance May Cover You as a Bicyclist

If you’ve been injured in a traffic accident while on a bicycle, your car insurance may cover the personal injuries you sustained. When you are out on the roads as either a pedestrian or a bicyclist, injuries from a car striking you or otherwise causing you injuries can be claimed against your car insurance.

Typically, car insurance that covers personal injuries in motor vehicle accidents falls into two general categories. The first is coverage when you strike someone else. This is what many people assume is the entire purpose of car insurance. But the second part of your car insurance is that it covers you when you are injured by someone else’s negligence in a car. This is true even if you are not driving. More surprising still is that your insurance protects you even when you are not in a car if the cause of your injury is someone else’s negligent driving.

There are several examples of how someone’s negligence on the road can cause an injury. The first is when a car hits you on a bicycle. In that case, both the person who hit you and you will have car insurance that should cover that accident. Surprisingly, the insurance of family members that you live with also may cover your injuries. A second example is when you are riding a bike and a car negligently fails to stop in front of you, or even merely goes beyond a stop line, but looks like it might keep going. An action the driver takes that causes you to take evasive action or slam the bike brakes can cause you an injury. In that case, their insurance and yours may provide coverage for your injury.

In all of these cases, insurance should cover:

  • your medical bills,
  • your pain and suffering,
  • your lost wages,
  • and any diminished earning or life capacity you have down the road.

All of this illustrates why it’s so important to call a personal injury lawyer when you’ve been injured. Call Cornerstone Law Firm today to speak with an attorney experienced in dealing with motor vehicle accidents, bicycle injuries, and more. We offer free consultations for injury cases and can help you determine what would be appropriate compensation for your injury.

When is the Reading of the Will?

The scene opens in an oak-paneled conference room, as shafts of light descend through the large windows in the lawyer’s office onto the pages of an ancient, creased will. The grumpy lawyer slowly begins with some preamble when he is interrupted by the irritated daughter-in-law, dressed casually in black. “So, what do we get?” she exclaims, trying somehow not to look impatient.

The reading of the will! It’s that most classic of movie scenes, and we’re asked all the time. When is it? When will the reading of the will take place?

The answer, unfortunately for those who love a good bit of stage drama, is never. The “reading of the will” is not a requirement, and in Pennsylvania probate court, the will is made available to anyone who wants to review it. As a beneficiary, you have a right to see the will once it is probated, but there is never a specific “reading” for everyone to attend.

Pennsylvania probate begins with the filing of a “Petition for Grant of Letters,” and the process takes about a year to complete in most cases. The executor is responsible for ensuring:

  • that the decedent’s wishes are carried out
  • that creditors are paid according to law
  • that the beneficiaries get as much value from the estate as they can

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from staging a reading of the will, and as executor, if you want a moment of high drama in the big mansion where someone passed away, you’re welcome to have a reading and accuse someone of murder (*our legal advice is generally not to accuse people of things*). But the “reading of the will” is not required under the law.

If you have questions about making a will, about how to get information about a will that has been probated, or how to do estate administration for someone you love, contact Cornerstone Law Firm. We’ll be happy to walk you through the process.

Small Business Week: Firehouse Coffee