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PA Supreme Court Upholds Property Tax Challenge

Notebook with property tax  sign on a table.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has reversed the ruling of a lower court, validating a taxpayer’s claim against a school district. In Valley Forge Towers Apartments N, LP, v. Upper Merion Area School District, the state’s high court found that the lower court had wrongfully dismissed a complaint filed by a taxpayer, who had alleged that the school district’s policy of appealing only the assessment of commercial property owners in its district was contrary to the uniformity clause of the Pennsylvania constitution.

In its opinion, the PA Supreme Court reiterated and clarified legal precedent governing classification of taxable entities in a district:

  • According to prior rulings, all property in a district falls into a single class. The uniformity clause therefore prohibits the creation of subclasses of property, and does not allow the government to treat properties differently for any reason
  • The prohibition established by the uniformity clause governs all systematic or intentional applications of the property tax laws, and not just wrongful conduct

In the matter before the court, the plaintiff had filed suit in the Commonwealth Court in Montgomery County, but the Court of Common Pleas had dismissed the action. The Supreme Court remanded the matter back to the Montgomery Court of Common Pleas, noting that a taxing authority (here, the Upper Merion Area School District) cannot “implement a program of only appealing the assessment of one sub-classification of properties..” The court further stressed that the sub-classification would be constitutionally impermissible if based on any “type” of property, including single family, commercial, industrial or apartment complexes.

Advocates for property owners say the decision is a big win, providing a means for taxpayers to meaningfully challenge what are often unilateral actions by tax authorities.

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The Elements of a Personal Injury Claim Based on Negligence

Personal injury law book on a table.

In the aftermath of a personal injury, you can face serious physical and financial challenges. You may be unable to work because of your injury, and have no disability insurance or other means of income. Under those circumstances, it’s common to want your personal injury claim resolved fairly soon. Unfortunately, it’s a process and there are specific things you must demonstrate to a court before you can succeed with a personal injury claim.

Though you can always seek compensation for the intentional or reckless acts of another person, as a practical matter, most personal injury claims are based on a legal theory of negligence. To successfully prosecute a personal injury claim based on negligence, you must show three things: that the defendant breached the duty of care; that the breach caused the accident; and that, because of the accident, you suffered actual loss.

The Standard of Care

Under the law of negligence, as it has developed over the centuries, every person is considered to have a duty to use reasonable care in all daily actions. Accordingly, when you are driving a motor vehicle, designing or manufacturing a product, maintaining real property, using a power tool, or engaging in any activity, you must act as a reasonable person would. The law, however, does not specifically identify what qualifies as reasonable behavior. Instead, the standard of care (and whether it was breached) is determined by the jury on a case-by-case basis, with attention paid to prior decisions.

Causation

There are two types of causation that must be proven in a successful personal injury claim: actual cause and proximate cause. Actual cause, also known as “but for” cause, simply asks the question whether the accident would have occurred “but for” the defendant’s breach of the duty of care. Proximate cause is a somewhat higher standard, and requires that the accident or injury be “reasonably foreseeable” based on the breach of the duty of care.

Actual Loss

There are situations where you can show that the defendant did not act reasonably and that the breached caused an accident, but you may still be unable to recover damages (monetary compensation for your losses). For example, if all your losses are covered by insurance, you won’t be able to recover compensatory damages, as the law does not allow you to recover twice for the same loss. In addition, if your car had little or no value and the damage caused in an accident did not reduce its value, you have no loss for which you are entitled to be compensated.

Contact Our Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys

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Equitable Distribution in Pennsylvania

Toy house, car and cash with engagement ring

When your marriage has fallen apart, one of the most challenging tasks you’ll face can be the division of marital debts and assets, particularly if you’ve built up a substantial marital estate or there are extensive marital debts. Like the majority of states, Pennsylvania is an “equitable distribution” jurisdiction. The parties to a divorce are always free to work out the terms of the division of debts and assets, though the court always has discretion to review a marital property settlement to prevent fraud, duress or undue influence.

If the parties cannot negotiate a settlement, the court will look at a number of factors in an effort to allocate debts and assets “equitably.” It’s important to understand that “equitably” means “fairly,” but not necessarily equally.

The first thing the court will typically do is distinguish between “separate” property and “marital” property. Separate property is any property that belongs exclusively to one of the parties, and can include:

  • Property acquired before the marriage
  • Property received through gift or inheritance
  • Property excluded from the marital estate by a valid prenuptial/postnuptial agreement
  • Property obtained after separation

When determining how the the property will be distributed, the court can consider a broad range of factors, such as:

  • How long the parties were married
  • The age, health and income of each party
  • Other non-marital assets to which either party has access
  • The potential earning capacity of both parties
  • Whether there are minor children and one spouse will be required to be custodian of those children
  • The extent to which either spouse contributed to the increased earning potential of the other party (by working while the other spouse was in school, for example)

Contact Our Experienced Family Law Attorneys

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The Most Common Types of Irrevocable Trusts

Trusts and Estate Planning

If you have a significant estate and you want to ensure that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes when you die, you’ve probably heard about or even given some consideration to executing an irrevocable trust. As the name implies, an irrevocable trust, once implemented, generally cannot be revoked or invalidated. There are significant benefits to an irrevocable trust, which can be used to:

  • Minimize estate tax consequences
  • Protect assets from creditors
  • Provide for family members who are minors, lack capacity to manage their own affairs, or have any type of special needs

There are literally dozens of different types of irrevocable trusts. In this blog, we will look at irrevocable trusts that can have an impact on potential tax liability.

Irrevocable Trusts That Can Reduce or Avoid Taxes

Managing potential tax liability is often the primary reason for preparing and executing an irrevocable trust. The types of irrevocable trusts that can avoid or reduce taxes include:

  • Charitable trusts – A charitable trust affects potential tax liability by making gifts to charitable organizations. There are three types of charitable trusts:
    • Charitable lead trusts – With this type of charitable trust, you name a charity to receive any income produced by the property in the trust, and another beneficiary to receive the principal in the trust when the trust is terminated.
    • Charitable remainder trusts – This type of trust distributes income to a named beneficiary, with principal given to a charitable organization at the termination of the trust
    • Pooled income trusts – This type of trust allows you to pool assets with other trustors (trust makers) and receive income from the trust for a specific period of time. In most instances, a charitable organization is both trustee and beneficiary of principal.
  • Bypass trusts – This type of trust is used to protect property that would be transferred to a spouse upon death. Instead of being distributed to the spouse, the property is placed in trust. The spouse may receive income from the property or use it (if it’s real property, for example), but never owns the property, so it’s never part of the estate.
  • QTIP trusts – A qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust postpones the payment of estate taxes until the death of the surviving spouse.

Contact Our Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys

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The Acceptable Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

Grounds for Divorce

Under the laws of Pennsylvania, as in all other states, you can file for a “no-fault” divorce. This can be a little misleading, suggesting that you don’t have to provide any reason for legally ending your marriage. To the contrary, you must still indicate the basis for seeking a divorce—no-fault simply means you don’t have to allocate blame for the collapse of the marriage.

Grounds for a No-Fault Divorce

When neither party is technically at fault, you need only tell the court that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” of the bonds of marriage. A no-fault divorce may be by mutual consent, where both parties to the marriage agree that the marriage is over, or it may be unilateral, where one party files the petition and the other does not object. With a no-fault divorce by mutual consent, you need only wait 90 days for the divorce to become final. With a unilateral no-fault divorce, you must show that you have not cohabitated for 1 year and that the marriage cannot be fixed.

Grounds for an At-Fault Divorce

There’s no requirement that you allocate blame for the end of the marriage, but doing so can give you an advantage in your divorce proceedings. The permissible grounds for at-fault divorce in Pennsylvania include:

  • Marital infidelity or adultery
  • Bigamy
  • Domestic abuse, violence or cruelty, including mental abuse
  • Humiliation of a spouse, making the marriage no longer tenable
  • Abandonment of the relationship for at least one year
  • Conviction and imprisonment for a period of two or more years

Contact Our Experienced Family Law Attorneys

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What to Do Immediately after You’ve Been in a Motor Vehicle Accident

 injured in a motor vehicle

When you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident because of the carelessness or negligence of another person, you have a right to pursue damages for all your losses, including income and wages, unreimbursed medical expenses, loss of companionship or consortium, and physical pain and suffering. But the steps you take immediately after you’ve been in a crash can have a significant impact on your legal rights. Here are some ways you can protect your interests.

Get the Medical Care You Need as Soon as Possible

You want to seek medical attention immediately, and for a couple reasons. First, the sooner you get medical care, the better chance you have of a full financial recovery. But waiting to be treated can put you at risk. The longer you wait, the more ammunition you give defense attorney to argue that your injuries were not serious, or that your injuries were actually caused by some intervening event.

In addition, remember that this is no time to be strong or be a hero…it’s the time to take maximum precautions to avoid further injury. If you don’t think you can move under your own power, or if you are in significant pain, wait until emergency medical technicians arrive. They’ll know what’s best for you. Go to the hospital, if necessary. If, however, your injuries don’t require hospitalization, make a trip to an urgent care or your family doctor as soon as possible.

When you are treated, make certain you mention everything that has happened. Don’t focus on the obvious injuries and neglect to mention the twists and sprains in your neck or back. And ask that doctors and nurses document everything in writing.

Gather Information

If possible, you want to use the moments after the accident to gather information to assist your attorney. Ask for contact information from anyone involved in the accident, including name, address, phone number and insurance provider. You also want contact information from any witnesses.

Take pictures of everything, from the conditions of the road to the damage to all vehicles, from your injuries to the weather. Your camera on your phone should be sufficient.

Contact Our Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys

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How Does a Trust Work?

Trust Deed

You’ve been thinking that it’s time to put together and implement an estate plan, so that you can protect your heirs and ensure the orderly distribution of your estate. You may be uncertain about the different options available to you, including whether it’s in your best interests to establish a trust to meet your goals.

What is a Trust?

In essence, a trust is a separate legal entity that can hold, obtain and distribute property. A trust is created by the execution of a written legal document, which identifies the terms. The trust typically involves three different parties—the trustor, the trustee and any beneficiaries. The trustor is the person who created the trust and customarily the one who places property into the trust. The trustee is the person or entity (a trustee can be an institution, such as a bank) given the responsibility for managing the trust in accordance with the trust terms. The beneficiaries are individuals or institutions that have been granted some right to distributions of income or property from the trust.

How Does a Trust Benefit You?

One of the common objectives of an estate plan is to avoid the probate process. In the probate process, the court oversees the orderly distribution of property in an estate. The process can be complex and time-consuming, tying up estate assets for months or even years. In addition, the costs of probate can be considerable…up to 7% of the estate.

However, the probate process only applies to property owned by the deceased at the time of death. When you place property in trust, you no longer own it, even if you have certain rights to use it. Because it’s no longer your property, it is not subject to probate. Instead, upon your death, it typically stays exactly where it is…in the trust.

Contact Our Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys

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Challenging Your Property Tax Assessment in Pennsylvania

A model home on top of a calculator

In Pennsylvania, all property owners pay a tax based on the value of the property, but the amount can vary from county to county. The amount can change from year to year, and can often change dramatically, based on a couple factors. There are ways, though that you can challenge the amount of your assessment.

Understanding How Your Tax Assessment is Calculated

The first thing you need to do, in order to legally challenge an assessment, is understand how your tax bill was calculated. Pennsylvania uses two different factors to calculate how much you owe in property tax: the applicable tax rate and the assessed value of your home.

The tax rate is set by local officials, so will vary, based on where you live. There’s little you can do to change the applicable tax rate, other than contact your elected officials or vote for officials who promise to keep tax rates low.

The taxable value of your home, though, may be subject to challenge. This dollar amount is determined by a local official, known as the tax assessor. The assessed value is generally some percentage of the fair market value of your home—what you would be able to sell it for to a willing buyer. The applicable percentage can vary from community to community, and the assessor’s determination of value can be based on a wide variety of factors, some of which may be disputed. It’s not uncommon for assessors to make mistakes regarding the classification of your home, or with respect to the physical features of your property, so a good starting place is to check your tax assessor’s office and confirm that the tax record is accurate. Here are some items to confirm:

  • Did the assessor properly classify your home as residential?
  • Does the tax record show the correct number of bathrooms, bedrooms and other spaces?
  • Is the square footage correct?
  • Are there improvements listed that you did not make?
  • Does the record reflect any property defects?
  • Are the age and purchase price accurate?

Contact Our Experienced Tax Assessment Attorneys

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Intro to Our Business Law Practice

Blogs that Help You Understand Your Rights and Our Services

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Welcome to the website of B&D Law Group, experienced business law attorneys in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. At our firm, we understand the many legal issues that business owners face every day. Whether you’re just starting a new business venture or working hard to protect your bottom line, we have the skill, knowledge, experience and resources to swiftly and effectively answer your questions and resolve any concerns. We’ve protected the rights of businesses and business owners in the Chambersburg area for more than 55 years.

Our Business Law Practice

We offer comprehensive counsel to businesses and business owners, handling:

  • Business formation — we’ll help you evaluate the different types of business structures and set up the one that makes the most sense for you. We’ll prepare and file all documents necessary to comply with state laws, including articles of incorporation or organization, by-laws, corporate resolutions and tax registrations. We can help you set up a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company or corporation.
  • Business agreements — We have extensive experience with all aspects of business contracts, from negotiation through execution. We will advise you regarding any type of commercial agreement, including vendor or customer contracts, employment agreements, confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements, licensing contracts, partnership or shareholder agreements and real estate contracts.
  • Business disputes — We protect businesses and business owners is all types of litigation, from breach of contract to unfair competition, from partnership disputes to employment disagreements.

We understand that a well-informed client is the best client. To that end, we’ll regularly post blogs on different aspects of business law, so that you can continually increase your knowledge and protect your interests.

Contact Our Experienced Business Law Attorneys

Send us an e-mail or call our office at (717) 264-5194 to schedule an appointment to discuss any legal issue affecting your business. Evening and weekend consultations are available upon request.

ADDRESS :

  • B&D Law Group 1110 Kennebec Dr, Chambersburg, PA 17201

  • Call for consultation (717) 264-5194