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Social Security Disability Claims – The Basics

 Security Disability

If you have been hurt or are suffering an illness that prevents you from working, you may be eligible to collect Social Security disability benefits, even though the injury or illness is not work-related. Under the Social Security system, you may be eligible for two different types of benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI

Social Security disability insurance is available to persons with disabilities that prevent them from working and earning income. To qualify for SSDI, you must have a disability, as defined by the Social Security Administration. That disability must be permanent, must prevent you from working for at least 12 months, or must be expected to lead to your death. In addition, you must have accumulated enough Social Security credits to qualify. To do so, you must generally work in a job where you contribute to the Social Security system through the payment of FICA taxes. The number of credits you need will depend on your age and when you became disabled. If you collect Social Security disability benefits for at least 24 months, you will qualify for insurance coverage through Medicare, with no age restrictions.

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI

The qualifications for Supplemental Security income vary from state to state, so you’ll need to learn what your particular state provides. Under the guidelines, though, you must meet all of the following tests to be eligible for payments through SSI:

  • You must be at least 65, or you must be blind or disabled
  • You must generally be a citizen of the United States—there are very limited exceptions to this that an attorney can explain to you
  • Because SSI is need-based, you must not have significant earned income—most states limit you to $1,400 or less per month
  • You cannot own more than $2,000 worth of property ($3,000 for a married couple)

Contact Our Experienced Social Security Attorneys

Send us an e-mail or call our office to schedule an appointment to learn how we can help with a Social Security disability or Supplemental Security income claim. Evening and weekend consultations are available upon request.

Reasons Why a Workers’ Compensation Claim May Be Turned Down

Reasons Why a Workers' Compensation Claim May Be Turned Down

In the aftermath of a work-related injury, one of your first courses of action will typically be to notify your employer and initiate the necessary steps to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Though your claim may often seem pretty straightforward, it’s not at all uncommon for your application for benefits to be denied. Here are some of the more typical reasons why so many workers’ compensation claims are initially rejected.

You Waited Too Long to Notify Your Employer

Under the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation laws, you must provide notice to your employer within a specific time period. Accordingly, you’ll want to let your employer know about an injury or illness as soon as you know about it. Not only will you risk having your claim rejected outright for failure to timely file, but you also give opposing attorneys grounds for arguing that your injury wasn’t that serious or that it was caused by another event.

Your Claim Is Challenged

There are a number of reasons your employer or the workers’ compensation insurance company may contest your claim. Your employer may argue that the injury was not work-related, that you suffered the trauma while away from the job. Your employer may allege that your injuries are not as serious as you say they are, and may introduce evidence from a company doctor to support that claim (you will be required to submit to an “independent” examination from a company-selected doctor once you’ve notified your employer of the injury or illness).

Your employer may also claim that your injury was pre-existing. Under Pennsylvania law, a pre-existing injury will not bar you from eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits, provided you sought treatment for and fully recovered from the prior injury.

You Engaged in Wrongful Conduct

As a general rule, workers’ compensation benefits are available irrespective of fault. However, if you intentionally violate safe work practices, or if you intentionally self-inflict injuries, you will likely be disqualified for workers’ compensation benefits.

Contact Our Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Send us an e-mail or call our office to schedule an appointment to learn how we can help with a workers’ compensation claim. Evening and weekend consultations are available upon request.

Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year!

Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year!

Happy New year 2018

Assets that Don’t Need to Be Part of a Probate Estate in Pennsylvania

Assets that Don't Need to Be Part of a Probate Estate

If you have been named executor or administrator of an estate in Pennsylvania, you may have no idea of what that entails, or how much time and effort you’ll need to spend to settle the estate. You’ll have to prepare an accounting of the assets of the estate, notify all interested parties, pay all final debts and taxes, and oversee the orderly distribution of the estate. But not all of the assets owned by the deceased before death will necessarily become part of the probate estate.

The Types of Assets Are Not Included in the Probate Estate

One of the purposes of the probate process is to legally transfer property owned by the deceased, as he or she can no longer take the steps necessary to do that. Accordingly, if there’s property that was owned, in whole or in part, by the decedent, but no longer is, that property does not need to go through probate. How can that happen? Under property law, if property is owned “in joint tenancy,” upon the death of one of the owners, all right, title and interest in the property automatically goes to the other owners. It’s a common tool used to avoid the probate process—you title a home or a bank account jointly, and when you die, it automatically becomes the property of the other joint tenant(s).

Any financial instrument or asset that has its own designated beneficiary does not need to go through probate. For example, a life insurance policy, an IRA or 401k, or a “payable on death” bank account won’t have to be part of the probate estate.

Finally, any assets held in trust avoid probate. That’s because the property is not owned by the deceased, but by the trust.

Contact Our Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys

Send us an e-mail or call our office to arrange a meeting with us. Evening and weekend consultations are available upon request.

Third Party Claims for Work-Related Injuries

Work-Related Injuries

In Pennsylvania, as in other states, when you are injured on the job, your first course of action will be typically to file a workers’ compensation claim. In many instances, it will be your exclusive remedy, meaning it will be the only method of recovery for your injuries. There are, however, situations where you won’t be limited to what you can recover through a workers’ compensation claim, and there may even be times where you can file a workers’ compensation and a personal injury lawsuit simultaneously. Here’s how it works.

One of the goals of state workers’ compensation laws—often referred to as the “great bargain,” is to provide a benefit for both workers and employers when a worker is hurt because of the carelessness or negligence of the employer. For a worker, there’s easier and quicker access to benefits, provided your claim is approved. For an employer, because the benefits are based on the worker’s wages, there’s no risk of an exorbitant damage award from an over-sympathetic jury.

The important thing to understand, though, is that workers’ compensation benefits are designed to cover situations where the employer or a co-employee was negligent. It does not limit your rights if your injury was caused by an unrelated third party. Some common situations where workers are hurt by the carelessness of an unrelated third party include:

  • Where your injury was sustained in a motor vehicle accident involving an at-fault party who is neither your employer nor a co-worker
  • Where your injury is caused by the malfunction, breakdown or negligent design of a tool, machine or other product
  • Where your injury was caused by a person on an adjoining work site, or by an unrelated bystander or third party

It is possible, if your injury was caused in part by the carelessness of your employer or a co-employee, and in part by an unrelated third party, to simultaneously seek workers’ compensation benefits and damages in a personal injury lawsuit. It’s important to recognize, however, that you cannot recover twice for the same loss. For example, if your medical expenses were covered by workers’ compensation, you cannot recover for the same medical expenses in a lawsuit against a third party.

Contact Our Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Send us an e-mail or call our office to schedule an appointment to learn how we can help with a workers’ compensation claim. Evening and weekend consultations are available upon request.

The Purpose of Title Insurance in a Real Estate Transaction

The Purpose of Title Insurance in a Real Estate Transaction

When you are buying or selling real property, one of the things your agent or attorney will typically discuss with you is the title insurance. You may think that, if you have a valid deed and have properly recorded it, you don’t have any concerns about title. That may not be true.

Understanding Title Insurance

Like other forms of insurance, title insurance is designed to protect you against financial loss. The financial loss that can be covered by title insurance relates specifically to title problems that arise and can include a variety of issues, such as:

  • Financial loss caused by the fact that the seller (transferor) did not legally own the property when it was sold
  • Financial loss resulting when there are outstanding liens on the property, including unpaid mortgages or other encumbrances that give creditors the right to take the property through a foreclosure action
  • Financial loss caused by interruptions in the chain of title, including instances where the owner of the property died, but the property was not legally transferred through the probate process
  • Financial loss caused by tax liens

If you have a policy of title insurance in effect and a lawsuit is filed related to any of the above issues, the title insurance company will be required to defend the action and must satisfy any judgments that arise. Without a policy of title insurance, your only recourse in such a situation would be to sue the other party to the transaction. That party may be unable to satisfy any judgment you obtain.

Contact Our Experienced Family Law Attorneys

Send us an e-mail or call our office to schedule an appointment to learn how we can protect your interests in a real estate transaction. Evening and weekend consultations are available upon request.

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.

Contact Our Experienced Tax Assessment Attorneys

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

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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