Sunday, February 28, 2016

Exemption from Jury Duty for Seniors

Last Fall I had the honor to serve on my first jury. As a lawyer I had always been excused due to my occupation. But, the days have apparently passed when lawyers are not acceptable as jurors. And I was picked for a criminal trial. It was a fascinating experience.  I was impressed that all of my fellow jurors seemed to take their responsibility very seriously.
My age (70) also did not prevent me from my getting picked for the jury. The old maxim is that prosecutors are more likely to use their peremptory challenges to exclude younger members of the jury pool, while defense attorneys exclude older potential jurors. I’m glad that in my case the lawyers for the state and the defendant did not feel that my age gave them reason to challenge me.
I think older adults in general have a lot to contribute in the jury setting. Of course, it’s true that as we age we have more risk of disabling conditions that could inhibit our service. And physical limitations can make jury duty an undue hardship for some.
Pennsylvania law makes “undue hardship” a valid reason to be exempted from jury duty. But proving that you should be excused from duty for this reason can be difficult for some seniors and create an undue hardship all by itself. This is the reasoning behind a new Pennsylvania law that became effective in December. Act 54 of 2015, exempts from jury duty persons 75 years of age or older who wish to be excused and exempt from jury duty.
According to the law’s primary sponsor, Senator Stewart Greenleaf, at least twenty-one other states also provide older citizens with exemptions from jury duty if they meet an arbitrary age threshold. That threshold is typically set at age 65, 70 or 75. For example, in West Virginia the age is 65, in Maryland the age is 70, and in New Jersey the age is 75. Age alone is sufficient. Evidence of disability or infirmity that would interfere potentially with that person's ability to serve effectively or comfortably as a juror is NOT required.
From my recent experience, I recommend serving on a jury if you can. But for those readers who are interested in avoiding jury duty, here is a list of the statutory reasons for exemption in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s exemptions from jury duty
(a)  General rule.--No person shall be exempt or excused from jury duty except the following:
(1)  Persons in active service of the armed forces of the United States or of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
(2)  Persons who have served within three years next preceding on any jury except a person who served as a juror for fewer than three days in any one year in which case the exemption period shall be one year.
(3)  Persons demonstrating to the court undue hardship or extreme inconvenience may be excused permanently or for such period as the court determines is necessary, and if excused for a limited period shall, at the end of the period, be assigned to the next jury array.
(4)  Spouses, children, siblings, parents, grandparents and grandchildren of victims of criminal homicide under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501 (relating to criminal homicide).
(5)  Persons who have previously served for a term of 18 months on a Statewide investigating grand jury, including any extensions thereof, who opt not to serve.
(6)  Persons 75 years of age or older who request to be excused.
(7)  Judges and magisterial district judges of the Commonwealth and judges of the United States as defined in 28 U.S.C. § 451 (relating to definitions).
(8) Breastfeeding women who request to be excused.
To view Act 54, click here.

Related Reading:

Jury Selection in an Aging America: The New Discrimination? Marquette Elder’s Advisor, Volume 2, Article 10 (2000)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

De-mystifying Estate Administration

[This article was written by Nicholas Lutz, an attorney with Marshall, Parker and Weber]
When a loved one passes away, the process of estate administration begins as family or friends begin work to wind up the deceased individual’s affairs. For many, this is a time of deep reflection and contemplation. For those tasked with helping to wrap up the deceased’s financial affairs, it is a time to lean on professionals for guidance through the administration process.
Being named an executor or trustee is an honor for some because appointment to the  position signifies the deceased’s trust in the selected individual. Accepting this role also comes with responsibility. Executors and trustees are called “fiduciaries” because they have an obligation to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries the deceased has chosen to receive an inheritance. Being a fiduciary carries with it a promise to faithfully carry out the administration by being loyal and acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries throughout the entire process. In many instances, it is appropriate for a fiduciary to seek professional legal guidance by hiring an attorney to assist in this process to ensure these duties are carried out properly.
It is important to remember that an estate administration that requires assets to be transferred from the deceased’s name alone to the beneficiaries is a legal proceeding that requires a particular process to be followed and filings to be made with the court. This process, called probate, requires the executor to petition the court to receive paperwork necessary to carry out the administration and transfer assets into the name of the estate, notify certain potential beneficiaries and necessary parties of the administration, satisfy appropriate debts and tax liabilities, make distributions, and finish the administration by preparing a formal accounting or family settlement agreement.
Trust administration, while often not a public proceeding like probate, still requires the trustee to carry out some formalities such as marshaling assets, providing notice to beneficiaries, paying the appropriate debts and taxes and ending the administration with a settlement agreement.
Even where a formal probate or trust administration is unnecessary, preparation and filing of the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return may be required. This tax on the right to inherit requires that a return be filed and payment be made within nine (9) months of the date of death. Assets are subject to tax regardless of their status as probate or non-probate assets. With the exception of life insurance proceeds, most assets are subject to this tax.
Making an estimated payment of the inheritance tax within ninety (90) days of the date of the decedent’s death results in a discount and so it is wise to determine if an early payment may be made. Deductions may also be used on the return to alleviate some of the inheritance tax burden. While the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax rates are not back-breakers (0% to spouses, 4.5% to children and grandchildren, 12% to siblings and 15% to anyone else), it is still important to take advantage of any available deductions, make a prepayment determination, and analyze the entire tax picture.
As you can see, there are a lot of considerations to be made and steps to be taken when a loved one passes away. It is at this difficult time that families should lean on professionals for guidance in winding up their loved one’s affairs. At Marshall, Parker & Weber we have been assisting families through the estate administration process and in finding peace of mind for over thirty-five (35) years. We would be honored to provide you with a one-hour consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss your estate administration case.