Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples in Erie, PA

When two people get married, a number of legal relationships, property rights, and tax advantages are created between them automatically. When two people live together outside of marriage, none of this happens automatically, and they must create their own legal relationships and protections. For estate planning purposes, couples who are not planning to get married have to be careful to ensure that they have a valid Pennsylvania Will in place providing each other all assets that they would like their partners to receive should one pass away unexpectedly. This way, their estate will be distributed based on their Will and not via the PA intestacy laws. Unmarried couples need the assistance of a Pennsylvania Estate Planning Attorney.

What are the Requirements to Obtain a Will in Northwestern PA?

In order to obtain a Will in northwestern, PA, the testator of a Will must be at least eighteen years old and of “sound mind,” in other words, be aware of what they are doing when making the Will. A Will in Pennsylvania must be signed at its end. In some cases, another person can sign for the Testator in his/her presence but it must be in writing to be validated. In Pennsylvania, it is not a requirement that a Will be witnessed, however, some county’s require two witnesses at the time of probate, or when the Will is being administered after the testator’s death. Damon C. Hopkins, estate planning attorney, will draft a Will according to your specifications, ensuring that your final Will reflects all of your personal wishes as to the distribution of your estate. He can also draft other important legal documents on clients’ behalf, such as a Pennsylvania Power of Attorney, a Living Will, etc.

List of Forums Unmarried Couples Need to Plan for in PA

At Damon Hopkins Law, based in Erie, PA, we provide estate planning services to unmarried couples in Pennsylvania. We advise clients on issues such as the following:

  • Writing Wills, Living Wills, Powers of Attorney, Trusts & Medical Directives
  • Designate Beneficiaries for Bank and Other Accounts | Own Assets Together
  • Domestic partnership agreements
  • Estate and inheritance tax planning

Writing Wills/Living Wills, Powers of Attorney, Trusts & Medical Directives

Creating Wills is crucial in regards to keeping all assets in the family. If one dies without a Will in Pennsylvania and he/she is not married, their assets will pass to blood relatives, not their partner. If children are involved, this is another huge reason for writing a Will. If just one partner is a legal parent and dies, the other partner would have been named as the guardian on the Will in order to grant the partner guardianship. Often times, people write a letter alongside the Will to explain to the court why it’s important for the partner to be the children’s guardian. However, if there’s another legal parent in the picture, that person would probably take over raising the children. This is why Wills are essential for unmarried couples, and making sure everything is filed correctly, too. You can also leave assets to each other with a living trust; the trust performs the same function as a Will but lets the surviving partner avoid the hassle and expense of probate. It is often advisable for unmarried couples to use trusts to achieve their estate planning goals because trusts are less susceptible to legal challenges by other parties. Contact estate attorney Hopkins to get a detailed Will drafted the way you want it, correctly the first time.

Using Powers of Attorney for finances gives unmarried couples authority over one another’s assets. Any power of attorney that a partner gives the other should be carefully worded to achieve all of your goals while avoiding potential legal disputes. This can be a big benefit if either partner is ever unexpectedly struck by illness or injury. Needing quick access to a partner’s checking account to pay the mortgage, for example, is something that can be done with a POA. Without a POA for finances, partners would have to go to court and prove that they should have control over his/her assets. Making Powers of Attorney for health care situations gives each other the authority to make medical decisions if one partner is ever unable to make them on their own. Along with the POA, knowledgeable estate attorneys, like Damon C. Hopkins recommends people to make medical directives. With a medical directive, partners can make any decisions about medical care in the event of a partner’s incapacity.

Designate Beneficiaries for Accounts | Conjoin Assets

Unmarried couples need to pay careful attention to the beneficiary designations on their life insurance policies and employee benefit plans. Another way to make sure that neither partner is left out in the cold after the other dies are to own big-ticket items, such as houses and cars, together in joint tenancy with right of survivorship. However, partners may not want to share ownership of all assets for lots of different reasons. Another thing to keep in mind is retirement accounts can’t be shared either. Sharing each other’s assets allows the partner of the deceased to automatically own 100% of the property. To do this, both names on the asset’s official title document; for example, a car’s certificate of title or a deed to real property. It’s easy and it doesn’t cost anything. Changes can be made by filling out and sending in another form. Learn more about beneficiary designations for different kinds of assets by calling Attorney Hopkins and setting up a consultation today!  

Contracting Domestic Partnership Agreements | Prenuptial Agreements

Comparable to a prenuptial agreement, a domestic partnership agreement can be used to formalize the terms of a relationship. A Domestic Partnership Agreement is especially important for same-sex couples and unmarried couples. Opposite-sex couples planning to enter into marriage have long had the opportunity to create a Prenuptial Agreement, whereas unmarried couples don’t have to consider that option right away. A Prenuptial Agreement usually is for preserving the nature of property in the event that the marriage ends, and importantly, provide protection for dependents such as children. In every practical sense, a Domestic Partnership Agreement works much like a Prenuptial Agreement does for married couples who are planning to marry. Such an agreement can serve to clarify the financial terms of the relationship and the disposition of areas of concern, such as joint property ownership and shared responsibilities. With this in mind, those planning to enter into a registered domestic partnership should consider creating a Domestic Partnership Agreement.

Estate & Inheritance Tax Planning

Unmarried couples often need to take special tax planning measures because they do not have access to tax benefits for married couples. The differentiator between an estate tax and an inheritance tax is who pays it. While the terms “estate tax” and “inheritance tax” are often used interchangeably when referring to taxes collected when someone dies, these two terms refer to two completely different types of death taxes. An inheritance tax is calculated based on who receives a deceased person’s property. Beneficiaries are liable for paying this tax, although a Will sometimes provides that the estate should pick up this tab as well. Transfers to surviving spouses are completely exempt from the inheritance tax in all six states that collect it, but property passing to children and grandchildren is subject to the state inheritance tax in Nebraska and Pennsylvania. More collateral heirs, such as brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, or friends, must typically pay this tax.

Damon C. Hopkins can Help with all Estate Planning & Administration Services in Erie, PA

It’s never too early to begin planning for the future for unmarried couples. Damon Hopkins Law is a well-trusted estate and trust attorney that provides estate planning and drafting services for all sizes, types, and complexities of estates. Attorney Hopkins carefully considers all clients’ goals and family situations. Attorney Hopkins works closely with accountants, brokers, bankers, and other financial service providers to develop comprehensive estate plans that accomplish our clients’ objectives. By trusting Attorney Hopkins for guidance through the Living Will or power of attorney process, you will feel confident in the decisions you’re making and receive the assurance that these important documents are completed properly. Call for a free consultation today!

Online Wills Vs. Hiring an Estate Attorney–Estate Planning in Pennsylvania

Potential clients–especially the younger, more tech-savvy generation–often ask why they should see an attorney about wills when forms are readily available at the click of a button. Simply put, a will is not something that you should tackle on your own. Damon Hopkins, a qualified estate and probate planning attorney, assesses your current situation and can devote more attention to making wills and developing comprehensive estate plans. Life is complicated, and family dynamics often come into play when drafting an estate plan. A form has no way of counseling you on any emotionally-charged issues, or can it provide much-needed advice during these sometimes precarious proceedings.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Creating a Will Online

According to the AARP article, Haven’t Done a Will Yet?, “only 4 in 10 American adults have a will or living trust.” If you decide to do your estate planning online and by yourself, the advantage is that you will have a plan as quickly and cheaply as possible. For some, that may be better than having no plan at all–especially in regards to getting a will, power of attorney, and advance health care directive. The reality is, many people have no idea what they want or need when it comes to estate planning. Once you get into the complexities of family dynamics, specific laws regarding your home state, and any other unique factors for your particular situation; online estate planning can cause many more challenges compared to working with a team of dedicated professionals. While many of us would prefer to fill in the blanks at their own convenience, some of these online documents can lay estate planning traps, rather than helping you save time and money. Call estate law attorney, Damon C. Hopkins to get professional advice and a free consultation regarding the creation of a will.

What are Other Required Documents for Estate Planning?

Many people believe that having an estate plan means drafting a will or a trust. However, there is much more to include in your estate planning to make sure all of your assets are transferred seamlessly to your heirs upon end-of-life. A successful estate plan also includes provisions allowing family members to access or control assets should the grantor become unable to do so. Here is a list of items every estate plan should include:

  • Will/trust
  • A durable power of attorney
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Letter of intent
  • Healthcare power of attorney
  • Guardianship designations

Individuals put off estate planning because they think they don’t own enough, they’re not old enough, are too busy, or are confused and don’t know who can help them. But estate planning could be the most important exercise ever performed during one’s lifetime to give peace of mind and ensures the next generation receives the fair amount owed to them.

Damon C. Hopkins – Your Erie, PA Estate Administration Lawyer

The best way to avoid mistakes when making wills is to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney like Damon C. Hopkins with offices in Erie, PA. It could save your family from unnecessary stress, and ensures they receive both your probate and non-probate assets as intended. Damon C. Hopkins provides over 22 years of experience to people in need of legal assistance in settling the estate of a loved one. Attorney Hopkins personally handles every estate, taking the time to learn the specific details of your case, looking out for all potential problems, and assuring the timely settlement of the estate. If you are in Erie County, including Edinboro, North East, Corry, Girard, and other surrounding townships, call Damon C. Hopkins today. 

DAI vs. DUI – What Is The Difference in PA?

In 2003, the Pennsylvania legislature overhauled its drunk driving laws. The crime of driving under the influence (DUI) is now technically called DAI, or “driving after imbibing” (DAI). This new legislation also lowered the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to .08% in order to include drivers who consider themselves sober or “buzzed,” and not necessarily what they would assume as being “drunk.” Pennsylvania has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of any mind-altering substance; including alcohol, illegal drugs (yes, even medical marijuana) and prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Regardless of what it is called, drunk driving in Pennsylvania is a serious criminal offense with severe penalties that include the loss of ones’ driver’s license, Erie county fines, and even jail time. That is why it is critical to act quickly following a DAI /DUI arrest in Erie, PA.

DAI / DUI defense Attorney, Damon C. Hopkins has successfully defended countless clients against drunk driving charges throughout Pennsylvania and, in many cases, have cleared the charges entirely. Damon C. Hopkins is prepared to help minimize the damages of a DAI / DUI arrest. Contact Attorney Hopkins anytime to discuss your Pennsylvania DUI / DAI case or to schedule a free consultation in Erie, PA.

Explaining the Consequences of Receiving a DAI / DUI in Pennsylvania

When it comes to DAI / DUI in Pennsylvania, the penalties are severe. Pennsylvania is one of just a few states that has a “per se” law related to driving under the influence of illegal drugs (DUI Drugs). Meaning, that if a Pennsylvania DUI / DAI arrestee has any illegal drugs in their system, they will be punished as if they were at the highest alcohol levels. A first-time DUI / DAI for illegal drugs requires a mandatory minimum of 72-hour incarceration in jail, that could be as long as six months depending on other factors. The fines for a first-time DUI / DAI offense can also be as high as $5,000, along with a 12-month driver’s license suspension.

Drunk driving defense attorney Damon Hopkins might be able to challenge your DUI / DAI charges if the arresting officer did not a proper basis to stop the vehicle. Keep in mind that if the arrestee was not observed committing a crime or traffic violation before being pulled over, the police may not have had the right to stop or question that person. As an experienced DUI attorney in Erie, PA, Damon C. Hopkins can assess whether the police had the right to pull you over in the first place.

3 Common Tests Used in Pennsylvania DUI / DAI Cases:

  • Portable Breath Test: Commonly called a “portable breathalyzer”, or “PBT”.  Based on the results of this test, the police officer may arrest a driver for drunk driving.
  • Field Sobriety Test: If a driver appears intoxicated, the police may ask them to perform a series of field sobriety tests.  If they fail the tests, the police officer may arrest the driver.
  • Blood Test: After DAI or DUI arrest in Pennsylvania, the arrestee may be taken to a hospital where blood is drawn to more accurately determine their BAC level.
  • Breathalyzer: After DAI or DUI arrest in Pennsylvania, the arrestee may be taken to a location where they are given a full-sized breath test to more accurately determine their BAC level.

DAI Defense Attorney Hopkins, DUI Attorney in Erie Pa, looks for any errors that could’ve been made:  

  • Police improperly detained the driver or made an error of law during the stop.
  • Police failed to follow proper policies and procedures during DUI tests.
  • The breathalyzer was improperly calibrated, causing a false reading.
  • The results of the blood test were inaccurate or improperly obtained.

Charged With Drunk Driving or DAI In PA? Contact Damon Hopkins – Erie’s DUI / DAI Defense Lawyer

Attorney Damon C. Hopkins is a former prosecutor, providing a unique insight into the process of criminal defense across Erie County. He can view your case from all angles and plan the best possible line of defense. With more than 23 years of trial experience, both as a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, he is prepared to assist you in any criminal case, helping to protect people’s civil rights.

If you have been charged with DAI / DUI in Northeastern Pennsylvania, don’t assume that you have to plead guilty. Contact Damon Hopkins, an experienced DUI defense lawyer, today for a consultation before making any further moves. He will fight to defend you against the DAI charges and help to avoid more severe penalties for drunk driving in Erie, North East, Harborcreek, Corry, and across Northeastern PA. Please fill out our contact form for a free initial consultation about drunk driving charges.


Medical Marijuana & DUI in Pennsylvania

What amount of medical marijuana can I have in my system and still drive in Pennsylvania without getting a DUI? The simple answer–NONE. Although Pennsylvania has made medical marijuana legal, the fact remains that Marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance. The DUI law in Pennsylvania states that an individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle when there is “any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance” in the individual’s blood. Technically, this means that you are committing the crime of DUI if you have even the slightest amount of marijuana in your blood when you are driving.

The Dangers of Drugged Driving in Erie, PA | Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

Even if Marijuana was not still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, driving after using medical marijuana would still be risky. Any person who drives when they are under the influence of a prescription drug, over the counter medicine, or a combination of both, which makes them incapable of safely driving is committing the crime of DUI. Some of the legal consequences of drugged driving other than receiving a DUI or other similar consequences include:

  • Fines
  • Reckless driving charges
  • License suspension
  • License revocation
  • Prison time
  • Loss of your marijuana card

It doesn’t matter if you took a prescribed drug, or just used a common cold medicine that you bought at the store. If the substance you ingested makes you incapable of safely driving your vehicle, you can be convicted of DUI in Pennsylvania.

Recommendations for Driving After Taking Medicines

Often, people asked, “How do I know when it’s ok for me to drive again after I used my medical marijuana or other medicines?”, the best answer is to discuss that with your Doctor because there are numerous factors that go into figuring out how long any medicine will have an effect on a person. The second best answer is to not drive until you have had a full nights sleep or at least several hours after you stop feeling the effects of your medical marijuana. This doesn’t guarantee that you couldn’t still be charged with DUI, because medicinal marijuana can be detected in your system for up to 30 days. But the longer you go after the medicinal effects wear off, the lower the risk will be of you getting a DUI. Remember to only drive when you are in total control of your ability to drive safely. If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it’s in your best interest to get in touch with Damon Hopkins, your skilled DUI attorney today.

How To Keep Your License When Convicted of DUI in Pennsylvania–New DUI Law

DUI, Driver’s License Suspensions, and Limited Licenses Pennsylvania has created a new law which may allow persons convicted of DUI to still drive during the time that their license is otherwise suspended. Those who have been convicted of DUI, or entered the ARD program for a DUI, may be able to continue to drive their vehicle if they have an Ignition Interlock device installed and obtain an ignition interlock limited license from PennDOT. Determining if you are eligible can be tricky, as the law is very confusing. We strongly suggest you consult with Attorney Hopkins about your DUI case, and he will help you determine if you can keep driving.

Determining Eligibility for an Ignition Interlock Limited License (IILL)  

Once you discover you are eligible, you must obtain an ignition interlock limited license (IILL) from PennDOT before you can drive. The application process under the new ignition interlock law can be very confusing. In order to avoid problems with your IILL application, you should follow the steps below:

  1. A couple weeks after your DUI sentencing, or entry into ARD, you will receive a suspension letter from PennDOT officially notifying you of the license suspension.
  2. Surrender your license to PennDOT. You can do this by certified mail or by taking your license and suspension letter to your local PennDOT license center. Always get a receipt.
  3. Select an ignition interlock vendor. I suggest you go to the Pa DUI Association website and click on the Ignition Interlock Vendors link in the middle of the homepage, or call 1-800-627-2384. Attorney Hopkins has partnered with a major ignition interlock vendor which allows his client’s to qualify for a free basic installation and first month free, when their suspension is 12 months or longer.
  4. Contact the vendor of your choice to schedule an appointment to install the ignition interlock device. There will be an installation fee and a monthly equipment rental fee. Installation fees may vary from vendors, so shop around. Currently, the average costs associated with renting an Ignition Interlock system is between $900 to $1,300 per year.
  5. Prior to taking your vehicle for the install, you need to complete two PennDOT forms: The IILL Petition (DL-9108) and Self Certification of Vehicles to be Completed form (DL-9108SC). You can download these directly from the PennDOT website.
  6. On the day of the install, take with you the PennDot suspension letter and the forms from step 5. Have the vendor install the ignition interlock device and complete Section D of the self-certification form (DL-9108SC). The vendor will keep a copy and return the original form to you.
  7. The completed DL-9108, DL-9108SC must be filed by certified mail and must include the $65 application fee, and any other required fees. Everything gets sent to the following address:
    “Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Bureau of Driver Licensing Restorations Unit, Ignition Interlock License
    P.O. Box 68273
    Harrisburg, PA 17106-8273″
  8. Within 3 to 4 weeks of receiving your petition, PennDOT will inform you in writing of whether you are eligible for an IILL.

Damon C. Hopkins–DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you find yourself in need of a DUI/DWI attorney and are located anywhere in Erie County, Pennsylvania, including the City of Erie, Corry, Fairview, Girard, Harborcreek, Millcreek, North East, or any other surrounding areas, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Attorney Hopkins understand that you’re in a difficult place and need a lawyer that cares about you, your unique circumstances, and will give you honest, straightforward advice about potential outcomes and how to proceed. Having worked as a criminal prosecutor for eight years, he has the knowledge and litigation experience to provide spectacular representation to clients in need of legal assistance in criminal defense, DUI/DWI, juvenile delinquency, and traffic violations.

Contact us to schedule a free consultation for your DUI charges