High Swartz Partner Thomas E. Panzer Appointed to Bucks County SPCA Board of Directors

High Swartz, a full-service law firm with offices in Southeastern Pennsylvania is pleased to announce that Thomas E. Panzer of its Doylestown Office was appointed to the Bucks County SPCA Board of Directors. With the appointment, Tom continues his over 25 years of service and dedication to the Bucks community. In addition to his municipal, zoning, and workers compensation law practice, Tom served as Bucks County Treasurer from 2015 through 2019 and served two terms as a Warminster Township Supervisor.

The Bucks County SPCA is a private non-profit with two open-admission, no-time-limit shelters located in Lahaska and Quakertown PA. Since 1912, their mission is to assist animals in need and prevent suffering through rescues, rehoming, cruelty investigation and prosecution, and community outreach. The Buck County SPCA Board of Directors, along with its executive director, Linda Reider, meet virtually monthly to discuss policy decisions, budgets, and fundraising.

“It’s a great honor to volunteer my time and be part of such a great organization. The BCSPCA has long been a champion of animal rights in the Bucks community and I look forward to assisting the Board in keeping it that way,” Mr. Panzer said.

Tom’s love of animals made it an easy decision to join the board. The Panzers recently rescued Leila, a foxhound mix who is now a happy member of the family. She joins Tom, his wife Lisa, and their two cats, Charlie and Jinx at their home in Warminster.

The thousands of animals in the BCSPCA’s two locations helped every year are assisted by donations which provide food, shelter and medical care. Donations to the SPCA can be made here. Volunteering is another great way to help their cause. Interested individuals must by 18 years of age and must be able to commit at least 8 hours a month for a minimum of 6 months and complete orientation and training. Those interested in volunteering their time can click here to email the BCSPCA.

Due to the pandemic, all Bucks County SPCA services are by-appointment only. Please visit bcspca.org to learn more. To meet the current list of cats, dogs, rabbits, and other animals available for adoption at both locations, click here.

Should I form a Real Estate LLC when buying a rental property?

So you want to invest in real estate, possibly buying one or more rental properties, but are not certain if you should buy them in your own name, as husband and wife or through some form of legal entity. The decisions you make now regarding the purchasing of the real estate could save you time and money in the future.

Should I buy rental properties in my own name or as a corporation?

There are various forms of entity to choose from, sole proprietorship, general partnership, limited partnership, limited liability company (real estate LLC) or corporation (C-corp or S-corp). Initially, it is best not to own investment real estate in your own name or a general partnership. In both cases, the individual owner and each general partner will be personally liable for debts/liabilities arising out of the real estate holding.

It is also preferable, in Pennsylvania, not to hold title in the name of a corporation as selling it triggers additional tax liability and the need for tax clearance certificates, which can delay closing on the sale.

LP or LLC? Which entity is best to purchase a rental property?

Eliminating individual ownership and general partnership essentially leaves you with either an LLC or limited partnership. An LLC is cheaper and easier to set up and provides the same level of liability protection as a limited partnership as well as the same pass through tax benefits to the members of the LLC. A limited partnership requires the creation of a general partner, typically a corporate entity or limited liability company, which remains liable for the debts and liabilities of the limited partnership. The limited partners are shielded from liability. But that necessitates the creation of a limited partnership and a general partner. A limited liability company does the same work, with half the effort.

Can I transfer the rental property title to the entity after it’s been purchased?

As a preliminary matter, whatever decision you make regarding title to the property, make your final decision before buying the property. You don’t want to buy it as an individual and then after acquiring it transfer it to an entity you create. Such a scenario can create a double payment of real estate transfer tax, which can be significant depending on where you live. Thirty eight states, including Pennsylvania, have taxes that are paid for transferring title to real estate.

In Pennsylvania, if you buy property in your own name (and pay the transfer tax on that acquisition) and then transfer it to a company you set up to hold title to the real estate, you have to pay transfer tax a second time. To avoid that, simply choose a form of ownership and stick to it. Check out our past articles on county-specific real estate transfer tax for Philadelphia and Montgomery County, PA.

In summary, many real estate companies take the form of real estate LLC for the reasons noted above. If you need assistance in forming an entity for the purpose of purchasing rental property, contact the attorneys at High Swartz at 610.275.0700.

Is it worth getting Short-Term Limited Duration Health Insurance during the Pandemic?

STLDI coverage was designed as bridge coverage so the consumer has some insurance until better coverage is arranged. The premiums are low and so is the protection.

After passage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA, often called Obamacare) standards were proscribed for comprehensive major medical insurance policies. STLDI medical coverage is Short-Term Limited Duration Insurance which is a tempting option.

The STLDI plans can exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions and the plans need not cover essential health benefits such as:

  • prescription drugs
  • maternity care
  • preventative services
  • mental health disorder
  • substance abuse disorders

Claims can easily be denied or the consumer gets pennies on the dollar. For example, if a person is diagnosed with cancer, the uncovered bills can be astronomical. Those hoping for comprehensive coverage during the pandemic should read over the terms of their coverage thoroughly. Treatment, testing, and how the insurance plan handles pre-existing conditions are all factors that should be reviewed.

When regulations under the ACA were relaxed by the federal government, individual states bore responsibility to regulate the STLDI plans. The original restriction to 12-months of minimal coverage can now be extended to 36 months.

It is no surprise that some insurance companies tout the low premiums. The more reputable insurance companies realize consumers may opt for low-cost, low-coverage and overlook the benefits of truly comprehensive coverage. Pennsylvania is considering legislation to restrict renewability and to provide critical disclosure to consumers.

Consumers at risk who consider STLDI plans are those who lose coverage because:

a. Parents cannot provide coverage despite ACA allowing family coverage for a child to age 26;
b. Those who are laid off by a small company without a COBRA option;
c. Those who are laid off who cannot afford the COBRA premium cost; and
d. Those who no longer qualify for COBRA.

In times of medical surprises (COVID, cancer, accidental injuries or just bad luck) Short-Term Limited Duration Insurance should be recognized for what it provides – minimal coverage at minimal cost.

High Swartz Attorneys Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America© 2021 Edition

The Best Lawyers in America© 2021 edition includes 11 High Swartz Attorneys as well as inclusions in the Lawyer of the Year and inaugural Ones to Watch editions.

High Swartz, a full-service law firm with offices in Norristown and Doylestown, Pennsylvania is pleased to announce that The Best Lawyers in America© Edition includes 11 attorneys in 2021. Among the new additions are Elizabeth C. Early for her work in Family Law and Linay L. Haubert for her practice in Workers’ Compensation Law – Claimants.

Receiving the Lawyer of the Year award in 2021 is the head of our Family Law practice, Mary Cushing Doherty. Her work in Family Law Mediation was recognized by Best Lawyers in the City of Philadelphia. 2021 also marks her 25th consecutive year of being included in the The Best Lawyers in America© Edition.

New this year is the inaugural edition of The Best Lawyers in America©: Ones to Watch which includes High Swartz attorney, Stephen M. Zaffuto for his work in Real Estate Law. This new category highlights lawyers who have been in private practice for 5-9 years. Lawyers in practice for 10+ years are then eligible for The Best Lawyers in America Edition.

High Swartz Attorneys recognized in The Best Lawyers in America© 2021:

The Best Lawyers in America© (2021 Edition) Lawyer of the Year Award

  • Philadelphia
    • Mary Cushing Doherty
      • Family Law Mediation

The Best Lawyers in America: Ones to Watch (2021 Edition)

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers® has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers lists are compiled based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. Almost 108,000 industry leading lawyers are eligible to vote (from around the world), and we have received over 13 million evaluations on the legal abilities of other lawyers based on their specific practice areas around the world. For the 2021 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America©, 9.4 million votes were analyzed, which resulted in more than 67,000 leading lawyers being included in the new edition. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed; therefore inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor.

Navigating the Social Security Disability Benefits Application Process in 2020

COVID-19-related restrictions have impacted the way Social Security is processing disability claims and appeals. Below are some answers to the most frequently asked questions our SSDI attorneys have received in part one of a 2 part series.

In what was already a backlogged system, the time it is taking to process applications for disability, appeals and hearings has increased significantly. As of March 17, 2020, Social Security closed all field and hearing offices for in person operations. Employees began working remotely using a system that was not designed to facilitate work from home making even day to day tasks as simple as processing incoming mail or answering telephone calls more difficult.

Obtaining medical records from applicants’ medical providers is a crucial part of processing applications for disability. COVID-19 has affected the staffing of physicians’ offices resulting in long delays in obtaining those records. Social Security also sends many applicants for medical evaluations when there is not sufficient evidence in the records to make a decision on a case. For months the vendors that provide physicians to perform these evaluations were closed. While most have reopened with restrictions, appointments have accumulated resulting in continued delays.

If you are applying for disability benefits, requesting reconsideration of a denial of benefits or are waiting for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge during year 2020, below are answers to the most frequently asked questions we have received.

If the local Social Security offices are closed, how do I apply for benefits?

Although the physical offices are closed for most services, applications can be submitted online using the SSA.gov website. While the online application is straightforward, it can be time consuming.

I was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was hospitalized. Am I eligible for social security disability benefits?

The short answer is no.
In order to qualify for disability benefits, one of the requirements is that you must have a condition that resulted in you being unable to work for 12 months or a condition that is expected to keep you from working for at least 12 months.

As we gather more information about COVID-19, it appears that there may be individuals who experience long term or permanent damage to their lungs, heart, kidneys, and nervous system which could result in an inability to work for the required one-year or more. If you fall into this category, they you may be eligible for benefits.

What information should I have available for the SSDI application?

Applicants should have information such as the names, addresses and phone number of your treatment providers readily available. SSA.gov also provides a more detailed list of the information you should have prior to starting your application.

Do I need an SSDI lawyer to file my application?

There is no requirement for you to be represented by an SSDI attorney to apply for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI or SSI).

So, what are the benefits of having an SSDI lawyer on my side?

It may be beneficial to have an attorney assist your through the application process. Experienced disability attorneys will be able to answer your questions as you go through the process. They can provide assistance with obtaining, reviewing and interpreting your medical records, completing forms that are required after the initial application is filed, and be there to assist you through the next steps of the process if your application is denied.

How long will it take for Social Security to process my application and make a decision on my case?

While there was no definitive timeframe for processing an application prior to COVID-19, the average wait time from start to finish was around 3 to 5 months. Currently, during the pandemic, it is taking closer to 4 to 7 months depending on the availability of medical records.

If Social Security requires you to attend a medical evaluation it may further prolong a decision on your case. Obtaining copies of your medical records and providing them to Social Security with the application and returning all forms/documentation requested by Social Security in a timely manner, may shorten your wait time.

I was diagnosed with cancer. Is there anyway to get my SSDI application processed more quickly?

Social Security has a Compassionate Allowance Program which identifies claims where the applicant’s disease or condition clearly meets Social Security’s statutory standards for disability. There is a list of diseases and conditions that include certain types of cancers, adult brain diseases and rare disorders that affect children that will trigger Social Security to expedite a case. The complete list of Compassionate Allowance diagnoses can be found on SSA.gov.

When should I apply for social security disability benefits?

The answer to that questions may vary depending on who you ask.
Due to the lengthy process, many disability advocates suggest applying for benefits as soon as you are unable to work. In my practice, I consider each case individually before making a recommendation as to when you should apply for disability. Several factors play into my decision-making process including:

  • the length and frequency of medical treatment
  • whether or not the medical records document the applicant’s limitations
  • how long someone has been out of work
  • what kind of work they performed, their age, etc.

A little time preparing an SSDI case can shorten the time processing a claim and increase the chance of a favorable outcome.

What is the maximum amount you can receive per month in 2020 for SSDI benefits?

The maximum amount you can receive per month in 2020 is $3,011.00. Also, SSDI benefits are considered taxable income.

What is the maximum amount you can receive per month in 2020 for SSI benefits?

SSI monthly benefit payments start the 1st full month after the date you became disabled. The maximum amount an individual can receive in 2020 is $783.00 per month. The maximum amount a couple can receive is $1,175.00 per month. SSI beneficiaries are eligible for Medicaid when payments begin. SSI payments are not taxable income.

The questions addressed here are only a very small portion of those that will likely arise during this process. Obtaining an experienced and compassionate attorney that also has a strong medical background will be able to answer these questions for you and provide the assistance you need moving through the process.

If you are in need of an SSDI attorney at any crucial step of the social security disability process, please contact Linay Haubert R.N., Esq of the Doylestown office of High Swartz law firm at 215-345-8888.

Ethical Issues for Lawyers in High Profile Cases

High profile legal matters can be exciting to handle. But these same cases present risks that can jeopardize a lawyer’s standing and reputation.

At one time or another in our careers, many of us will handle legal matters with high public visibility. The recognition can build our reputation and our confidence.

But high-profile work brings its own risks. Without planning, management, and a careful eye toward our ethical duties, work in the public sphere can jeopardize the very reputation that attorneys have worked to build.

Publicity and its Ramifications

Our duties as lawyers are to serve clients with skill and discretion. Publicity often runs counter to these duties. Our first requirement, set forth in Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) 1.1, is to provide competent representation. Competency includes the ability to deal with media coverage, including social media. A lawyer should not put a client before the media to tell his or her story unless the client has been prepared and the media coverage can enhance the client’s position. A rush to publicity can hurt the client’s case. One recent example is the pre-trial television interview of later-convicted child abuser Jerry Sandusky. In the public’s view, the interview did more to convince the audience of Sandusky’s guilt than otherwise.

Publicity also can get in the way of a fair and impartial proceeding. RPC 3.6(a) prohibits a lawyer from making public statements out of court that will create a substantial likelihood of material prejudice in a proceeding. Courts may impose gag orders on lawyers who talk too much to the press about their clients’ cases, unless the order clashes with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Conflicts of Interest

High visibility cases can also lead to conflicts of interest in a variety of ways. It is axiomatic that a lawyer with a high public profile may attract other prominent clients. In other words, high profile work breeds high profile work. The interests of one prominent client may conflict with the interests of another such client, leading to a conflict that may violate RPC 1.7. Consider the case of the New York law firm that served as counsel for the New York Times, and then hired an investigative team that tried to stop the Times from publishing a story about now-convicted sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. The Times was not amused and fired the firm, and the firm suffered a negative round of publicity in the aftermath.

Publication Rights

More conflicts arise when a lawyer seeks (or is sought out) to write a book or article about a case. To put it bluntly, what sells books does not necessarily constitute the best strategy for winning cases. Several high profile defendants, including Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray and heiress Patty Hearst, turned on their lawyers because publishing deals compromised the lawyers’ ability to assert defenses in the criminal cases. The Hearst case even included a lawyer’s restriction on Hearst writing a book. Rule 1.8(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct now addresses this situation by prohibiting lawyers from obtaining literary rights on a matter arising from a client’s representation, until the representation is concluded.

And if a lawyer writes a book, what can the lawyer put in the book without violating client-attorney confidences? The court decision over Reversal of Fortune, Alan Dershowitz’s book about the Claus von Bulow trial (later a movie), held that the privilege is waived for any material contained in the book (but not for anything omitted from the book).

Confidentiality Issues

Another confidentiality issue can arise in a high profile case if an organization’s lawyer gives legal advice to individual agents of the organization. In yet another case arising from the Sandusky scandal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held earlier this year that the individual agents, not Penn State, owned the privilege and that the University’s in-house counsel should not have disclosed the individuals’ statements to the grand jury. The Supreme Court ended up imposing discipline on both the lawyer for Penn State and the prosecutor who elicited the confidential statements. (Few, if any, of the Sandusky case participants seemed to emerge unscathed.)

Added Scrutiny

Finally, and importantly, a lawyer’s public role may draw unwanted attention to the lawyer’s own conduct. This can happen in a variety of ways. The media can find out whether the lawyer has, in professional or personal actions, been consistent with the position taken in the litigation. Or the media can point to gossip about the lawyer’s own personal life. The judicial system may start to (or renew) focus on the lawyer’s own alleged violations of the law, as happened with Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels in her claims against President Trump. In high visibility work, the old adage made popular by President Harry Truman, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” may ring true.