ISSUES AND UPDATES
These are fluid and challenging times. Pennsylvania is taking drastic measures to "flatten the curve" and reduce COVID-19 exposures. We here at Buckley Brion understand the uncertainty and the concerns that may be on your minds. We want to let you know that we are here for you and with you. Your inboxes are filled with emails telling you how many companies are responding internally to COVID-19. We just want you to know that we are here, as we always have been, to meet client needs. Even if our offices must be closed by state mandate, we are, and will continue to be, open and available to assist you.
We urge you to check the CDC’s website for the latest guidance and recommendations concerning the virus. This page will be available for updates on issues our clients may be facing. The information below is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact one of our lawyers if you have a legal issue.
Stay well and let's weather this together.
CHESTER COUNTY PARKS RE-OPENING
Buckley Brion is privileged to provide real estate and development counseling to Chester County on several County park projects including Chester Valley Trail, Schuylkill River Trail, Boar Back Trail, extension of Struble Trail, Black Rock Sancturary, Wolf’s Hollow, Nottingham Park and Hibernia Park. We are pleased that the County Commissioners have announced a gradual re-opening of County parks with Black Rock Sanctuary, Wolf’s Hollow and Exton Parks re-opening on Wednesday, May 6th, and Hibernia Park, Nottingham County Park, Springton Manor Farm and Warwick Park re-opening on Tuesday, May 12th.
As a reminder, social distancing and wearing masks applies to anyone visiting any of Chester County’s parks once they re-open. Enjoy the parks and stay safe.
MUNICIPAL ALERT- Senate Bill No. 841
Posted April 24, 2020
On April 20, 2020, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 841 which includes guidance for how municipalities can hold public meetings and public hearings while the Governor’s COVID-19 Emergency Declaration remains in place. That legislation addresses the (1) procedure for how meetings and hearings may be conducted, (2) public participation at those meetings and hearings, and (3) the tolling of timeframes which would otherwise be applicable to land use-related proceedings.
The legislation statutorily memorializes what everyone already knows. . . . board and commission members cannot meet in person during the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration.
To allow municipal operations to continue, therefore, boards and commissions may conduct business through the use of any authorized telecommunication device (which is defined as “any device which permits, at a minimum, audio communication between individuals”). For a quorum to exist at a telecommunication meeting, the number of board or commission members who would otherwise be required for a quorum at an in-person meeting must participate via an authorized telecommunication device.
The board or commission which would hold its meeting or hearing through an authorized telecommunication device must provide prior notice on the municipal website, in the newspaper, or both. Without at least five days’ prior public notice, the board or commission cannot consider at a meeting any application, plat, plan, submission, appeal, or curative amendment which is unrelated to the Governor’s COVID-19 Emergency Declaration. Any notice which the board or commission does give must identify the date and time of the upcoming meeting, the technology which will be used at the meeting, and information regarding public participation at the meeting.
Within 30 days of the effective date of the legislation (which is May 20, 2020) , any Applicant may request that the board or commission hold a meeting or hearing which, in the absence of the Governor’s COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, would be required by law. There is no requirement that the board or commission agree to that request but, if the meeting or hearing does occur, the Applicant and any party which receives actual notice of the meeting or hearing is deemed to waive any challenges to the proceedings under the Sunshine Act or “any other provision of law that governs the notice, conduct or participation in a meeting or proceeding.”
As with in-person meetings, boards and commissions must facilitate public participation at their virtual meetings and hearings. This legislation tweaks that requirement slightly to allow public participation “to the extent practicable.” The public should be allowed to participate through an authorized telecommunication device or through written comments which the public can submit to the municipality’s physical mailing address. The board or commission can also participate through written comments submitted to an e-mail address designated by the municipality to receive comments. We suggest that municipalities consider setting-up a mail account which will be active during the meeting or hearing and assigning a staff member to read those comments into the record of the proceeding.
With regard the review, hearing, and decision on any application, plat, plan, or other submission (including a curative amendment), the legislation suspends and tolls the timeframes from the date of the Governor’s COVID-19 Emergency Declaration (March 6, 2020) through May 20, 2020. The municipality should consult with us as to how to calculate when the board must act on pending applications and plans that were submitted before or during the Governor’s COVID-19 Emergency Declaration.
Municipalities across Pennsylvania can now operate under the important guidance which the General Assembly provided in this legislation. The legislation, though, does not solve all of the challenges which local governments are facing during the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, if they choose to proceed with public hearings, boards and commissions will still need to afford the level of due process to applicants and other parties (i.e. cross-examination, authentication and protection of evidence) which are so important for fair proceedings and the creation of records which will be reviewed on appeals to the Courts. As trusted advisors to local governments, we remain prepared to assist you in these difficult times.
If you have any questions about this legislation or any other COVID-19 related municipal issues, please contact Kristin S. Camp, Esquire, Thomas Oeste, Esquire, Kimberly Venzie, Esquire, or the attorney at Buckley, Brion, McGuire & Morris LLP with whom you usually engage.
Tax/Elder Law/Estate Planning/Estate Administration Updates in the COVID-19 Crisis
Posted March 27, 2020
Stay at Home Order Issued for Several Pennsylvania Counties
Governor Wolf announced that several Pennsylvania counties are under a “Stay at Home” order as of Monday, March 23rd at 8:00 PM. This order includes Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. Erie County was later added to the list. The intention is to keep people in their homes unless they are required to do the following:
Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home
Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves, for their family or household members, or as part of volunteer efforts, or to deliver those services or supplies to others to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences
Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing
To perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business
To care for a family member or pet in another household
Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life-sustaining business activities
Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons
Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services
Travel to return to a place of residence from an outside jurisdiction
Travel required by law enforcement or court order.
Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the commonwealth
Pennsylvania Personal Income Tax Deadlines EXTENDED
The deadline for filing the 2019 Pennsylvania personal income tax returns has been extended to July 15, 2020.
Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Deadlines
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue announced that there will be no penalties and interest assessed for failure to submit inheritance tax returns and pay inheritance tax due during the time that county Register of Wills offices have been closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Once the Register of Wills office resumes operation, the returns and tax payments should be submitted as soon as possible and will be treated as having been submitted on March 12, 2020. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue remains closed due to the COVID-19 situation; however, they have an online customer service center that you can access at: https://revenue-pa.custhelp.com/.
Powers of Attorney are Especially Important Due to COVID-19
With family members isolating from extended family during this time, the elderly or others in high risk groups (the immunocompromised, for example) may be on their own in nursing homes, hospitals, or their own homes. It is important that other family members have access to talk to physicians about their medical care and make decisions for them in the event that they are incapacitated by illness. Also, it may be important for other family members to have access to an incapacitated person’s bank accounts to pay for medical care and treatment. In Pennsylvania, clients can provide for this emergency access with two different documents: a Durable Power of Attorney and a Healthcare Power of Attorney/Advanced Directive.
A Durable Power of Attorney allows a person to appoint an agent to have access to bank accounts, pay bills, and file taxes on their behalf. The requirements are: the document must be signed, dated, witnessed by two adults who are not appointed in the document as an agent (or successor agent), and notarized.
A Healthcare Power of Attorney/Advanced Directive (or Living Will, as it is commonly known) is a two part document that (1) appoints an agent to speak with physicians about your medical care and treatment; and (2) allows you to make decisions about what kind of treatment (if any) you want in the event that you have an end stage condition with no realistic hope of recovery. The requirements are: the document must be signed, dated, and witnessed by two adults who are not appointed in the document as an agent (or successor agent). Also, the treating physician or owner of the health care facility where you are receiving treatment should not serve as an agent or witness. Notarization is not required for this type of document.
Powers of Attorney are not just important for the elderly or immunocompromised. Adult children who have been attending college away from home or traveling, and are now self-isolating, may benefit from having these documents in place. Otherwise, their parents may not have access to their physicians, a say in medical treatment, or the ability to pay bills and otherwise manage their finances if needed.
Wills and Beneficiaries in the time of COVID-19
Wills remain a popular way to decide who will receive your probate assets after death. Probate assets include any assets that are solely in your name, including a home if it is only in your name, certain bank accounts, vehicles, and personal property. Probate assets do not include joint accounts. In that case, the property will go to the survivor remaining on the account. Probate assets also do not include property such as life insurance, retirement accounts, 401Ks, and any payable on death bank accounts. Any property that has a beneficiary named will go directly to that beneficiary.
In a will, you can also decide who will take care of the probate process after your death (Executor) and who will take care of any minor children or adult disabled children after your death (Guardians). A will is valid when it is signed and dated by the person making the will and witnessed by two people. A notary is not required for a will to be valid in Pennsylvania.
During this time of uncertainty, it is a good idea to review your current estate planning documents to make sure that they reflect your wishes and your current situation. It is also a good time to review your beneficiary designations on those non-probate accounts. If you need assistance with any of the above, our attorneys are available remotely to help with your estate planning needs.
Suggested COVID-19 Municipal Government Plan
Posted March 13, 2020
In an effort to be pro-active, our office has put together some suggested actions for our municipal clients in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our suggestions are based upon information pulled from other government agencies as well as some common sense ideas. Please consider the following measures:
– If your municipality is continuing to hold public meetings, disinfect and clean public meeting space including tables, chairs, desks and doors before and after the meeting. At such public meeting, consider announcing that future meetings might be cancelled, postponed, or held earlier in the day, and might be limited to municipal staff and officials only in order to conduct limited municipal functions which are necessary to conduct business – such as authorizing the paying of bills. Consider options for residents to participate in the public meeting via a social media platform such as Facebook Live or other remote means.
– Update your municipality’s website to reflect any schedule changes and/or any updates from the County.
– Cancel all unnecessary public meetings scheduled to be held in your municipal buildings for the month of March – if historical commission, parks and recreation, and planning commission meetings can wait until a future monthly meeting, it might be best to cancel these meetings.
– Cancel all public meetings from outside groups that are scheduled to be held in your municipal buildings for the next two months.
– Be certain to receive any necessary extension of times from applicants or developers that are needed due to cancellation of meetings where action was slated to take place.
– Personal travel anywhere (domestic or international) where there has been confirmed cases of the coronavirus is not recommended. Municipal employees traveling to such locations should be required to undergo screening and possible quarantine before returning to work.
– Persons who have health problems, compromised or weak immune systems, recently visited foreign countries with confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, and the elderly should avoid visiting the municipal offices and attending public meetings.
This Municipal Alert is intended to update our municipal clients on safety concerns and is not intended to be legal advice. If you have any questions please contact attorneys Kim Venzie, firstname.lastname@example.org, Kristin Camp, email@example.com and Tom Oeste, firstname.lastname@example.org.