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7 Common Estate Planning Mistakes: Why Everyone Needs a Will

People often oversimplify the process of creating a will. Some people think that the law automatically provides easy answers to the transfer of property, so why bother with a will? Others feel they don’t have enough property to create a will. A recent Gallup Poll reported that only 44 percent of American adults have created a will. Once people reach age 65, they’re more likely to have a will (68 percent) compared to just 14 percent of people age 30 and under.

Unfortunately, many people link the need for a will with loads of money or lots of pricey property. But the fact is, if you own any type of personal property such as a car or home furnishing, have children, are contributing to a retirement fund like a 401k, have a pension, or are eligible for social security, a sound will can reduce family conflict, protect your children, and ensure that your passing does not trigger unnecessary stress or conflict.

Need more proof? Check out this list of seven common mistakes developed by a Going and Plank attorney. This list maps out the mistakes that can be avoided by creating a will and developing a proper estate plan.

Mistake 1: No Will

Without any will in place, the state labels you interstate and will reassign your assets to your next of kin. These assets may include bank accounts, investments, real estate, retirement accounts, and personal possessions like vehicles, pets, and home items. Laws of secession vary depending on your marital status, but your spouse, child, parents, siblings, aunts or uncles, cousins, or even distant relatives could inherit your assets if you die without a will.

While some people may prefer to leave estate decisions to the state, when you skip the process of creating a will, you’ve forced your heirs to make difficult decisions on how to manage your affairs after you’re gone. If you’ve made verbal promises to share your possessions or assets in any way, these agreements may not be honored if you’re declared intestate. Families forced to divide estates in this way often experience conflict, confusion, and hurt feelings.

If you have dependent children, the creation of a will allows you to assign guardianship. If you do not specify guardianship arrangements in your will, the court will appoint guardians.

Finally, administering an estate without the help of a will often results in additional costs to your heirs, reducing their financial gain, and adding the stress of managing your estate. That’s why it makes sense to talk to an estate planning lawyer. To find out more about what you should and shouldn’t include in your will, contact Going and Plank today.

Mistake 2: Not Specifying a Guardian for Children

If you have children who are financially dependent on you, you should think through guardianship in your will. Even if your child is over the age of 18, if you want to ensure that they receive continued financial, educational, or housing support, you may create a trust in your will, assign a trustee, or guardian to step in as parent and look out for your children’s interests, make financial decisions on their behalf, and ensure you dependents get the level of support they need. It’s important to think through these decisions and outline your wishes clearly in a written will. Talk to an attorney experienced in estate law.

Mistake 3: Not Providing Guidelines for Guardians

Even if you assign a trusted adult to the role of guardian, each person has different ideas on how to manage the finances of a dependent. Some people will consider any funds assigned as a subsidy for food and clothing. Other guardians may set the money aside but struggle to meet daily expenses. And what happens if your appointed guardian is unable or unwilling to take on the care of your dependent? Who is next in line?

Taking the time to think through these issues and including them in your estate plan and will reduce stress and conflict for your dependents and their future guardians. Contact our team at Going and Plank to find out how an estate planning attorney can help you.

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Mistake 4: Not Planning for the Death of a Beneficiary

Years, even decades, can pass between the writing of the will, and the administration of it after your death. In that interim, your beneficiaries, young or aged, may pass on. To reduce litigation and expense after your death, be sure to include a succession of beneficiaries.

If a beneficiary dies, you may want their share to go to their heirs. For example, if your brother dies, his children would inherit. Or you may want to distribute assets in other ways. As an alternate example, if your brother dies, you may want your favorite cousin to become the beneficiary. Check with your attorney to make sure your will takes the death of a beneficiary into account.

Mistake 5: Using Co-Ownership as a Way to Divide Assets

Some people start creating co-ownership of assets, such as co-owned homes or co-owned bank accounts, prior to their death. This is usually done to avoid probate and associated expenses. However, moving items into co-ownership may not avoid probate and may put your assets at risk in other ways.

For example, if you decide to make your daughter the co-owner of your home, this asset is now legally her property. If she would get divorced, her husband would have a right to half of her share, or one-quarter of your home’s value. He may be able to demand his share of that ownership, even if you are still living in the home.

In Pennsylvania, co-ownership also comes with its own set of tax issues. A shift in ownership may mean your co-owner is now subject to gift or income taxes.

Co-ownership also means your assets could fluctuate in value, providing an uneven inheritance. For example, you may want to co-own your home with your son, and co-own your vacation cottage with your daughter. However, over the years, your home may decrease in value while the value of your vacation cottage skyrockets. At the time of your death, one property may be worth twice as much as the other.

Mistake 6: Planning Your Estate Around Specific Items

While dividing your estate up by making specific requests may seem like a smart way to sidestep in fighting, in many cases specific requests make probate more complicated. When you leave certain property or items to certain heirs, you should create a separate document, called a letter of instruction, that you keep with your will.

However, any items you name may increase or drop in value over the years, so don’t assign personal items based on financial worth. For example, a family photo isn’t going to fluctuate in value over time, but a stock may balloon or be worthless at the time of your passing.

Additionally, specific bequests are handled first in probate. If you no longer own the item or investment named, the estate might be required to replace that item, even if it costs much less or more than originally intended. These types of gifts can slow down the probate process considerably and may have the unintended effect of causing more conflict and delay. If you want to discuss your specific estate issues with a qualified lawyer in Lancaster County, please contact Going and Plank for more information.

Mistake 7: Confusing a Will for an Estate Plan

A will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes, but an estate plan helps you plan for distribution of assets and legacy wishes. When set up properly, an estate plan will help you and your heirs find ways to reduce taxes, fees, and court costs.  While it’s important to keep your will updated, it’s also critical to meet with an attorney to review your estate plan periodically, especially if;

  • You have underage or dependent children
  • You need to assign guardians
  • You own property
  • You own a business or are a partner in a business
  • You have a retirement fund or a pension
  • You have investments
  • You have life insurance
  • You wish to leave part of your estate to a church, non-profit, or other organization
  • You’re divorced
  • Your financial situation has changed significantly

Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney Today

Creating a sound will and estate plan in Pennsylvania will not only ensure your wishes are met after you pass, but it will also reduce the stress and expense for your heirs. Going and Plank can help you create a will and estate plan that is scaled to meet your needs.

If you’d like to find out more about how the attorneys at The Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster can help you create, review, revise, or administer wills and estates, contact us today.

Consumer Protection Laws: Know Your Rights!

By Angela Ward, Attorney

Consumer protection laws protect you from deceit by a home seller, home improvement contractor, building contractor, car salesperson or other business providing goods and services. The Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) and the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act provide consumers with protection from unfair or deceptive acts or practices from businesses providing goods or services. The Acts provide consumers with significant leverage to redress grievances in a wide variety of consumer transactions ranging from building contractor services to motor vehicle sales and services and real estate sales.

You Could Recover up to Three Times the Cost of Damages

If you have problems with a home improvement contractor, a real estate seller or agent, a car salesperson, or other business people, contact The Law Offices of Going and Plank to pursue remedy – the law provides for recovery of your actual damages, costs, attorneys fees and, in extreme cases, a punitive measure of up to three times your actual damages.

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What’s Covered Under The Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law?

UTPCPL provides private remedies to consumers of “goods or services.” Sales of residential real estate are also within the purview of the UPTCPL. Unfair trade practices claims are now routinely included within fraud complaints against realtors and sellers of real estate. Further, with the 1996 amendments potentially gathering all manner of deceptive conduct within the “catchall” definition of unfair trade, there are surprisingly few hard limitations on what is and isn’t an unfair trade practice.

What’s Covered Under The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act?

The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act protects consumers from home improvement contractors gone bad – of contracts not honored, and of unearned deposits not refunded. The term “home improvement” is broadly defined to include most repair, replacement, remodeling, demolition, renovation, installation, alteration, conversion, modernization, improvement, rehabilitation and sandblasting work done in connection with land or a portion of land adjacent to a private residence, so long as the total cash price of all work agreed upon between the contractor and the owner is more than $500.00.

The term “home improvement” also includes construction, replacement, installation or improvement of driveways, swimming pools, porches, garage roofs, HVAC and solar energy systems, security systems, flooring, patios, fences, gazebos, sheds, windows, awnings, and waterproofing. Home improvement only applies to work done in connection with a “private residence,” which term includes a single family dwelling, a multifamily dwelling consisting of not more than two units, or any single unit located within any multifamily dwelling, including condominiums and co-op units.

Consumer Protection Acts provide for recovery of actual damages the consumer has sustained, all costs, interest and attorney’s fees. In addition, in cases of extreme bad conduct, the consumer may be awarded triple damages or up to three times the actual damages the consumer has sustained.

Lancaster County: Have You Been Cheated by a Contractor, Real Estate Agent or Other Business?

If you have been cheated by a home improvement contractor, a real estate seller or agent, a car salesperson, or other business people, contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank to pursue remedy. We may be able to help you recover of damages and costs including attorney’s fees and, in extreme cases, obtain a punitive measure of up to three times your actual damages.

9 Important Facts Abo­­­ut Workers’ Compensation

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By Dennis Plank, Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Whether you work in an office, a factory, or a construction site, in a warehouse, outdoors, or elsewhere, your employer is responsible under Pennsylvania Law for providing insurance benefits to compensate injured workers for lost wages and medical expenses under the terms of The Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act. The workers’ compensation program was started over 100 years ago to provide employees with compensation for lost wages and payment of medical expenses arising from work-related injuries and work-related medical conditions, regardless of fault. The Act also protects employers from direct lawsuits by employees.

Although the vast majority of employers in Pennsylvania are required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage for their employees, there are a few exceptions. However, the majority of employed Pennsylvanians are covered under the law and have well-defined rights and recourse under the Act.  Most people don’t think much about workers’ compensation until they find themselves injured.  The law can be confusing.  That’s why we are offering this list of nine important facts you need to know about workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania.

Fact: Not all Types of Injuries are Covered by Worker’s Compensation

While it’s true that Pennsylvania law covers most types of injuries and illnesses encountered as a part of your employment, not all injuries are included.

  • Self-Inflicted Injuries: If your injuries are intentionally self-inflicted, you are not covered for benefits under the terms of the Act. Any attempt by an employee to intentionally harm himself in order to obtain workers’ compensation benefits is both fraudulent and not covered under the Act.
  • Physical Attacks: If you are physically attacked by a co-worker for personal reasons, or if you are physically attacked by a person not associated with your workplace, you are not covered under Workers’ Compensation. However, such physical attacks are illegal and should be reported to your employer and the police immediately.
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse: If your injuries were caused as a result of alcohol or drug use, you are not covered. It is your responsibility to conduct your work soberly and without drug use.
  • Breaking the Law: If you are injured while breaking the law, or as a result of breaking the law, you are not covered.
  • Commuting: Generally, if you are injured commuting to and from work, you are not covered. However, if you are in the course of traveling as part of the performance of your work duties such as driving to a remote work site after reporting to work, making deliveries for your employer, traveling for business, or you are injured while driving or making deliveries for your employer, you may be covered.

Fact: Workers’ Compensation Covers Injuries That Occur Over Time.

Not all work injuries happen in a moment. Some occur slowly over time from repetitive motion, like back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome.  Your employer should not require you to repeatedly work in awkward or uncomfortable positions or require you to work repetitively without breaks or variety, nor should your employer subject you repeatedly to physical force, weight, impact, or vibration.

Additionally, your employer should make sure they are using the right tools and equipment optimally placed for your physical requirements. Extreme temperatures and poor work organization are also factors in repetitive injuries. If you’re not sure if your injury is covered, please set up a free consultation at Going and Plank, and we’ll help you determine your rights.

Fact: Part-time Employees are Covered by Workers’ Compensation in Pennsylvania

Workers’ Compensation is not reserved for full-time and salaried employees. In Pennsylvania, both full-time and part-time employees are covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Fact: Your Injury may be Covered, Even if it Didn’t Happen on Employer Property

PA law does not require that your injury occurs on the work premises to be covered under the Act. If you were injured while doing work requested by your employer, you may be covered. While commuting is usually not covered, if you were injured in an accident while running an errand for your employer, you may be covered.  While commuting is not covered, you may be covered if you fell in your employer’s parking lot. If you travel for work or drive for a living, accidents that occur while you are working, regardless of location, are covered. Request a free consultation at Going and Plank to find out if your injury is covered.

Fact: There are Time Limits on Workers’ Compensation Claim

If you are injured on the job or realize that you have acquired a work-related medical condition over time, report it to your employer as soon as possible. Your report should include when and where the injury occurred, and you should describe the type of injury. While verbal reports are acceptable, written reports are preferred. You should make a copy of your written report and keep it for your records.

Additionally, you must report your injury within 120 of the date or injury to receive Workers’ Compensation benefit, or, in the case of conditions incurred over time, with 120 days of the date of your diagnosis. However, it’s much better to report the injury within 21 days to ensure you get the maximum compensation for medical bills and lost income. If you’re not sure you’ve met the time limits, contact us at Going and Plank for a free consultation.

Fact: If you Have Contracted a Condition or Disease as a Result of the Environment at Your Workplace, You may be Eligible for Workers’ Compensation

If you have contracted a medical condition or disease as a result of exposure to unsafe working conditions or unsafe activities, you may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation. Occupational diseases can be caused by repeated exposure to asbestos, dust and air-borne particles, fungicides, gas, infectious agents, metals, noise, pesticides, herbicides, pressure, radiation, solvents, temperature, and vibrations. Many conditions and diseases can be classified as occupational diseases, including:

  • cardiovascular system disease
  • central nervous system disease
  • hearing loss
  • heart disease
  • liver disease
  • lung disease
  • mental health issues
  • mesothelioma
  • musculoskeletal disease
  • psychiatric diseases
  • renal disease
  • reproductive system disease
  • skin disease
  • vision loss

Fact: Workers’ Compensation is Usually Paid in Addition to Sick Pay

Worker’s Compensation claims are rarely paid quickly. If you need to take time off work because of a work injury, use your sick time and make sure your employer is notified in writing that you are taking sick time to recover from a work-related injury. (And keep a copy of that written notification.) In most cases, your Worker’s Compensation will be paid in addition to sick time taken. Union members may have alternate agreements in places, so if you’re part of a union, check with your union boss for details. If your employer is forcing you to take sick time instead of filing for Workers’ Compensation, contact the team at Going and Plank to ensure your rights are being protected.

Fact: Your Employer has a Worker’s Compensation Attorney Working for Them. You Should Too.

When Workers’ Compensation claims are filed, your employer’s insurance company uses an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney to protect the company’s rights and their financial interests. To make sure you aren’t deprived of your rights, and to ensure receipt of all wage loss and medical expense benefits you deserve, you should also hire a Workers’ Compensation attorney.

Workers’ Compensation cases can be complex, and the insurance company’s goal is to avoid payment of claims if possible. With an experienced workers’ compensation attorney on your side, you’ll be able to fight for the maximum compensation you deserve.

Going and Plank has over 35 years of experience representing Workers’ Compensation clients. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation on your case.

Fact: The Law Offices of Going and Plank Only Gets Paid if You do

Many people are scared to incur additional costs when they’re dealing with Workers’ Compensation issues. However, Going and Plank won’t charge you upfront fees for a Workers Compensation case. In fact, we don’t charge you anything unless you receive your benefits, compensation, or settlement. That means we’re interested in getting you the best settlement possible. Contact us to schedule your free consultation today.

What is a Personal Injury Lawsuit? And Should You File one?

By Dennis L Plank, Attorney

Personal-Injury-Lancaster-County-PennsylvaniaWhile accidents happen, not all accidents warrant a legal response. However, some injuries are the result of careless or irresponsible behavior. When people, businesses, organizations, corporations, or government agencies do not take reasonable care to keep people safe and free from harm, they are legally responsible when someone is hurt as a result of their negligence. When you or a loved one are injured because of someone else’s carelessness, you have legal recourse to seek financial compensation for resulting medical bills, expenses, loss of work, loss of future work, for resulting legal expenses, and in some cases, for pain and suffering.

What Exactly is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

When you are harmed in an accident and you believe that the application of reasonable safety measures could have prevented your injury, you should explore your legal options. Sometimes personal injury lawsuits require a trial, but more often, an experienced personal injury attorney can settle without a trial by negotiating a financial settlement early in the process.

In a formal lawsuit, an individual, referred to as a “plaintiff” files a complaint against the person, business, corporation, organization, or government agency that is responsible for their injury (the “defendant.”) Usually the plaintiff is represented by a lawyer, and the defendant often hires a personal injury attorney to defend them against claims.

However, many personal injury cases do not start as a formal lawsuit. A personal injury attorney at Going and Plank, for example, would pursue a settlement with the insurers or attorneys representing the defendant. A settlement is a form of negotiation, which allows the defendant to forgo a lengthy lawsuit in favor of the immediate payment of an agreeable sum of money. If a settlement is not reached quickly, sometimes the process is moved into an alternative dispute resolution process like mediation and arbitration.

What Kinds of Accidents are Eligible for a Personal Injury Settlement?

Many types of accidents and injuries are covered under personal injury laws, including injuries sustained in car, truck, motorcycle, bus, or bike accidents, including injuries sustained if you are a pedestrian. Injuries sustained as a result of drunk driving may also fall under personal injuries statutes. If you’ve been injured in a vehicle accident, we offer free consultations to evaluate your case.

Per Pennsylvania laws, your ability to seek pain and suffering damages in auto accidents, even those resulting in death, may be affected by the type of auto insurance you hold. Consult a Going and Plank lawyer for more details.

If you’re injured on public or private transportation including buses, trains, boats, or airplanes, you may be eligible for compensation. You should contact Going and Plank for a free evaluation of your case.

Personal injury claims can also be made if you have been hurt in an office, in a factory, on a construction site, or on any company-owned or government-owned property, including harm resulting from tripping, falling, or slipping due to incomplete or inadequate property maintenance, including potholes. In some case, attacks by domesticated animals are also covered. Going and Plank offers free consultations to discuss your case.

What Types of Injuries Qualify for a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

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Every case is different, and not all people who have sustained injuries will be eligible for a personal injury settlement. Some people realize injuries immediately, but others don’t realize the extent of their injuries until days or weeks after the accident. You should contact The Law Offices of Going and Plank in Lancaster to schedule a free consultation to find out if you can be compensated for the time and money lost as a result of the following types of injuries:

  • Bone fractures
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Development of back pain
  • Development of neck pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Nerve damage
  • Deep lacerations
  • Physical disfigurement and scarring
  • Severe burns
  • Cranial or skull damage
  • Brain injury, cognitive impairment, or harm to mental acuity
  • Loss of body parts
  • Damage to mobility or dexterity
  • Damage to eyesight
  • Damage to hearing
  • Dental damage
  • Injuries that prohibit you from doing your job, or require you to find a new profession
  • Death

How Quickly Must You Decide to File a Lawsuit? 

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases allows plaintiffs two years, from the date of the injury, to file a personal injury lawsuit. Often the extent and impact of your injuries may not be immediately apparent. That’s why Pennsylvania law allows 24 months to allow victims to assess the impact of your injury, such as long-term medical issues, loss of ability to work, money lost because of time off work, and medical bills.

However, if you are thinking of making an injury claim against a government agency, such as a city, a county, or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, exceptions apply, and the law is not as generous on timelines. You must file an intent to sue a government agency within six months of your injury or accident.

Does Going and Plank Offer Free Evaluations for Personal Injury Cases?

Going and Plank does offer free consultations to discuss your personal injury case. You can quickly get a sense of whether your case is valid, and what kind of compensation you may receive, without incurring fees or requiring a down payment. Our legal teams work on your case on a contingency basis. That means that if we take your case, you pay us with a percentage of the monetary settlement that you receive. If you don’t receive money from your case, you won’t be charged for the work done on your behalf. Contact us today to discuss your personal injury case, and make sure you’re compensated fairly.

7 Mistakes People Make When Filing for Divorce

By Robert M. Going, Family Law Attorney

Seven-Common-Mistakes-Getting-Divorced-Lancaster-County-PennsylvaniaDeciding to file for divorce is not an easy decision, and the process is rarely straightforward. Even small oversights or seemingly minor decisions can backfire. Maybe that’s why, at the end of a divorce, so many people have discovered that they’ve made mistakes during the process that resulted in more stress, lower awards, or more expense.

If you are one of the many people considering divorce in Lancaster County and surrounding areas, there are several common mistakes you can avoid to help you work towards the best possible outcome.

 

Mistake #1: Using the Divorce Process as a way to Extract Revenge

Many divorces involve some type of hurtful behavior on the part of one or both spouses. That’s why it’s completely normal to feel hurt and angry at the end of your marriage. However, being able to look at your divorce as a business deal (instead of a way to settle the score) can help speed through the process, save money, put less stress on your family, and still result in a favorable divorce settlement. A family law attorney from Going and Plank can advise you on strategies that can help you avoid an unnecessarily long or exceptionally confrontational process. We also help with child custody matters and agreements, and can even help you file for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order.

Mistake #2: Skipping the Separation Agreement

You might think that your divorce will be quick and easy and want to skip the trouble of filing for a separation agreement. Some couples rely on verbal agreements. However, a separation agreement is a legally-binding option that will ensure that finances, custody agreements, and spousal support is fully documented and enforceable. Separation agreements can help you map out who pays for the mortgage, car payments, insurance, and if you are the lower-earning spouse, can also set up alimony payments. Establishing guidelines for temporary child support before the divorce is settled can ensure your child’s basic needs are met, including food, clothing, housing, daycare, and medical expenses. A family law attorney from Going and Plank can mediate a separation agreement and can also lead you through the processing of filing with the courts for temporary support and custody orders.

Mistake #3: Forgetting About Investments and Retirement Funds in Divorce Settlements

While most people give a lot of consideration to the what will happen to their home, their children, and their property in a divorce, many forget to consider the division of non-liquid assets such as pensions, 401ks, 403bs, IRAs, life insurance, brokerage funds, and stock option plans. All retirement, investment, and insurance assets are communal property and should be addressed in a divorce settlement.

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Once the division of assets is decided, these types of transfers can be complex and require a thorough understanding of divorce and tax laws in Pennsylvania. Some funds can be transferred tax and penalty-free with a certified divorce decree, with assets require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order in order to allow tax and penalty-free transfers. Contact Going and Plank to help you identify and assess all of your spouse’s assets, and to manage the distribution of assets in ways that make sense with your goals.

Mistake #4: Guessing Your Spouse’s Financial Assets

In Pennsylvania, there is a commitment to the protection of the family unit, but, unlike some other states, Pennsylvania divorce laws do not mandate a 50-50 split of assets. Instead, the courts consider a number of factors when dividing assets, including the length of the marriage, amount of assets, age, lifetime earning abilities of each spouse, and other factors. The first step to determining how assets will be divided is to identify all marital assets including bank accounts, investments, trusts, insurance value, retirement funds, business valuation, and more. The Pennsylvania Rules for Discovery in Domestic Relations Matters allow for the process of identifying, qualifying, and determining the value of all marital assets. However, some people try to hide or divert funds to avoid sharing them in a divorce. While some people believe that hiding net worth only comes into play with high-income families, in reality, people of all income levels can try to hide revenue, ownership, shares in companies, retirement funds, or other assets in a variety of ways. Many times the other spouse may not be aware that these funds or interests even exist. A family law attorney from Going and Plank can search for these types of assets and ensure that you obtain a fair and complete assessment.

Mistake #5: Delaying Custody Agreements

When there are children involved, it’s important to think through shared custody arrangements early, even before your spouse has moved out. Using a lawyer as a mediator not only diffuses emotional reactions, it also gives you access to an experienced advisor who can tell you what is “normal,” what is unusual, and how other families manage shared custody and child support. Of course, every situation is different, and “normal” may not be right for your family. Contact us at Going and Plank to explore out your options, to help you compare custody arrangements, and to formalize your agreements in ways that are legally binding.

Mistake #6: Not Taking Social Media Seriously During Your Divorce

While social media has become an important part of many people’s lives, it can also hurt you during a divorce proceeding. Sharing your exploits, adventures, or otherwise trying to communicate that you are not hurting emotionally or financially from your divorce may feel empowering at the time, but those posts can work against you in court. During separation and divorce, it’s wise to reduce the amount of personal information you share about yourself on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This is not a good time to use social media to tell others about what you do with your time, where you’re going, who you spend time with, or even where you vacation. A family law attorney from Going and Plank can advise you on the best approach for your situation.

Mistake #7: Putting off Meeting with an Experienced Divorce Attorney

Whether you call them family law attorneys or divorce lawyers, this is the time to work with an attorney who specializes in divorce law to protect your interest and the interest of your dependents. At Going and Plank, we can help you during the separation and divorces process and can continue to represent you as you reevaluate custody agreements, child support, and alimony down the road. When you talk to our team at Going and Plank, we’ll help you understand the process, make sure you do everything needed to protect yourself, your assets, and the life you’ve built for yourself and your family. Once you file for divorce, a divorce lawyer will make sure you understand your options before you make important decisions. We’ll help you manage filing deadlines, help identify, and uncover, your spouse’s assets, advise on custody agreements, help you understand child support and alimony options, and help you deal with Protection From Abuse (PFA) filings.

While your finances may seem uncertain when filing for divorce, we’ll work with you to understand costs and fees and make sure that our services are formatted in ways that won’t cause undue financial stress. For many of our clients, our divorce negotiation services end up saving them money in the form of more favorable settlements. Contact us today to explore your options, and to talk more about your personal situation.

6 ways Many Employers Break the law (and What You can do About it)

Most people know they have some rights at work, but it can be difficult determining which actions are legal and which actions could give your employer a legal cause to terminate your employment.

While many employers understand and comply with labor laws, other employers regularly violate employment laws, knowingly or unknowingly.

The Law Offices of Going and Plank has put together a list of six ways that employers in Lancaster County often break state and federal labor laws. Review these infractions and see how your employer is doing.

1. Forbidding Employees to Discuss Salary With Co-Workers

Many employers either discourage or expressly forbid salary discussions among employees. However, employers are prohibited from imposing pay secrecy policies and cannot prevent most employees from sharing or discussing wages or salaries. The basis of the National Labor Relations Act is to enable employees to effectively organize or unionize by discussing wages and uncovering potential inequities, and the law applies to almost all types of workplaces.

2. Not Paying Overtime

Some Pennsylvania employers will tell you they “don’t pay overtime” to anyone. However, the decision to pay overtime is not decided by the employer, but mandated by law. Jobs are divided into two categories: exempt and non-exempt. If your job is categorized as non-exempt, your employer must pay you overtime (time and a half) for all hours you work beyond 40 in any given week. Additionally, you must be paid if your employer requires you to be on call or to respond to requests and calls after hours. And it is illegal for your employer to ask you to do any work “off the clock.” If you suspect your employer is breaking overtime laws, or shorting you on wages, contact Going and Plank to discuss your situation.

3. Reprimanding You for Complaining About Unfair Policies or Practices on Social Media

The National Labor Relations Act protects your right to talk to people about your wages and working conditions, and those rights extend to sharing this information on social media. The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly ruled that limiting or prohibiting employees’ ability to use social media as a communication tool violates the employees’ rights to engage in “protected concerted activity” and that workers have the right to say negative things about their jobs in public forums without risk.

However, you are not protected from posting personal gripes or making maliciously false statements about your employer or activities at your place of employment.

4. Treating Independent Contractors Like Employees, or Trying to Classify Employees as Contractors

Employers who use contractors instead of employees are relieved of the responsibility to pay benefits, vacation pay, unemployment insurance, or overtime. That’s why it’s sometimes tempting for employers to hire someone as a contractor, instead of as an employee. Contractors are not obligated to work on-premise or to be told where the work can be done, or during which hours it must be completed. A contractor is not beholden to a single employer, and cannot be prohibited from working for other employers simultaneously. A contractor employs their own staff and hires and fires their own staff without input from an employer.

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If you are a contractor, you should not have a business card identifying you as an employee of the company, nor should you represent yourself as an employee to potential customers or clients.

If your company controls when and where you work, does evaluations, or requests you to represent yourself as an employee to customers or clients, you’re probably legally classified as an employee. If you feel that you have been misclassified, contact the team at Going and Plank to discuss your options.

5. Not Following Employee Handbook Policies

Pennsylvania is an employment “at-will” state, meaning that an employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason, with or without cause, unless there exists an employment contract, law or public policy that says otherwise. An employee handbook may create an employment contract if it includes an indication that the employer intended it as such with acts such as including specific policy statements and not reserving any right to revise the handbook at any time for any reason. Some employers require employees to sign a paper saying the handbook has been received. Sometimes, the handbook is never provided, sometimes it is revised and updated versions are not provided. Sometimes employers violate provisions in the handbook, including pertinent and specific information about benefits, discrimination, harassment, sick leave, personal leave, and Family and Medical Leave policies.

Ask your employer if they have a handbook and request a copy. Spending time with the handbook will help you understand the benefits to which you are entitled and the best ways to deal with concerns,  conflicts or legal complaints. If you believe that the handbook creates a contract and your employer has violated that contract, then contact Going and Plank to discuss your options. To find out more about employee handbooks, read more by clicking here. 

6. Pressuring Employees to Promptly Sign Employment Contracts and Agreements

Many employees will be asked to sign a variety of employment contracts and agreements at the beginning of their employment or at different stages in during employment. These may include non-compete covenants, non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements, employee handbooks, and severance agreements.

You are legally entitled to time to review any agreement to ensure you understand it and are not signing away basic employment rights. Before you sign any employment contract, ask an employee rights lawyer from Going and Plank to review the contract in order to clearly identify the terms and any issues that may work unfairly against you. Don’t sign any employment contract if it contains any language that you do not understand!

What to Do if Your Employer is Violating Employment Laws

It’s helpful to start from the assumption that your employer does not realize they are breaking the law. Approach your manager and bring any concern that you may have to his or her attention calmly, in a non-confrontational way. For example, if your employer asks you to sign a contract by the end of the day, you can respond,  “I am legally entitled reasonable time to review a contract thoroughly, so I’m going to need a few days to look this over, is that a problem?”

If the non-confrontational approach doesn’t work, then it may be time to consult with an employment lawyer to explore your options. Contact the team at The Law Offices of Going and Plank to assist you in discovering and protecting your rights as an employee.

Retain an Attorney to Secure Your Business Contracts, or Theirs!

Business-Employee-Handbook-Legal-HR-Lawyer-attorney-Lancaster-PABy Angela M. Ward, Attorney

Lancaster County business is most efficient with sound contracts. Whether you are buying, selling, renting, merging, leasing, hiring, starting a new job, or starting a new partnership, a sound contract is at the heart of every important business transaction.

While many Lancaster County business agreements are sealed with an oral agreement and a handshake, it is much safer for all parties if they start with a more easily-enforceable written contract. A formal, written contract is an effective way to state the expectations of both parties, to clarify costs and deliverables, and to map out resolution strategies.

Sound contracts protect you and your business. While it’s tempting to trust in the good nature of your colleagues, employees, partners, or vendors, understanding the deal actually reviewing every part of a contract and obtaining advice on unclear terms is the only way to ensure mutually-understood performance terms and the consequences when those terms are not met. With sound business contracts and advice, both parties are protected from confusion, frustration, disagreement, and liability for breach of duties.

A Business Attorney can Help You Avoid Confusion and Problematic Clauses

While some businesses write their own contracts or get forms from online sources, it’s always a good idea to have a qualified business attorney, with experience in contract law, review contracts before signing them or before asking others to sign them. A qualified attorney can identify problematic causes that may be unclear, unusual, or that will not hold up to legal scrutiny.

The recent lawsuit from Penn State against former Coach Shoop highlights the issues of contracts with unusual or exceptional clauses. Penn State sued for breach of contract because Coach Shoop left before the term of his contract was completed. Shoop’s lawyers charged the terms were so unusual as to be unenforceable and won a countersuit. If the contract had been written more clearly, and with a greater consideration for conventional contract terms, the contract may have been more defensible when contested.

A Contract Lawyer Helps Identify Missing or Conflicting Elements

While the heart of an agreement is often straightforward – I do this, and you do that – the power of a contract often lies in the language around contingencies and legal protections. For example, if you create or sign a contract without a clearly worded dispute clause, you may find yourself in an expensive lawsuit. Well-written dispute clauses will clarify the dispute resolution process, and avoid unfavorable legal situations down the road.

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Non-explicit, default and dispute resolution clauses could cost a business thousands in avoidable legal fees.  In 2017 a Finnish company and a Pennsylvania biotech company found that their contracts had conflicting arbitration clauses. When a patent dispute arose, courts ruled that the PA business had to comply with the Finnish company’s preferred arbitration process, and dispute the patent before the International Chamber of Commerce. This unfamiliar, and expensive, legal venue resulted in enormous legal fees for the Pennsylvania company.

Have a Lawyer Look at Your Contracts

As a business owner or senior executive, you will be asked to sign contracts on a regular basis. You will sign contracts for everyday items like phone services and internet, but also be asked to sign vendor agreements, employment agreements, non-compete agreements, loan documents, leases etc..  While many business owners sign contracts quickly and automatically, reviewing contracts in detail is important. By using a lawyer for contract review, you’ll ensure you fully understand any unusual clauses, hidden terms that are buried in legal language, and consequences for an action you may take, such as terminating an employee, a service provider, or vendor.

In the world of contracts, understanding details is essential. Going and Plank can review contracts before you sign them, and help you identify unusual or potentially problematic language. It’s prudent to use the services of an experienced business attorney to review employment contracts, leasing or real estate contracts, home improvement contracts, service contracts, vendor agreements, leasing and purchasing agreements.

If you’d like to find out more about how Going and Plank can help you create, review, revise, or remediate contracts and contract issues, contact us for a customized approach to your business needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Questions to ask if You’re Considering Bankruptcy

Dennis-Plank-Lancaster-County-Attorney-PA By Dennis Plank, Attorney

If you’ve been struggling with a mountain of debt, you may be considering bankruptcy as one way to remedy your financial challenges. Bankruptcy is a good solution for many people in Lancaster County, but it is not right for everyone. Each person’s issues and needs vary, so you may want to consult a bankruptcy attorney before making your final decision.

As you consider your financial options, there are some questions many clients ask. If you wonder if bankruptcy is right for you, take some time to consider these questions, and see if they apply to your situation.

Will I Have to Liquidate my Assets if I Declare Bankruptcy?

Every situation is different, but bankruptcies usually don’t require you to sell everything to pay off debts. Much depends on whether you will file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcies. Your income and personal situation will dictate whether you qualify for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, but in both types of bankruptcy, certain classes of property are exempt. Contact the team at Going and Plank and we’ll explain how property is treated in bankruptcy, and give you all the facts before you make a decision.

Is it Too Late to File Bankruptcy?

People often wait to file bankruptcy, hoping they may be able to convince creditors to hold off until they can repay their debt. That’s why some people are surprised by notices of foreclosure, repossession or lawsuits. Even if you’ve been served notice, it’s not too late to declare bankruptcy. In emergency situations, Going and Plank can often file an emergency bankruptcy, that allows us to stop actions like foreclosure, repossession, eviction, garnishment of wages, or lawsuits. An emergency bankruptcy stops legal actions against you and allows you time to get all the required filings and paperwork in order.

Emergency bankruptcies can help you if you are facing;

  • Foreclosure

  • Car repossessions

  • Eviction

  • Garnishment of wages

  • Lawsuits

Contact Going and Plank to discuss your options, and find out if an emergency bankruptcy makes sense for your situation.

Can Bankruptcy Help Eliminate Medical Bills?

Over 700,000 households declared bankruptcies last year, and many of those were due to the financial consequences of overwhelming medical expense and long-term illness. Having health insurance doesn’t mean you won’t be hit with huge medical bills. If a wage-earner is out of work or ill for long periods of time, financial hardships can be multiplied.

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That’s why, after a major or long-term illness, some people find they are facing insurmountable amounts of medical debt. While medical debt can be reduced or even eliminated in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, in Chapter 13, it may be restructured into more manageable payments.

If you feel overwhelmed by medical debt, Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 may be a smart way to manage or eliminate debt.

Do I Have to Take a Credit Counseling Course?

The short answer is yes. No matter what type of bankruptcy is filed, Pennsylvania state law requires you to complete a credit counseling course with an approved agency. These mandatory courses are designed to help you evaluate and reformat your finances in ways that help you understand ways to pay down debt and avoid bankruptcies in the future. Going and Plank can connect you with a course that meets the state requirements.

What Happens After Bankruptcy?

Many clients wonder if they will be able to refinance mortgages or get a mortgage after declaring bankruptcy. Other are concerned about bankruptcy’s effect on their credit rating. The answers to those inquiries depend on the type of bankruptcy filed and if debts were eliminated or if a repayment plan was formed.

Bankruptcies do affect your ability to refinance a  mortgage or get approved for a new mortgage. As of this writing, you should be able to refinance or obtain a new mortgage two years after declaring bankruptcy, but underwriting requirements and legislation change frequently so this timeframe may change.

Your bankruptcy will be reported to a credit agency and can stay on your credit report for up to ten years. You will find that it will take time to regain a good credit score. But for many people bankruptcy provide a fresh start for their personal finances. By relieving some types of debt, eliminating some debt, and restructuring other types of debt, bankruptcy can give you the time and space you need to change your financial outlook.

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While it may seem like a bankruptcy lawyer is just another expense, an experienced bankruptcy lawyer is dedicated to helping you find the financial solutions that make the most sense for your situation. In addition to helping you through a complicated, paper-intense process, a bankruptcy attorney can steer you away from activities that may be seen as deceitful or fraudulent.

The team at Going and Plank can also help you determine which type of bankruptcy is right for you, help you protect your most important assets, and help you map out an improved financial future. Contact us today for a free consultation, and find out if bankruptcy makes sense for you

SSD Mistakes: Why Social Security Disability Claims are Denied and how to Appeal

Filing for a social security disability (SSD) claim can be a long and complicated process. It can be challenging to track and document financial and medical situations. Many people are confused by the requirements for doctor appointments, paperwork, and detailed medical requests. Even the most organized filers can inadvertently make mistakes that lead to a denial of SSD benefits.

If you’re getting ready to file a social security disability claim, or if your claim has been denied, this blog may help you understand why some denials happen. If the Social Security Administration has denied your claim, it’s important to file an appeal quickly. Dennis Plank, an attorney, and partner in Going and Plank with over 30 years of legal experience in Lancaster County, may be able to you help you fight social security disability denials. Mr. Plank shares his list of some common mistakes that sometimes result in denied claims, and explains what to do to improve your odds of winning an appeal.

Social Security Disability Claims: Common Mistakes, Effective Remedies

by Dennis Plank

Dennis-Plank-Lancaster-County-Attorney-PAApplying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits may be one of the most challenging government applications you ever encounter. In addition to requiring an enormous amount of paperwork, doctor appointments, and documentation, fraud is a perceived issue in disability claims. That means that the Social Security Administration is especially vigilant, and pays close attention to the details of every application. To make it even more complicated, the claims approval process allows government employees to factor personal opinions into their decisions. The result is that over 70% of Social Security Disability claims are denied. But don’t get discouraged. Many of these denials can be appealed and overturned with the help of a competent attorney experienced with social security disability claims.

If you’re filing for social security disability benefits, or if you’ve recently been denied, take a look at these common mistakes.

SSD Mistake: Not Following Your Doctor’s Orders

If you’ve filed for a social security disability claim, it is important to see a doctor, and follow their advice to the letter. Take extra care to schedule and attend follow up appointments. Make sure you carefully follow advice for physical activity, diet, and take any prescription medicines that have been prescribed. If you find that you have concerns about your doctor’s recommendations, or if you’re unsure about your physical, mental, or financial ability to follow your doctor’s medical advice, voice your concern with your doctor up front. If you encounter challenges with your doctor’s advice after you leave the appointment, promptly call the doctor’s office to let them know that you’re having issues with medication, diet, or physical activity regimens. Finally, If you don’t keep appointments or follow medical advice for treatment, it can affect your claim. The Social Security Administration may perceive this as refusing to improve your medical situation.

SSD Mistake: Continuing to Work Against Medical Orders

Many of us have a hard time making ends meet without a steady income. That’s why some people who are no longer able to do their job due to a disability still try to find some type of paid work despite medical orders. Others accept a position that provides short-term income but isn’t a long-term solution because of their disability. If you continue to work or take another job, even if you can’t keep that job long-term, the Social Security Administration may assume that you can earn a living and can deny your benefits as a result.

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SSD Mistake: Using Illegal Drugs or Abusing Alcohol

The Social Security Administration can deny claims if they believe that drug use or alcohol abuse a significant factor in your disability. Misuse of drugs and alcohol also reduces your credibility as a witness and make the determination process difficult. Additionally, drug and alcohol abuse are not considered eligible disabilities for SSD.

SSD Mistake: Collecting Unemployment

SSD applicants may need help paying their bills while they wait for an SSD claim approval. Some apply for unemployment as a way to bridge the income gap. However, unemployment is reserved for people who are actively job-seeking. That’s why the Social Security Administration sometimes denies claims to those who collect unemployment. If the applicant is receiving unemployment benefits, the Social Security Administration may assume that the recipient is ready and able to work.

SSD Mistake: Missing Deadlines

There are time limits on many activities and applications including when to send a document, how long you have to appeal a decision, and timeframes for requesting a hearing. You could risk losing benefits if you miss deadlines on any of these activities.

SSD Mistake: Making an SSD Appeal Without a Lawyer

While the Social Security Administration may tell you that you don’t need a lawyer to appeal a claim, many people fail in appeals because they didn’t understand the process, missed a deadline, made mistakes on paperwork, or allow their application to languish in approval. At Going and Plank, we’ll assess your claim, let you know if you have a chance at overturning the decision, make sure you’ve met all requirements, and coach you for your appeals hearing. And if we take on your case, you won’t be billed until you receive your disability benefits.

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If you’re serious about appealing your Social Security Disability denial, act quickly. There’s a 60-day limit on appeals. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

Lancaster Child Custody Lawyer Shares 5 Common Mistakes

Child custody proceedings can be an emotional process. The thought of losing time with your children can make you frustrated and scared. However, your actions will be closely evaluated, so it’s more important than ever to keep your cool and stay calm. Show your children and the courts that you are a dependable, level-headed parent.

Robert M. Going, Jr. is a child custody attorney with over 30 years of experience in custody cases in Lancaster County and throughout Central Pennsylvania. We asked Bob to share some of the most common mistakes parents make during child custody proceedings.

5 Common Child Custody Mistakes

by Robert M. Going, Jr.

Robert-Going-Plank-Attorney-CustodyI really enjoy practicing family law in Lancaster County. It’s important to me to help families through tough times, and I try to be the kind of attorney who is compassionate and caring. After all, when you’re dealing with the custody of your children, you don’t w­­ant to talk to a lawyer who is rushed, or who isn’t completely focused on you and your situation.

If you’re getting divorced or getting ready to determine child custody, you may have to fight through some tough emotions. While you may be tempted to give into a temper or make life tough for your spouse, that approach might actually backfire in the long-run. Sometimes good people let a bad situation get the better of them. But if you know the consequences of your actions, you may be able to make better decisions. That’s why I was happy to put together this list of the five most common mistakes people make in when dealing with child custody proceedings.

Child Custody Mistake: Being the One Who Walks Out of Your Martial Home

Every situation is different, but if you can be the one to stay in your home with your children, you may increase your odds of getting a more favorable custody ruling in Pennsylvania. Of course, if you or your children are unsafe, seek a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order right away. But if abuse is not a factor, staying in your home with your children often helps your custody case. If you must leave, try to do it quietly, respectfully, and without drama. Keep the emotional well-being of your children in mind. While cases vary, some judges prefer to keep the children in their current home with the parent who is residing in that home. Other judges will question the commitment of a parent who leaves abruptly, dramatically, or without consideration to the emotional well-being of their children.

Child Custody Mistake: Not Respecting the Rules

Temporary interim custody orders are often issued in Pennsylvania at the onset of a divorce or paternity action. That means you’ll have to abide by these orders until your official custody hearing is held. While the restrictions of shared custody can be difficult, even heart-breaking, you must follow these interim custody orders to the letter. Some parents are tempted to break the rules and take their children on outings without telling the other parent. Even if you’re just taking the children on a short trip to the park, or if you keep them an hour longer than permitted, you’re disobeying court orders. Custody judges are evaluating your ability to respect the other parent and the court itself. Violating the terms of custody, even just a little, may result in being assigned less visitation time, or even arrest. While following the court-assigned custody orders may be difficult in the short-term, it could help you gain more time with your children in the long-term.

Child Custody Mistake: Posting on Social Media

Social media has become such an accepted part of our lives that it’s sometimes easy to forget that what you say and show on social media can be shared with anyone. That’s why, during a divorce and throughout the child custody process, it’s important to be as respectful and responsible on social media as you would be in the courtroom. It’s almost always a bad idea to share rants about your spouse. It’s can also be harmful to share posts about how well you’re doing, showing yourself intoxicated, or showing yourself in a new relationship. Posting anything that could be seen as hurtful to your children or that portrays you as a less-than-ideal parent, even when you’re away from your children, can be used against you in court. Remember that, in Pennsylvania, social media posts can be used as evidence that you are an unfit parent. Sometimes your posts will be used intentionally out-of-context. Play it safe, and keep your social media posts very conservative.

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Child Custody Mistake: Refusing to Co-Parent

Divorces are rarely easy, and some parents will find it challenging to communicate calmly and rationally after a divorce. However, the Pennsylvania courts usually favor parents who place the welfare of their children above their own feelings. If parents can’t agree on joint legal custody, then a judge may favor the parent who has consistently made good-faith efforts to co-parent. The courts rarely favor the parent who refuses to communicate or the parent who is repeatedly angry, insulting, or unavailable. Custody judges tend to side with parents who make sincere efforts to be reasonable and cooperative. To improve your odds in a custody case, once you’ve decided to divorce, try to shift your focus away from the spouse towards the well-being of your children. Working with your spouse to provide the best life for your kids will not only impress the courts, it may make the process easier for your children.

Child Custody Mistake: Assuming Your Parenting Skills Will be Accurately Evaluated

In many divorce cases, one party may believe they are clearly the better parent. They think they will have no issues getting a fair custody ruling. However, child custody proceedings in Pennsylvania are not always straightforward. Even amicable divorces can become contentious when child custody is involved, and if your spouse retains a lawyer, they may gain an unfair advantage. Many parents are heartbroken when they realize their spouse has hired a custody attorney that portrays them as an unfit parent. Don’t be surprised by unfair evaluations. Hire a child custody attorney to protect your reputation and help you fight for your custody rights.

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Parents in Lancaster County and throughout Central Pennsylvania have relied on Going and Plank to help them successfully navigate the child custody process since 1956. Robert M. Going, Jr. has been practicing family law in Lancaster County for over 30 years. If you want to talk to a child custody expert, contact us at The Law Offices of Going and Plank today and schedule your consultation.

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