Protect yourself from dubious wills, living trust schemes

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One size doesn't fit all, especially when it comes to matters of probate and living trusts.

That's why the Probate and Trust Law Section of the Allegheny County Bar Association has teamed up with a veteran Common Pleas Court judge, the state Attorney General's office, a Pittsburgh law firm and a local trust company to conduct a free clinic on probate and living trusts.

It will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. March 31 at the Crowne Plaza Pittsburgh South Hotel at 164 Fort Couch Road in Bethel Park. The clinic is open to the public, but it will be limited to 250 people and reservations are required.

The clinic is being offered for two reasons.

There's a lot of confusion and misinformation about probate and living trusts.

And county residents, especially senior citizens, are being ripped off by con artists who are charging them thousands of dollars for "advice" and documents they may not need.

"Our attorneys see firsthand every day how important it is to get the correct information about probate and living trusts into the hands of our county residents before they make misguided decisions that could negatively affect themselves and their families," said attorney Christine Kornosky, who chairs the bar association's probate and trust law section.

Probate deals with the administration of an individual's estate and usually involves a will.

A living trust is a legal entity to which an individual's assets (bank accounts, securities, house, etc.) can be transferred and managed by a person, including the individual, or a corporation, such as a bank or a trust company. That individual or corporation is known as a trustee. The trustee manages the individual's assets in accordance with instructions in a trust document.

"That's the document unscrupulous persons, including some lawyers, are trying to sell," said attorney Scott P. Magnuson of Monroeville, who will be the clinic moderator.

One purpose of the clinic is "to show that there isn't a universal answer to a person's particular estate-planning situation," Mr. Magnuson said. "A living trust sometimes might be the best thing for one person, but it might be more expensive and a hassle for someone else."

Another purpose is to advise attendees "on how to guard against living trust scams," especially those that target senior citizens.

"It is important for consumers to understand that planning an estate and choosing investments involves many different legal, financial and personal decisions," said Attorney General Tom Corbett.

"Consumers need to gather as much information as possible about these offers and look beyond fancy credentials or high-pressure sales pitches [because] some of these 'consultants' are nothing more than sales agents looking to earn a commission on living trusts or investments that may be of questionable value," Mr. Corbett said.

Mr. Magnuson said the clinic will be presented in four segments, and that attendees will be invited to ask questions after each segment.

The clinic will open with a brief discussion of probate and living trusts by attorney R. Douglas DeNardo from the law firm of Rothman Gordon, and John Shaffer, president of Aligned Partners Trust Company, both of Pittsburgh.

Common Pleas Judge Frank J. Lucchino, administrative head of the Orphans' Court Division, will discuss the topics from the vantage point of someone who routinely sees them presented in his courtroom on the 17th floor of the Frick Building, Downtown.

Mr. DeNardo and Mr. Shaffer will then elaborate on some of the points raised by the judge and attendees.

Senior Deputy Attorney General John Abel of the Bureau of Consumer Protection in Harrisburg will emphasize how important it is for consumers to do their homework to find out who they are dealing with in matters of probate and living trusts. The bureau all too often hears from consumers after they've paid money for something they don't need and can't get their money back.

To make a reservation for the free clinic, call Marlene Ellis at 412-402-6651.

If you cannot attend, but would like to receive a copy of the bar association's pamphlet on "The Truth about Probate and Living Trusts," call the association at 412-261-6161.

Water service update

Julie Quigley, customer services manager for the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, said Pete Golovich soon will receive water directly from the authority's new 8-inch water main that runs in front of his house on 34th Street in Lawrenceville. I wrote about his problem with the authority in early January.

"That's great news," said Mr. Golovich, 76, a retired Iron City Brewing Co. employee. Although he lives alone in the last house of a quadplex, he has been paying a flat rate of $70 a month because his water service line was connected by what is known as a "party line" to the other three houses, each of which has been vacant for years. His bill now will be about $20 a month.

Ms. Quigley said the authority has to abandon the old water main, test the new one and then activate it by filling it with water. It may do so as soon as tomorrow. She said the authority already has run a line to the curb in front of Mr. Golovich's house, where it is connected to a service line his plumber installed into his home.

She said the authority will refund the money Mr. Golovich spent for a water meter ($170) and the tap-in fee ($175). She said those fees also will be waived for the owners of 10 other properties on 34th Street that are between Charlotte Street and Mulberry Way if they install new service lines within 90 days.

Mr. Golovich thanked Pat Kanavich of Senior Connection, a program that helps seniors in Lawrenceville, for contacting me about his problem, and Ms. Quigley for staying in touch with him as the work progressed.

Lawrence Walsh can be reached at and 412-263-1895. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every e-mail or phone call.


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