Chriswell Law Offices
Licensed in Pennsylvania State and Federal Courts
Born and Raised in Indiana, PA
(724) 465-5826
CALL TODAY
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Unemployment Compensation

If you have been terminated from employment or left voluntarily for a compelling reason, you should apply for unemployment compensation immediately. If you employer contests your right to unemployment compensation benefits, I can help. As your unemployment attorney, I will:
  • Explain the unemployment compensation laws in an easy-to-understand manner.
  • Give you an honest evaluation of whether your case can succeed.
  • Effectively represent you at referee hearings.
  • File any necessary appeals.
           

Client Testimonials

  “Marshall handled all legal matters regarding the closing of my home purchase. He was always available to answer any question I had and he displayed great patience… I highly recommend Marshall and I will be using him for all my legal matters in the future.” - M.M., a real estate client   “Marshall represented me in a real estate dispute against a very large global corporation. Marshall did a great job explaining the law, and his assessment of the case was right on. He’s not afraid to dig in and he never backed down from a very formidable opposition. Not only was a I satisfied with the outcome, but I was extremely happy. Marshall displayed both personal and professional counsel and his experience and skill made me feel at ease. I hope I don’t need legal counsel any time soon, but if I do, I know Marshall is someone I can trust to go to bat for me.” - J.C., a litigation client    We recently hired Marshall to write up our will’s, POA’s and to fix an issue with the deed to our house. We were THRILLED with his professional conduct and the way he easily explained everything to us. We were comfortable and trusting of his abilities…It was a very pleasant and easy experience. -J.B., an estate planning client    Marshall helped my wife and I put together a basic will and power of attorney etc. for our daughter last year. Neither of us are particularly knowledgeable about this sort of thing but he walked us through everything in detail and made sure we knew what was happening. He pulled everything together for us in no time at all and we were very pleased with the experience over all. He was very pleasant, knowledgeable and the office was welcoming. I felt like we made the right choice. - an estate planning client   Marshall represented my wife and for the closing on our house. He was highly professional and provided great insight throughout the process. There were a few obstacles we faced with the lending company, and Marshall worked through them with us and made the process easy. On closing date, everything was well organized and went very quickly. Will not hesitate to use in the future. -Steve, a real estate client   Always on the top of his game. Always one step ahead! I would hire again for anything I need an attorney for. I would recommend him to anyone! He is one of the best! -Lisa, a family law client    Finally an attorney who will listen and work with you. Very easy to with and reviews all material with you before presenting it to the courts. Very confident and reliable. I would highly recommend. -Lori, a family law client   I was very pleased with the service I got from Marshall in setting up my will and final documents. I also called upon him for assistance regarding my formal appeal on my reassessment situation. -Janis, an estate planning client   Attorney Chriswell represented my daughter in a child custody case in 2014. He is effective. I was very impressed with him. He was professional both in his manner and in the image he projects. He is respectful, understanding, kind, thorough, and knowledgeable. He helped us to maintain calm, level heads in a time of high emotion and kept us focused on our goal. This helped us keep our costs down as he encouraged us not to get carried away pursuing unnecessary actions. He regularly encouraged us to examine our costs and to keep them as low as possible. He also negotiated a custody agreement that we are happy with. I recommend him to everyone who can utilize his areas of specialization. I was also very pleased with the warm helpful attitudes of his office staff. -Lisa, mother of a family law client                     

About Us

The Law Offices of Marshall D. Chriswell is a general civil practice, which serves individuals and small businesses in Western Pennsylvania from its offices in Indiana and Clearfield Counties. I formed this law firm because I believe that a good lawyer should form a strong professional relationship with his clients, and be available to counsel them through all of the changes, good or bad, that come along in their lives. For this reason, I have developed my skills in a broad range of legal areas, some of which include: real estate, estate planning, business law, civil litigation, property disputes, divorce, domestic violence, custody, and support. For a list of some of the other issues I handle, see my Practice Areas page. Simply put, my goal is to be your lawyer for life. -Marshall Chriswell (bio)            

Child Custody

Nothing is more important than the well-being and happiness of your children. If are separated or divorced with children, chances are you are dealing with issues related to child custody. As your child custody attorney, I will:
  • Help you obtain a custody agreement or court order to provide certainty for you and your children.
  • Provide representation to modify an existing custody order.
  • Hold a parent accountable if they have violated an existing custody order.
  • Help parents obtain legal custody, primary physical custody, partial physical custody, or visitation rights with their children.
  • Assist grandparents in securing custody rights.
         

Child Support

Most divorced or separated parents in Pennsylvania will be forced deal with the issue of child support. Pennsylvania law requires parents to financially support their children based on the parents’ incomes and expenses. As your Pennsylvania child support lawyer, I will:
  • Explain the applicable laws and guidelines that Domestic Relations uses to calculate you and the other parties’ child support obligations.
  • Represent you at your support conference to obtain a just result consistent with Pennsylvania law.
  • Represent you at any subsequent proceedings, such as contempt hearings or modification conferences.
           

Child Support

Coming Soon!

Child Custody

Here are some answers that clients frequently ask me about child custody. These FAQs are provided for general information only and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. For a consultation, please contact us.  

WHAT TYPES OF CHILD CUSTODY DOES PENNSYLVANIA RECOGNIZE?

In Pennsylvania, there are two general types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right of a parent to make decisions for the well-being of their child, such as medical, educational, religious, disciplinary and social decisions. A court may award “sole” or “joint” legal custody. Physical custody is the right to have physical control of the child. A court may award a parent
  • Sole physical custody (where the child spends all of their time with one parent)
  • Primary physical custody (where the child spends the majority of their time with the “custodial parent”),
  • Partial physical custody (where a child spends less than 50% of their time with the parent, usually at designated times, such as weekends and holidays), or
  • Visitation (where a parent may visit with his/her child, under the supervision of the custodial parent or a third party).

HOW DO I GET A CUSTODY AGREEMENT OR CUSTODY ORDER?

Generally, to obtain an enforceable custody order or agreement, you must file a custody action in the Court of Common Pleas. If you and the other parent can come to an agreement, it can be written up and submitted to the court for the judge’s signature. If you cannot agree, then the court will usually require that you and the other parent attend court-ordered mediation and eventually a custody hearing. At the hearing, both parties will present their case, and any evidence. After the hearing, the court will make a decision and issue a custody order.

WHAT IF I HAVE A CUSTODY ORDER, BUT I NEED TO CHANGE IT?

A court can modify a custody order if your circumstances have changed, or if the original order is no longer in the best interests of your child. To obtain a modification, you must file a petition with the court, and usually participate in mediation and/or a custody hearing.

WHAT DO I DO IF THE OTHER PARENT IS NOT ABIDING BY THE CUSTODY ORDER?

You can enforce a custody order by filing a petition in court to hold the other person in “contempt.” If you are successful, the judge can order the other party to pay a fine, or submit to probation or jail time. In addition, the judge can order that the other party pay your attorneys’ fees for bringing the contempt petition.
           

Divorce

Here are some answers that clients frequently ask me about child custody. These FAQs are provided for general information only and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. For a consultation, please contact us.

WHAT IS A NO-FAULT DIVORCE?

In Pennsylvania, courts recognize two types of divorce, “fault” and “no-fault.” A fault-based divorce is where one person is seeking a divorce because their spouse has done something wrong. Grounds for a fault-based divorce in Pennsylvania include:
  • adultery
  • abandonment
  • cruelty
  • conviction of a crime (and 2 years or more imprisonment)
  • humiliation of the innocent spouse
  • bigamy
  A no-fault divorce (the most common kind) is where one or both parties state that the their marriage is “irretrievably broken.” If both parties consent to the divorce, it can be granted 90 days after the divorce action is filed. If one party does not consent, then a divorce decree cannot be entered unless the parties have lived separate and apart for a period of at least two years.

HOW IS PROPERTY DIVIDED AFTER THE DIVORCE?

In general, property accumulated during the marriage is deemed by Pennsylvania law to be marital property. Marital property is divided when the parties divorce. Property obtained prior to marriage is called “separate property” and does not have to be divided.  There are exceptions to this rule. For example,  inheritances by one spouse or property acquired after separation are considered separate property even though they were acquired during marriage. This can get complicated, particularly when it comes to investments like retirement accounts. Sometimes, spouses can agree on how marital property is to be divided, and they sign a property settlement agreement. If they cannot agree, the court will make this determination. In Pennsylvania, this process is called “equitable distribution.” The marital property is not always divided 50/50. The court will take into account many factors, including the length of the marriage, the relative earning power of the spouses, the standard of living established during the marriage, and and any custody arrangement.

CAN I GET ALIMONY?

A court may award alimony (also known as spousal support or maintenance) to a lower-earning spouse. Alimony can be ordered while the divorce action is pending (alimony pendente lite) or for a period of time after the divorce is finalized. An order for alimony is relatively rare, and usually for a short amount of time. However, if you will earn significantly less than your spouse, or you are unemployed, you should consider requesting the court to order your spouse to pay alimony.          

Divorce

Divorce is a very difficult decision, and the process can be overwhelming. There are many intricate legal decisions to make before your divorce is finalized. As your divorce lawyer, I will:
  • Help you through the process of obtaining a no-fault or fault-based divorce, whether or not your spouse consents.
  • Provide comprehensive advice and representation on a range of divorce-related issues, including spousal support (alimony), child support, child custody, and equitable distribution of marital property (and marital debts). Handle your divorce proceedings in an efficient and effective manner
  • Provide confident and compassionate representation
  • Represent your interests during and after your divorce to ensure that all outstanding issues are resolved
  • Help women re-take their maiden name after the divorce decree is issued
           

Protection From Abuse

A Pennsylvania Court can issue a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order if a person has been physically abused or put in fear of physical abuse by a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or a household member. A PFA Order is a powerful tool in preventing domestic violence; however, a wrongfully filed PFA can have severe and unjust consequences, such as separation from children, eviction, and forfeiture of firearms. If you have been the victim actual or threatened domestic violence, I will:
  • Help you file an emergency or temporary PFA petition to keep your abuser away immediately
  • Have the abuser removed from your home
  • Help you obtain a PFA “stay away” order that will prohibit your abuser from contacting you in any way for up to three years
  • Help you obtain temporary custody of your children
  If a PFA case has been wrongfully filed against you, I will:
  • Represent your interests at the PFA hearing, and make sure that the Plaintiff is forced to prove their case.
  • Help keep you in your home
  • Help you maintain custody or visitation with your children
  • Help you retain firearms or other weapons that you lawfully own or possess
               

Protection From Abuse

Here are the answers to some questions that clients frequently ask me about Protection From Abuse (PFA) cases. These FAQs are provided for general information only and should not be relied on as legal advice. For a consultation, please contact us.

What is a Protection From Abuse Order?

A PFA, or “no contact” order, is a court order that prohibits a person (the Defendant) from having any contact with a specified person or persons (the Petitioner) for up to three years. A PFA prohibits physical contact, mail, telephone or electronic communications, as well as contact initiated through third parties. It also prohibits the Defendant from possessing or purchasing firearms or other weapons while the PFA is in place.

Who can file for a Protection From Abuse Order?

A PFA can be obtained by a person who has been abused or put in reasonable fear for of bodily injury by a current or former intimate and/or sexual partner (including a spouse), or a member of the filer’s household. The person filing the PFA petition can also file on behalf of minor children and other family members who have been victims of domestic violence at the hands of the Defendant.

How do I obtain a PFA?

If you are a victim of actual or threatened physical abuse, you can obtain an emergency PFA order at anytime by contacting your local law enforcement and/or domestic violence shelter. The emergency PFA will usually be issued by a District Magistrate. The emergency PFA will prohibit the abuser from contacting you until the Court of Common Pleas holds a hearing on the issue. Once a hearing is held, the Court may issue a Final PFA, which will prohibit any contact for up to three years.

I have been served with papers to attend a PFA hearing, what should I do?

If you have been served with notice of a PFA filed against you, there could be serious consequences, and you should consider hiring an attorney. If a Final PFA order is entered against you, a “finding of abuse” can be placed on your permanent record for all to see. This can affect future employment, educational, business, and residential rental opportunities. Further, a PFA severely restricts your right to own, possess, or purchase firearms and other weapons.

Family Law

Dealing with Family Law issues can be incredibly difficult. As your Family Law attorney, I will guide you through the process and ensure that your rights are protected each step of the way. I handle a variety of Family Law issues, including: Prenuptial agreements Divorce Separation Child custody and visitation Child support Spousal support (alimony) Protection from abuse orders Division of marital property and debts  Prenuptial & Postnuptial agreements

Business Law

Whether you are just starting out, or your have an established business, it is important to work with a conscientious legal professional who sincerely cares about your success. As your business law attorney, I can assist in the following areas:
  • Forming a business organization, such as an LLC, S-Corporation, C-Corporation, partnership, or sole proprietership
  • Drafting or updating your organization’s constitution/by-laws, operating agreements, or partnership agreements
  • Change of business name
  • Fictitious Name registration
  • Operating your business in compliance with the law
  • Drafting contracts for various matters, including employment, sales, and service contracts
  • Purchasing or selling real estate interests
  • Buy/Sell Agreements
  • Creditor’s rights (i.e. debt collection) including Bankruptcy Court proceedings
                 

Contract Law

In our modern society, individuals and businesses enter into contracts on a daily basis. Often, people sign without thinking, much less reading, understanding, and negotiating. As an attorney specializing in contract law, I am adept at reviewing, negotiating, drafting, and enforcing all types of contracts, including:
  • Contracts for the sale of goods
  • Contracts for the sale of real estate
  • Contracts for services, such as construction or home improvements
  • Residential Lease Agreements
  • Commercial Lease Agreements
         

Landlord/Tenant Law

As your landlord/tenant attorney, I can assist either landlords or tenants with any aspect of residential or commercial real estate leasing, including:
  • Negotiating lease terms
  • Drafting leases
  • Resolving disputes between landlords and tenants
  • Protecting tenants from improper or unlawful eviction
  • Assisting landlords with the eviction process
     

Real Estate Law

In addition to real estate transactions, I also provide the following real estate services  
  • Easements/Right-of-way
  • Title review and opinion letters
  • Mineral Leasing, including Oil & Gas
  • Trespassing
  • Boundary Disputes
  • Property Damage
  • Quiet Title Actions
  • Adverse Possession Claims

Real Estate Transactions

Whether you are buying or selling a home or commercial property, it is important that you are represented by an attorney who is efficient and detail oriented. As your real estate attorney, I will represent your interests in any real property transaction, handling the entire matter from contract to closing. I offer a full range of real estate services, including:
  • Negotiating an agreement of sale
  • Handling your transaction from beginning to end
  • Ensuring that your financing (or refinancing) is handled smoothly
  • Performing title work and certifying good title
  • Procuring title insurance
  • Drafting and Recording the deed to the property
  • Conducting closing of the transaction, including completion of necessary HUD documentation, ensuring taxes are current, and necessary papers filed with the county recorder of deeds.

Real Estate

Here are the answers to some questions that clients frequently ask about Real Estate. These FAQs are provided for general information only and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. For a consultation, please contact us.  

I am buying (or selling) a property, why should I have an attorney?

An attorney representing a buyer or seller of real estate performs an integral function of the transaction, ensuring that the title is properly transferred, and that the sale is handled efficiently and effectively. Some of the responsibilities of an attorney handling a real estate transaction include:
  • review and negotiate the agreement of sale
  • carefully review the property records, including previous deeds, easements, mortgages, and other liens.
  • certify that good title passes to the buyer
  • ensure that the seller has the legal right to sell the property
  • advise the parties regarding how the deed should be worded, and draft the deed.
  • obtaining a title insurance policy where required
  • conduct closing and ensure the appropriate apportionment of settlement costs

Can a buyer and seller be represented by the same attorney?

It depends. There are situations where it is more efficient and cost-effective for both parties to be represented by the same attorney; however, in many cases it is prudent for the parties to be represented by separate counsel. Also, in some instances an attorney is prohibited from engaging in dual representation because it would violate rules of professional ethics.

 What are the differences between the common forms of ownership in Pennsylvania?

Sole Ownership – One individual owns a 100% interest in the property. Tenants in Common- A form of joint ownership where the joint owners each own a particular percentage interest in the property. When one owner dies, their percentage of interest passes to their heirs, who become tenants in common with the other owners. Joint Tenant with the Right of Survivorship - A form of joint ownership where each owner has the right to possess the entire property. When a joint tenant dies, his ownership interest passes to the other joint tenants. Tenancy by the Entireties – A form of joint ownership which may only be created by a husband and wife. This form of ownership is similar to Joint Tenancy, except that it also provides limited protection of the property from the creditors of either spouse.  Further, one spouse may not sell their interest in the property without the consent of the other spouse.  

Probate

Have you recently lost a loved one? Are you the executor, administrator, or beneficiary of an estate? The death of a loved one is an emotionally stressful and draining experience. As your estates & probate lawyer, I can help ease your mind during this difficult time by guiding you through the probate process, and effectively administering the estate in a manner that is both efficient and consistent with your loved one’s final wishes. Contact me if you need help with any of the following:
  • Letters of Administration/Letters Testamentary
  • Probate (Estate Administration)
  • Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Returns
  • Non-resident Decedent Inheritance Tax Returns
  • Medical Assistance Reimbursement Claims by the Department of Public Welfare
  • Representing Executors, Administrators, or Beneficiaries

Wills & Estate Planning

As your estate planning attorney, I will assist you in establishing a comprehensive estate plan designed to protect and preserve hard-earned assets in a manner that is fully consistent with your wishes. I am experienced in handling large and small estates, and I offer a full range of estate planning services, such as:
  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Durable Powers of Attorney
  • Limited Powers of Attorney
  • Healthcare Powers of Attorney
  • Living Wills (aka Healthcare Directive or Dying Declaration)
  • Elder Law
  • Transfer of Assets prior to death

Contract Law

In our modern society, individuals and businesses enter into contracts on a daily basis. Often, people sign without thinking, much less reading, understanding, and negotiating. As an attorney specializing in contract law, I am adept at reviewing, negotiating, drafting, and enforcing all types of contracts, including:
  • Contracts for the sale of goods
  • Contracts for the sale of real estate
  • Contracts for services, such as construction or home improvements
  • Residential Lease Agreements
  • Commercial Lease Agreements

Landlord/Tenant

As your landlord/tenant attorney, I can assist either landlords or tenants with any aspect of residential or commercial real estate leasing, including:
  • Negotiating lease terms
  • Drafting leases
  • Resolving disputes between landlords and tenants
  • Protecting tenants from improper or unlawful eviction
  • Assisting landlords with the eviction process

Real Estate

Whether you are buying or selling a home or commercial property, it is important that you are represented by an attorney who is efficient and detail oriented. As your real estate attorney, I will represent your interests in any real property transaction, handling the entire matter from contract to closing. I offer a full range of real estate services, including:
  • Negotiating an agreement of sale
  • Handling your transaction from beginning to end
  • Ensuring that your financing (or refinancing) is handled smoothly
  • Performing title work and certifying good title
  • Procuring title insurance
  • Drafting and Recording the deed to the property
  • Conducting closing of the transaction, including completion of necessary HUD documentation, ensuring taxes are current, and necessary papers filed with the county recorder of deeds.
  In addition to real estate transactions, I also provide the following real estate services  
  • Easements/Right-of-way
  • Title review and opinion letters
  • Mineral Leasing, including Oil & Gas
  • Trespassing
  • Boundary Disputes
  • Property Damage
  • Quiet Title Actions
  • Adverse Possession Claims
       

Contact

Phone:           (724) 465-5826

  Indiana Office (and primary mailing address) The Atrium, Suite 11 665 Philadelphia St. Indiana, PA 15701 (724) 465-5826   Clearfield Office 30 South Second St. Clearfield, PA 16830   View both locations on the map below.
 
 

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Landlord/Tenant

Here are the answers to some questions that clients frequently ask about Landlord/Tenant Law. These FAQs are provided for general information only and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. For a consultation, please contact us.  

How do I evict a tenant who is not paying the rent or has breached his/her lease?

Pennsylvania law has very detailed requirements for evicting a tenant. The landlord/tenant law requires that a landlord provide proper notice to the tenant (often called a “notice to quit”), and then file an eviction action in District Court. Unless you are an experienced landlord, you should consult an attorney to ensure that this process is completed properly and as expeditiously as possible.  

Can a landlord raise the rent?

Generally, a landlord may only raise the rent at the end of a lease term, or when there is no lease agreement in place.  

Can a tenant withhold rent?

Pennsylvania law permits a tenant to withhold rent if the landlord has breached the “implied warranty of habitability.” This warranty is breached if the property is seriously deficient, such as containing code violations or other problems that endanger the health or safety of the tenant.  

As a landlord, how do I find a good tenant?

Finding a good tenant is not always easy. Landlords should require all prospective tenants to complete a rental application. With the information provided in that application, landlords should verify employment, previous landlord references, and check the county records to ensure that there are no judgments, liens or criminal background problems present. Landlords may also want to employ a third-party to obtain a credit report for a prospective tenant, but landlords should consult an attorney to ensure that they are in compliance with applicable federal laws.    

Estate Administration (Probate)

Here are the answers to some questions that clients frequently ask about Estate Administration & Probate. These FAQs are provided for general information only and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. For a consultation, please contact us.  

What is Probate?

Probate is the process whereby a deceased persons affairs are concluded and the estate property is transferred to their beneficiaries. Probate is also known as estate administration, and it is managed by the individual or institution appointed as executor or administrator of the estate. Generally, the tasks to be completed during the probate process include:
  • Obtaining “letters of administration” or “letters testamentary”,
  • Providing notice to creditors and beneficiaries,
  • gathering, safeguarding, and keeping inventory of the assets of the deceased,
  • ensuring that all necessary taxes are paid, including death taxes and income taxes, and
  • distributing assets to the beneficiaries in a manner consistent with the wishes of the deceased.

Is probate complicated? Should I try to avoid it?

In some states, probate is an expensive, complex, and overwhelming task. This reality has led to a general public belief that probate should be avoided at all costs. However, in Pennsylvania, the probate process is generally inexpensive, simple, and straightforward. There is rarely a good reason to avoid probate in Pennsylvania, particularly because the effective administration of the probate process will extinguish the claims of creditors and help ease disputes between family members and other beneficiaries.

Who administers the estate if there is no will?

If the deceased person left a will, it will almost always name an “executor” who will administer the estate. When a person dies intestate (without a will), or when a named executor is unable or unwilling to serve, the Register of Wills will grant “letters of administration” to an heir, family member, or creditor of the estate. The person seeking to administer the estate must file a petition with the Register of Wills, and if there is more than one petitioner, the administrator will be chosen based on a statutory order of priority, starting with the residual beneficiary of the estate.

What is a revocable living trust? Should I have one?

A revocable living trust is an estate plan that is marketed nationwide by many businesses and attorneys. The main benefit of the revocable living trust is that, if executed 100% correctly, it can avoid probate proceedings. In Pennsylvania, unlike many states, probate is a relatively inexpensive, simple and painless process, and there is no reason to avoid it. Thus, a Pennsylvania resident is generally not served well by having a revocable living trust, which can be expensive and cumbersome to set up. Revocable living trusts do not save any taxes. Many salespeople sell these trusts with the false promise of tax savings, and it simply is not true in Pennsylvania. There are instances when a person should consider implementing a revocable living trust, but it is a very situation specific decision, which should be made with the input of a qualified estate planning attorney. Revocable living trusts are not a one size fits all estate plan.

What happens if an estate has more debts than assets?

If the assets of an estate are insufficient to pay its debts (including taxes and administrative expenses) the estate is considered “insolvent.” One of the responsibilities of an executor (or administrator) is to ensure that the debts of the deceased are paid. Pennsylvania law provides that debts should be paid in the following order of priority:
  1. The costs of administration (including filing fees, attorneys fees, the fees of the executor or administrator)
  2. The family exemption ($3,500 payment to a spouse, children or parents living in the deceased person’s household at the time of death)
  3. The costs of funeral and burial, and the costs of medical assistance provided within 6 months of death, and for payment of any employees for services provided within 6 months of death.
  4. The costs of a gravemarker
  5. Rent owed by the deceased for six months prior to death
  6. All other debts
If there are more debts than assets, the creditors are paid in the above order, and creditors which don’t receive full payment will be paid proportionately from the remaining funds. Neither the executor, nor the spouse or anyone is responsible for paying debts of the estates from their personal funds. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and if you are involved with the administration of an estate, you should contact an attorney.

Wills & Estate Planning

Here are the answers to some questions that clients frequently ask me about wills and estate planning. These FAQs are provided for general information only and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. For a consultation, please contact us.  

What is Estate Planning?

Estate Planning is the process of anticipating and organizing how one’s affairs will be handled in the latter years of life, and after death. The goal of estate planning is different for everyone. As a general matter, clients seek to:
  • Eliminate the uncertainties inherent in estate administration,
  • Ensure that their assets are transferred in a manner consistent with their wishes,
  • Reduce death taxes (including inheritance and estate taxes), and
  • Assist loved ones by giving them peace of mind and avoiding potential disputes after the client’s death.

What Should be Included in My Estate Plan?

Every estate plan should have at least three documents: a will (and/or trust), a durable power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney (including a Living Will, sometimes called a Dying Declaration). Some complex estates may require additional planning, but these documents are the bedrock of a solid estate plan.

I already have some estate planning documents. Do I need to have them reviewed by an attorney?

As a rule, you should review your estate plan with your attorney at least once per year. Why? Because your particular circumstances may have changed since you created your Will, Trust, or Powers of Attorney. At a minimum, you should have your estate planning documents reviewed when any of the following occur:
  • you become married or divorced,
  • a child or grandchild is born,
  • one of your beneficiaries or executors dies or becomes incapacitated,
  • you purchase or inherit significant property,
  • you experience a significant change in health,
  • you begin or end a business venture,
  • the purchase or sale of a primary residence

Why do I need a will in Pennsylvania?

Many clients are hesitant, understandably, to deal with the prospect of their own death. Further, many clients believe that because they do not have a large estate, they do not need to plan for their demise. However, in Pennsylvania, there are several reasons why it is very important to meet with an attorney and prepare a will while you are still healthy and cognizant enough to legally do so. First. if you pass away without a will, you will be considered to have died “intestate”, and your Pennsylvania assets will be distributed among your family members according to state law. State law requires that your assets be distributed to your spouse, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. depending on which relatives are still living at the time of your death. While you may want some or all of your assets to be inherited by certain family members, creating a will allows you to decide who will get your hard earned money and property when you are gone. Another good reason to create a will is that you will be able to designate the person who will administer your estate. This person is called the executor.  Often, you will also choose an alternate person to serve as executor if the primary executor is unable or unwilling to serve. Without a will, your family will have to decide who will be responsible for distributing property to the beneficiaries. This decision is a major source of family squabbles. By creating a will, you can do your family a priceless favor by taking this decision out of your their hands, and you will have peace of mind knowing that a responsible person of your choosing is handling your affairs.  

What is an executor, and who should I choose as my executor?

An executor is the person who is appointed to administer the estate of a deceased person (or “decedent”). The executor is responsible for identifying and safeguarding the decedent’s assets, paying off the debts of the estate, and distributing the estate assets to the beneficiaries in the manner provided for in the decedent’s will. You should choose as the executor of the estate a person that you trust and who is conscientious enough to see that your affairs are wrapped up efficiently. Often this will be a spouse, child, other relative, or trusted friend. You should also consider choosing an alternate executor, in the event that the primary executor is unable to complete their duties.

What will happen to my property if I die without a will?

If you die without a will in Pennsylvania, you will lose the ability to control who inherits your property. Many people believe that if they die without a will in Pennsylvania, all of their property will go to the Commonwealth. This is almost never the case. Other people are under the misconception that all of their property will automatically pass to their spouse or their children. This is not necessarily true. Under the law of “Intestate Succession,” the property of an estate could be transferred to a spouse, children, parents, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts or uncles. The only way to ensure your property is distributed to the loved ones of your choosing is to create a will. Please contact us for a consultation today.

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

A Durable Power of Attorney is a document which gives a trusted person (called an “attorney in fact”) the power to handle your property and finances in the event that you become incapacitated. A Durable Power of Attorney is an integral part of an estate plan because your attorney in fact will safeguard and manage your property so that it can be effectively used to ease the final years of your life, and ensure that as much property as possible is preserved for your estate, so that it can pass to your loved ones in the form of inheritance.

What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney?

A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document which appoints a trusted person (agent) to make decisions regarding your healthcare if you are unable to do so yourself. If you are unable to communicate your wishes, due to unconsciousness or any other reason, your agent will have the power to make decisions about what type of care you receive, including the hiring and firing of doctors and nurses, choosing medications, electing surgeries, and other healthcare-related decisions. Without a valid Healthcare Power of Attorney, decisions regarding your care could lead to confusion and squabbling among family members, and may cause delays or uncertainty at a time when you are most in need of effective treatment.

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will is a separate document from an ordinary will, and it is sometimes called a “Dying Declaration.” The purpose of a Living Will is to direct your doctors and other health care providers in the event that you become so gravely ill or injured that you have no hope of retaining consciousness. Most clients prefer to have a Living Will which directs doctors and nurses to provide hydration and pain medication to maintain comfort, but to withhold life sustaining measures, such as feeding tubes and respirators. A Living Will must comply with Pennsylvania law, and you should contact an attorney to discuss implementing one.  

Our Fees

Our office strives to provide quality service at a fair price. However, is difficult to estimate your bill before meeting with you and reviewing your situation. This is why Mr. Chriswell offers free or discounted consultations for most types of cases. Below are some of our more common practice areas and fee guidelines for each. Please keep in mind that the below prices and rates are not “quotes,” they are merely guidelines based on Mr. Chriswell’s past experiences. Each case is different, and fees can vary widely. Please contact us to discuss your case further. 

Estate Planning

1. There is no charge for your initial consultation. At that time, Mr. Chriswell will obtain pertinent information and review various estate planning options with you. This meeting typically takes 30 minutes. 2. Mr. Chriswell’s hourly rate thereafter is $150.00. 3. For some matters, Mr. Chriswell will be happy to quote a flat fee rather than an hourly rate. 4. Mr. Chriswell’s general estate planning services range from $75-$150 for a single form to $400 for an individual will package ($750.00 for married couples), which includes a simple will (i.e. no trust provisions or other complexities), financial power of attorney, living will, and healthcare power of attorney. However, depending on the size and structure of the estate, some clients will require  additional documents and services, such as the drafting of trusts and the transferring of assets.

Residential Real Estate Sales

As with all matters, Mr. Chriswell’s fees for residential real estate matters will vary depending on the amount of time he actually dedicates to the matter. Assuming that your transaction is for a single parcel of real estate, and there are no issues that require additional time or litigation (such as lack of good title, lack of legal access to the property, subdivision requirements, price negotiations, etc.), then you can expect Mr. Chriswell’s fees to fall within the following ranges:
  • For buyers: $550-$1,000
  • For sellers (deed preparation and document review) : $200-400
 

Contract drafting and review

Often, clients approach Mr. Chriswell to review a contract before they sign it, or to draft a contract for use in their business. For these one-time services, a rate of $150 per hour applies. However, depending upon the clients wishes and the scope of the work, Mr. Chriswell often works with clients to set an affordable flat fee.

Family Law and Civil Litigation

Mr. Chriswell handles family law issues, such as divorce, custody, support, and protection from abuse (PFA). Further, he handles general civil litigation matters. For these matters, he always requires an up-front deposit. Mr. Chriswell offers flexible billing options, and his rates for these matters are typically $150.00 per hour, but can vary depending on the complexity of the case.      

FAQs

For answers to frequently asked questions by clients, please visit the following pages:
Wills & Estate Planning
Estate Administration (Probate)
Real Estate
Landlord/Tenant
Our Fees

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Resources

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Business Law

Whether you are just starting out, or your have an established business, it is important to work with a conscientious legal professional who sincerely cares about your success. As your business law attorney, I can assist in the following areas:
  • Forming a business organization, such as an LLC, S-Corporation, C-Corporation, partnership, or sole proprietership
  • Drafting or updating your organization’s constitution/by-laws, operating agreements, or partnership agreements
  • Change of business name
  • Fictitious Name registration
  • Operating your business in compliance with the law
  • Drafting contracts for various matters, including employment, sales, and service contracts
  • Purchasing or selling real estate interests
  • Buy/Sell Agreements
  • Creditor’s rights (i.e. debt collection) including Bankruptcy Court proceedings

Estates & Probate

Have you recently lost a loved one? Are you the executor, administrator, or beneficiary of an estate? The death of a loved one is an emotionally stressful and draining experience. As your estates & probate lawyer, I can help ease your mind during this difficult time by guiding you through the probate process, and effectively administering the estate in a manner that is both efficient and consistent with your loved one’s final wishes. Contact me if you need help with any of the following:
  • Letters of Administration/Letters Testamentary
  • Probate (Estate Administration)
  • Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Returns
  • Non-resident Decedent Inheritance Tax Returns
  • Medical Assistance Reimbursement Claims by the Department of Public Welfare
  • Representing Executors, Administrators, or Beneficiaries

Wills & Estate Planning

As your estate planning attorney, I will assist you in establishing a comprehensive estate plan designed to protect and preserve hard-earned assets in a manner that is fully consistent with your wishes. I am experienced in handling large and small estates, and I offer a full range of estate planning services, such as:
  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Durable Powers of Attorney
  • Limited Powers of Attorney
  • Healthcare Powers of Attorney
  • Living Wills (aka Healthcare Directive or Dying Declaration)
  • Elder Law
  • Transfer of Assets prior to death
       

Practice Areas

Attorney Chriswell offers a full range of legal services in several areas of law. Click on the following practice areas to learn more about specific services provided by the firm: Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning Estates & Probate Family Law, including Divorce, Custody, Support & Protection From Abuse Real Estate Law Real Estate Transactions Business Law Contract Law Landlord/Tenant Law  

ShortCodes

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Attorney Bio

Marshall D. Chriswell is the principal attorney and proprietor of the Law Offices. He focuses his time on representing individuals and small businesses in a variety of matters, including real estatewills & estate planningprobatefamily law, and small business law. Mr. Chriswell was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. A graduate of Indiana Area High School, he obtained a B.S. in Political Science/Pre-Law from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Upon his graduation from IUP, he moved to Washington, DC to pursue additional experience and education in the field of law. In Washington, DC, Mr. Chriswell held positions with the well-respected boutique law firm of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto (as a legal assistant and later a law clerk) and the National Whistleblowers Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the legal protection of employee whistleblowers. Mr. Chriswell earned his Juris Doctorate at the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, graduating magna cum laude. While in law school, he served as an Associate and Senior Editor of the Law Review, and spent nine months as a law clerk to the Honorable Jennifer M. Long, Principal Administrative Law Judge at the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings. A firm believer in the lawyer’s duty of public service, Mr. Chriswell spent over 1000 hours during law school providing direct legal representation to many indigent and vulnerable Washington, DC residents. His efforts were recognized at the annual awards gala of The Olender Foundation, where he was awarded the Earl H. Davis Advocacy Award, along with a tuition grant. In conjunction with this work, he was also chosen as a recipient of an Equal Justice America Fellowship, during which he represented low-income DC residents in affordable housing matters and landlord/tenant disputes.

Mr. Chriswell represents clients in a civil practice with experience in the following areas:

  • Estate Planning
  • Estate Administration (probate)
  • Family Law, including divorce, custody, and support
  • Real Property transactions and disputes, including: purchase/sale/gift of property; easements/right-of-way agreements; Oil & Gas leases; rent-to-own agreements;
  • Business Law, including: Business formation or changes; fictitious name registration; debt collection;
  • Contracts and Leases, drafting and review
  • Creditor’s rights
  • Consumer rights
  • Employment Law
  • Landlord/tenant matters
  • General civil litigation

Mr. Chriswell is licensed to practice in the following jurisdictions:

  • Pennsylvania State Courts
    • Includes all Courts of Common Pleas, Orphans Courts, Magisterial District Courts, and Appellate Courts
  • U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Mr. Chriswell is a member of the following professional organizations

  • American Bar Association
  • Pennsylvania Bar Association
  • Indiana County Bar Association