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Monday, May 29, 2017

Disinheritance

Inheritance laws involve legal rights to property after a death and such laws differ from state-to-state.   Heirs usually consist of close family members and exclude estranged relatives.  Depending on the wording of a will, an individual can be intentionally, or even unintentionally, disinherited.

In most cases, spouses may not be legally disinherited.  Certain contracts, however, allow for a legitimate disinheritance, such as prenuptial agreements or postnuptial agreements.  These contracts are typically valid methods of disinheritance because the presumed-to-be inheriting spouse has agreed to the arrangement by signing the document.  

If there is no prenuptial arrangement, then the state’s elective share statute or “equitable distribution” laws protect the surviving spouse.  Pursuant to the elective share statute, he or she may collect a certain percentage of the estate. 

In states that follow “community property” or “common law” rules, however, the outcome may be different.   An attorney should be consulted for clarification of the differences in the law.  Divorces affect spousal inheritance rights.  Post-divorce, it is prudent to consult an attorney to draft a fresh will, in order to prevent confusion and unintentional dissemination of assets.

If the will is unambiguous, it is usually possible for a child to be disinherited.   It should be noted, however, that it is highly likely that close relatives will challenge or contest a will in which they have been disinherited.  Fighting such a lawsuit may put a great financial strain on the estate's assets.  Depending on how time-consuming and expensive it is to defend the will, less money may be available for distribution to the intended beneficiaries. 

There are ways to protect estate assets from such problems, for example through trusts.  It is essential for an individual to receive the counsel of a licensed lawyer in order to effectively protect his or her estate as inexpensively as possible.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Do I qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

Not everyone is eligible to have his or her debts discharged under Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  People with larger incomes will not be permitted to use Chapter 7 to eliminate their debts.  The test is that determines who is eligible for this form of protection is called the Bankruptcy Means Test.  The courts consider the petitioner’s income and expenses in order to determine if a petitioner qualifies.  The eligibility requirements vary from state to state.  But, the first step is always to determine whether a petitioner’s median household income is the less than the median income of a household of the same size in that state.  If this is the case, the test is passed and Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection is available.

Even if a petitioner’s income is more than the state’s median income, that person may still qualify for Chapter 7 protection.  If a person has income higher than the state median, the courts then look at how much of that income is disposable.  The court deducts necessary expenses based on regional standards to determine how much money a person has available to pay his or her bills.  Expenses that would reduce a petitioner’s disposable income include, but are not limited to, taxes, health insurance costs, unreimbursed healthcare costs, court ordered payments, child support, childcare, education expenses, charitable contributions, car payments, mortgage payments and costs for the care of an elderly, infirm, or disabled person in the petitioner’s household.  The information needed to make these determinations is submitted to the Bankruptcy Court in Official Form 22A, which is attached to every bankruptcy petition.

In the event that a petitioner does not qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, the Bankruptcy Court will not discharge that petitioner’s debts.  Bankruptcy protection may still be available to that petitioner under Chapter 13 which requires making monthly payments and adhering to a strict budget.  There are benefits and drawbacks to filing a Chapter 13 instead of a Chapter 7, but ultimately, those who do not pass the Bankruptcy Means Test may have no choice as to how they choose to file.  A lawyer will help to determine what expenses should be listed on Official Form 22A to make sure that as many options are available to his or her client as possible.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Top Five Estate Planning Mistakes

In spite of the vast amount of financial information that is currently available in the media and via the internet, many people either do not understand estate planning or underestimate its importance. Here's a look at the top five estate planning mistakes that need to be avoided.

1. Not Having an Estate Plan

The most common mistake is not having an estate plan, particularly not creating a will - as many as 64 percent of Americans don't have a will. This basic estate planning tool establishes how an individual's assets will be distributed upon death, and who will receive them. A will is especially important for parents with minor children in that it allows a guardian to be named to care for them if both parents were to die unexpectedly. Without a will, the courts will make decisions according to the state's probate laws, which may not agree with a person's wishes.

2. Failing to Update a Will

For those who have a will in place, a common mistake is to tuck it away in a drawer and be done with it. Creating a will is not a "once and done" matter as it needs to updated periodically, however. There are changes that occur during a person's lifetime, such as buying a home, getting married, having children, getting divorced - and remarried, that need to be accurately reflected in an updated will. Depending on the circumstances, a will should be reviewed every two years.

3. Not Planning for Disability

While no one likes to think about becoming ill or getting injured, an unexpected long-term disability can have devastating consequences on an individual's financial and personal affairs. It is essential to create a durable power of attorney to designate an individual to manage your finances if you are unable to do so. In addition, a power of attorney for healthcare  - or healthcare proxy, allows you to name a trusted relative or friend to make decisions about the type of care you prefer to receive when you cannot speak for yourself.

4. Naming Incapable Heirs

People often take for granted that their loved ones are capable of managing an inheritance. There are cases, however, when a beneficiary may not understand financial matters or be irresponsible with money. In these situations, a will can appoint an professional to supervise these assets, or in the alternative a "spendthrift trust" can be put in place.

5. Choosing the Wrong Executor

Many individuals designate a close relative or trusted friend to act as executor, but fail to consider whether he or she has the capacity and integrity to take on this role. By choosing the wrong executor, your will could be contested, leading to unnecessary delays, costs and lingering acrimony among surviving family members.

The Takeaway

In the end, estate planning is really about getting your affairs in order. By engaging the services of an experienced trusts and estates attorney, you can avoid these common mistakes, protect your assets and provide for your loved ones.

 


Monday, April 24, 2017

Immigration Bonds

Non-citizens believed to be in the country illegally can be taken into custody and held by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch. Just like in the criminal law system, detainees may be given the option to post a bond and be released from detention while they await judgment.

A bond is a monetary promise that the detainee will comply with the government’s demands and show up when required if they are released from custody. A bond is not a fine; it does not put an end to the issue at hand, it merely allows the detainee to live at home rather than in government custody while his or her case is processed.

Whether a bond is available and how much it will be depends on several factors. The minimum amount ICE can set for a bond is $1,500, but it can be set at a much higher rate as well. ICE will take into consideration the length of time the detainee has lived in the United States, whether he or she has family in the United States, the detainee’s employment history and criminal record, and whether the detainee has any past immigration law violations. There is no way to predict exactly what amount ICE will set a bond at, but an experienced attorney can provide a likely range.

If the detainee thinks his or her bond is too high, he or she can appeal ICE’s decision to a judge. Once the bond is finalized, it can only be challenged if the detainee’s circumstances change. For example, if the detainee has a criminal charge pending when bond is set that is later dismissed, the detainee can ask that bond be lowered.

While it is the detainee that might be challenging the bond amount, the detainee is not usually the one paying the bond. Immigration bonds must be paid by someone who is in the country legally. This can be a relative, friend or professional bondsman; it doesn’t matter as long as the person can prove he or she is in the country legally and can provide the government with a cashier’s check in the bond amount.

If all the government’s conditions are met, the bond money is returned to the lender at the close of the case. It does not matter if the detainee wins the case and gets to stay in the United States or loses and is deported; if the detainee always appeared when required by ICE, the bond money is returned.

If you or your loved one is involved in an immigration matter requiring a bond, contact an experienced attorney today.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Alternatives to Divorce: Collaborative Law


Let's face it:
getting divorced can be an emotionally charged experience, particularly if the proceedings become contentious. One way to avoid the acrimony that can arise in a marital breakup is by pursuing an approach known a collaborative law divorce.

Collaborative Law at a Glance

There are three overarching principles of a collaborative divorce. First, this approach is designed to avoid litigation and intervention by the courts. Further, the parties must engage in a good faith exchange of information and evidence without going through a formal discovery process. Finally, the parties must agree to communicate in a manner that will advance the highest priorities of the divorce.

This approach involves the considerations typically associated with divorce, such as the division of property, spousal maintenance, child custody and child support. The divorcing spouses and their respective attorneys must agree in writing to not litigate the matter and to negotiate a settlement, however. A collaborative law divorce is unique in that it relies on an interdisciplinary approach in which other professionals, such as psychologists, child specialists, accountants and other financial experts collaborate with the attorneys.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the parties can still take the case to court, but they both must replace their attorneys.  Moreover, if either party violates the principles by hiding assets, lying about relevant information or acting in bad faith, the attorneys can withdraw from the proceeding.

In the end, this alternative approach to divorce provides an opportunity for the parties to resolve their differences fairly, honestly and expediently. Because this process avoids spending time in court hearings, trials and filing motions, it is also less costly that a traditional divorce. A collaborative law divorce can ideally protect children from the emotional harm that often arises in a parental conflict, and restore family unity and harmony. By engaging the services of an attorney with experience in collaborative law, you can find a way to respectfully end your marriage and move on with your life.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Making Decisions About End of Life Medical Treatment

While advances in medicine allow people to live longer, questions are often raised about life-sustaining treatment terminally ill patients may or may not want to receive. Those who fail to formally declare these wishes in writing to family members and medical professionals run the risk of having the courts make these decisions.

For this reason, it is essential to put in place advance medical directives to ensure that an individual's preferences for end of life medical care are respected. There are two documents designed for these purposes, a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) and a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST).

What is a DNR?

A Do Not Resuscitate Oder alerts doctors, nurses and emergency personnel that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should not be used to keep a person alive in case of a medical emergency. A DNR is frequently used along with other advance medical directives by those who are critically ill and prefer not to receive life sustaining treatment.

What is a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST)?

A Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment is similar to a DNR,  however a POLST is prepared by a patient's doctor after discussing end of life treatment options. This is not a legal document prepared by an attorney, but rather a binding doctor's order that is kept with a patient's medical records. A POLST declares a patient's preference for receiving certain life sustaining treatments, as well as treatment options the patient does not want to receive or to be continued.

Examples of these treatments include, but are not limited to, artificial nutrition and hydration, intubation and antibiotic use. These decisions should be made when there is no medical crisis that can affect an individual's decision making, after various treatment options have been discussed with his or her doctor. In short, a POLST ensures that a patient will receive appropriate treatments, but not be subjected to life sustaining measures the patient does not want.

By having these advance medical directives in place, a person can have peace of mind knowing that he or she will receive end of life treatment according to his or her wishes, and loved ones will not be forced to go to court to obtain the right make these decisions.

 


Monday, March 27, 2017

Five Assets That Won’t Be Taken by the Bankruptcy Court

When a person files for bankruptcy protection, his or her assets must be collected by the bankruptcy trustee and liquidated to reimburse debtors before the petitioner’s debts can be discharged. In order to keep bankruptcy petitioners from falling below the poverty line, there are certain assets that can be retained as exempt. This is not an exhaustive list, but covers the most commonly used federal bankruptcy exemptions.

1. Homestead exemption: If a bankruptcy petitioner owns a home, he or she may protect up to $22,975.00 worth of equity in the home. If the home does not have $22,975.00 worth of equity, a bankruptcy petitioner may only claim as exempt the amount of equity available to claim. Those petitioners who do not own homes do not have the benefit of claiming the homestead exemption. Some states allow petitioners to exempt the entire value of his or her home’s equity, no matter how large.

2. Vehicle exemption: Throughout much of the country, it is difficult to work or earn money without an automobile. Federal law allows a person to keep his or her automobile with a value up to $3,675. If the car is worth more than the amount allowed by the exemption, an individual may seek additional funds from other exemptions to keep the asset. Alternatively, the vehicle will be sold and the exemption amount given to the petitioner.

3. Personal property exemptions: These include $1,550.00 for jewelry, $2,300.00 for specialized tools and educational materials related to employment, and $12,250.00 for household goods, appliances, furnishings, clothing, etc.

4. Personal Injury exemption: The proceeds of a personal injury award may be held as exempt up to $22,975.00.

5. Wildcard exemption: A person is permitted to exempt as much as $1,225.00 for any other property he or she wants to keep after the bankruptcy above the other exemptions. This can be applied to increase the amount permissible to another exemption, most commonly the vehicle exemption. If the petitioner so chooses, he or she may opt to use the exemption on liquid assets, leaving the petitioner with more cash on hand after the bankruptcy is complete.

States may make other exemptions available or use different values than the federal exemptions. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow petitioners to use these exemptions.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Wrongful Birth and Wrongful Life

Children who are born with significant disabilities or birth defects often experience pain and suffering, and caring for them can be an emotional and financial burden for the parents. Today, medical advances allow medical professionals to conduct genetic tests on parents to determine if they are carrying certain genes as well as prenatal tests to determine if those genes have been passed on to the unborn child.

Wrongful Birth

When a serious condition is identified, the parents have the option to terminate the pregnancy. If a medical processional fails to properly diagnose a child or provide reasonable genetic counseling about the risks of a birth defect to the parents, they may be able to pursue a wrongful birth lawsuit. In order to have grounds for a lawsuit, the parents must show that they would have terminated the pregnancy or would have elected not to conceive had they known of the potential risk.

In a successful wrongful birth claim the parents may be awarded damages that are directly related to the birth defects, such as the cost of caring for the child. Although wrongful birth is a valid claim is some states, it is not recognized by all.

Wrongful Life

A wrongful life suit can also be filed by a child who has suffered with severe birth defects due to a negligent diagnosis.Elements similar to those for wrongful birth need to be proven in a wrongful life claim, but many states do not recognize these claims.  Moreover, courts have been hesitant to award damages in these cases due the complexities associated with determining an appropriate amount of compensation.

Ultimately, wrongful birth and wrongful life claims involve complex legal and ethical issues, and pursuing these claims can be an emotional burden for the parents. If you are struggling to care for a child with special needs, an experienced personal injury attorney can help determine whether you have a valid claim.

 


Monday, March 13, 2017

What are the restrictions on an H2A visa?

 

The H2A visa is available for employers to bring in foreign nationals in order to fill temporary agricultural jobs. A prospective employer must make an application on the employee’s behalf by filling out form I-129. In order to obtain an H2A visa, the employer must be able to stipulate that the position to be filled is temporary or seasonal in nature and that there are not sufficient American citizens willing, able, and qualified to perform the temporary work. Furthermore, the employment of foreign nationals must not adversely affect the wages or working conditions of American workers. In addition, the petitioner must be in possession of a temporary labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The issuance of H2A visas is limited to nationals from 68 approved countries.  An individual may stay in the United States and work under the temporary visa only for the period of time authorized in the employer’s temporary labor certification, which varies from one employer to another.  If the need for employees is greater than anticipated, an employer may apply for an extension for his or her employees under the H2A program. Each extension lasts one year and the maximum stay permitted under this classification is three years. After this, in order to reapply for H2A status, an individual must leave the United States for 3 uninterrupted months before being allowed to return to work in the United States.  Employers are responsible for providing adequate housing for the workers and to provide transportation to and from the workers’ home countries. There is no cap on the number of H2A visas available annually or on the number of H2A visas allowed for any particular country.

H2A recipients are not residents and they are not immigrants.  There is no path to a green card with a H2A visa. Recipients are required to work during their stay. If their employment ends for any reason, their visa expires. They may leave the country and return, but only if authorized by their employer. If they desire to bring family members with them into this country, they must apply separately for an H4 visa. Family members who are recipients of such H4 visas, however, are not permitted to work during their stay in the United States.

It is not only desirable, but also necessary, to consult with an experienced immigration attorney well versed in the complexities of immigration law before submitting an application. Without such assistance, it is extremely difficult to fully understand the limitations and restrictions on any type of visa.


Monday, February 20, 2017

What happens when a creditor doesn’t comply with the automatic stay in bankruptcy?


When a bankruptcy petition
is filed in the United States, the bankruptcy court issues an automatic stay on all collection activities against the individual who filed the petition. This means that any person or company who holds a debt against the petitioner is prohibited from seeking payment of the debt in any form or from repossessing the asset against which the debt is leveraged. This is designed to preserve the role of the bankruptcy court to consolidate and liquidate a petitioner’s assets as necessary to make creditors whole, as well as its responsibility to discharge certain debts at the end of a bankruptcy.

When a creditor continues to make collection efforts after an automatic stay has been granted, it can be penalized by the bankruptcy court. The court may award a bankruptcy petitioner punitive damages and attorney’s fees for the creditor’s noncompliance with the stay. In order to do this, a petitioner must advise his or her attorney of the violation and ask to file a motion to enforce the stay. The more flagrant the violation, the more money might be awarded in punitive damages. A single collection call is less flagrant than the filing of a lawsuit to collect the owed amount. It is not necessary to send notice of the bankruptcy to the creditor, as all creditors are notified by the bankruptcy court at the inception of each case. If the collection attempt was made by a third-party debt collector, an attorney might be able to make a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or the FDCPA.

There are many cases , however, when such a motion will not be successful. Sometimes, a creditor asks the court for permission to lift the stay where the debt owed is secured and a debtor is behind on payments. If proper paperwork is not completed within 30 days of a petitioner’s filing, the automatic stay may be lifted without any requests being filed with the court. A specific request for the stay to continue must be filed for some petitioners who have previously filed for bankruptcy. Court actions for child support, alimony, taxes, and certain evictions may proceed even though a stay was issued. 


Monday, February 13, 2017

Responsibilities and Obligations of the Executor/ Administrator

 

When a person dies with a will in place, an executor is named as the responsible individual for winding down the decedent's affairs. In situations in which a will has not been prepared, the probate court will appoint an administrator. Whether you have been named  as an executor or administrator, the role comes with certain responsibilities including taking charge of the decedent's assets, notifying beneficiaries and creditors, paying the estate's debts and distributing the property to the beneficiaries.

In some cases, an executor may also be a beneficiary of the will, however he or she must act fairly and in accordance with the provisions of the will. An executor is specifically responsible for:

  • Finding a copy of the will and filing it with the appropriate state court

  • Informing third parties, such as banks and other account holders, of the person’s death

  • Locating assets and identifying debts

  • Providing the court with an inventory of these assets and debts

  • Maintaining any assets until they are disposed of

  • Disposing of assets either through distribution or sale

  • Satisfying any debts

  • Appearing in court on behalf of the estate

Depending on the size of the estate and the way in which the decedent's assets were titled, the will may need to be probated. If the estate must go through s probate proceeding, the executor must file with the court to probate the will and be appointed as the estate's legal representative.

By doing so, the executor can then pay all of the decedent's outstanding debts and distribute the property to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. The executor is also is also responsible for filing all federal and state tax returns for the deceased person as well as estate taxes, if any. Lastly, an executor may be entitled to compensation for the time he or she served the estate. If the court names an administrator, this individual will have similar responsibilities.

In the end, being name an executor or appointed as an administrator ultimately means supporting the overall goal of distributing the estate assets according to wishes of the deceased or state law. In either case, an experienced probate or estate planning attorney can help you carry out these duties.


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