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Thursday, October 30, 2014

When will I receive my inheritance?

If you’ve been named a beneficiary in a loved one’s estate plan, you’ve likely wondered how long it will take to receive your share of the inheritance after his or her passing.  Unfortunately, there’s no hard or and fast rule that allows an estate planning attorney to answer this question. The length of time it takes to distribute assets in an estate can vary widely depending upon the particular situation.

Some of the factors that will be involved in determining how long it takes to fully administer an estate include whether the estate must be probated with the court, whether assets are difficult to value, whether the decedent had an ownership interest in real estate located in a state other than the state they resided in, whether your state has a state estate (or inheritance) tax, whether the estate must file a federal estate tax return, whether there are a number of creditors that must be dealt with, and of course, whether there are any disputes about the will or trust and if there may be disagreements among the beneficiaries about how things are being handled by the executor or trustee.

Before the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, the executor and trustee must also make certain to identify any creditors because they have an obligation to pay any legally enforceable debts of the decedent with those assets. If there must be a court filed probate action there may be certain waiting periods, or creditor periods, prescribed by state law that may delay things as well and which are out of the control of the executor of the estate.

In some cases, the executor or trustee may make a partial distribution to the beneficiaries during the pending administration but still hold back sufficient assets to cover any income or estate taxes and other administrative fees. That way the beneficiaries can get some benefit but the executor is assured there are assets still in his or her control to pay those final taxes and expenses. Then, once those are fully paid, a final distribution can be made. It is not unusual for the entire process to take 9 months to 18 months (sometime more) to fully complete.

If you’ve been named a beneficiary and are dealing with a trustee or executor who is not properly handling the estate and you have yet to receive your inheritance, you should contact a qualified estate planning attorney for knowledgeable legal counsel.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What’s really covered on your homeowners insurance policy?

 A solid homeowners insurance policy can provide peace of mind about securing one of your most valuable assets. Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t fully grasp what exactly is covered under that policy, and most importantly, what isn’t.


Homeowners insurance policies generally cover your home itself and other physical structures on the property. Your personal belongings also fall under most policies, along with property damage and bodily injury sustained by you or others on your property. You, your spouse and children, and any guests, tenants, or employees in your home can all be covered under this policy, just be sure to check when you purchase the policy.

Sounds like they’ve got you covered, right? Not so fast; there are a number of possible perils that are often not covered under basic homeowners insurance. Knowing what falls into this category can save you a lot of time and trauma if you ever experience one of these situations in the future.

The two main exceptions are earthquake and flood damage. The impacts of these natural disasters would not be covered by your standard policy. Earthquake insurance and coverage for some types of water damage can often be purchased as an addendum, but flood insurance must be purchased on its own as a separate policy.

Further, standard policies don’t cover damages to your building as a result of your failure to perform regular maintenance on your property. Insect, bird, or rodent damage, rust, mold, and any kind of wear and tear on your property is typically not covered. Neither are hidden defects, mechanical breakdowns, or food spoilage in the event of a power outage. Though there is no current concern for this, damage caused by war or nuclear exposure is also not covered.

Some things have minimal coverage built into your standard policy, for which you can purchase additional coverage as an addendum. Valuable property, including firearms, jewelry, silverware, etc., is usually covered by a standard $1,000. Insurance for replacement value of lost or damaged property is usually determined on an itemized basis that takes depreciation into account. You can expand this coverage by paying to remove depreciation from consideration.  Liability coverage can be increased if desired as well.

These should serve as general guidelines for your homeowners insurance, but be sure to consider the details on your specific policy.  It’s important to consider exactly what you have covered in order to determine what additional types of insurance you may want to purchase.

 


Sunday, October 5, 2014

What Bankruptcy Cannot Do?

Bankruptcy is an avenue to debt relief for many Americans, allowing them to get a fresh start and improve their financial well-being.  Some people are under the impression that bankruptcy is a cure for all of their financial problems.  This is not the case.  There are certain things that filing for bankruptcy cannot do.

Bankruptcy will not rid you of secured creditors unless you pay at least part of what you owe.  A secured creditor is one that has a security interest or a right to property that served as collateral for a debt.  Bankruptcy might allow you to pay a portion of your debt instead of paying it in full and it may enable you to pay them back over time.  But, if the debt is a secured one, the creditor will receive some form of payment.

Co-signors are not protected by bankruptcy.  If someone co-signed on a loan, financing agreement or other debt for you, bankruptcy cannot protect them.  They are not released from liability to pay back the debt because you filed for bankruptcy.  They will most likely still be responsible for payment.

Bankruptcy cannot be used to relieve you from debts incurred after filing for bankruptcy.  If you incur new debts after the date of your filing, you will be fully responsible for them.

Certain types of debts are not covered by bankruptcy.  These are called non-dischargeable debts and include student loans, most tax obligations, domestic support obligations and judgments for personal injury or death due to driving while intoxicated.  Even bankruptcy cannot relieve you of these debts, if you are currently responsible for them.

If you have been considering bankruptcy and believe that it is the answer to all of your financial problems, you should be cautious.  There is no magic cure to all of your financial woes and one will certainly not be found in bankruptcy.  But, if you qualify, bankruptcy can help you get back on your feet and give you some relief from the debts that are making your life miserable.  Successfully filing for bankruptcy requires the advice of an experienced attorney.  Contact a qualified bankruptcy attorney for a consultation today.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Protecting the Rights of Parents with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, recognized the civil rights of a large class of citizens with physical and mental disabilities by making it illegal to discriminate against them in employment, transportation or public services and accommodations. Since its enactment, much progress has been made, enabling people with disabilities to obtain an education, pursue a career, live independent lives and fulfill their dreams. 

Despite this progress, people with disabilities who have children are more likely to have their parental rights terminated or lose custody after a divorce. 

Discrimination in the Courts

These discriminatory actions are often justified on the grounds that the courts are protecting the best interests of the child, but there is little research to support the assumption that someone who is disabled is incapable of being a good parent. In fact, according to advocacy groups there are likely more than 4 million parents with physical disabilities currently raising children. 

Most family courts work diligently to provide services and support to ensure that children maintain contact with their parents whenever possible. This is not always the case when disability is involved. There have been cases where disabled parents have not been allowed to bring their newborns home and the state subsequently filed to have their parental rights revoked, even in the absence of evidence of abuse or maltreatment. The presumption is that the disability endangers the welfare of the child. Currently, two thirds of the states have laws permitting the removal of children based on the disabled status of the parent.

Disadvantage in Custody Cases

Parents with disabilities are also at a disadvantage in custody cases, particularly if the ex-spouse does not have a disability. Competent parents with special disabilities require knowledgeable advocates who can demonstrate that they are able to effectively carry out their parenting duties in their own adaptive ways.

Fighting Discriminatory Practices

Advocates for the legal rights of parents with disabilities are waiting for a landmark trial that halts the discrimination suffered by parents with disabilities and protects their rights to have and raise children. While everyone agrees that children should not be exposed to a hazardous environment, decisions to remove children from homes where a parent is deaf or has a low IQ are often made by individuals who fail to grasp the remarkable capabilities of such parents despite their significant handicaps. More education on disability issues is needed at all levels of the child welfare and family court systems. At the same time, parents with disabilities must have better access to fair legal representation and support services. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

A Shared Home but Not a Joint Deed

Many people erroneously assume that when one spouse dies, the other spouse receives all of the remaining assets; this is often not true and frequently results in unintentional disinheritance of the surviving spouse.

In cases where a couple shares a home but only one spouse’s name is on it, the home will not automatically pass to the surviving person, if his or her name is not on the title. Take, for example, a case of a husband and wife where the husband purchased a home prior to his marriage, and consequently only his name is on the title (although both parties resided there, and shared expenses, during the marriage). Should the husband pass away before his wife, the home will not automatically pass to her by “right of survivorship”. Instead, it will become part of his probate estate. This means that there will need to be a court probate case opened and an executor appointed. If the husband had a will, the executor would be the person he nominated in his will who would carry out the testator’s instructions regarding disposition of the assets. If he did not have a will, state statutes, known as intestacy laws, would provide who has priority to inherit the assets.

In our example, if the husband had a will then the house would pass to whomever is to receive his assets pursuant to that will. That may very well be his wife, even if her name is not on the title.

If he dies without a will, state laws will determine who is entitled to the home. Many states have rules that would provide only a portion of the estate to the surviving spouse. If the deceased person has children, even if children of the current marriage, local laws might grant a portion of the estate to those children. If this is a second marriage, children from the prior marriage may be entitled to more of the estate. If this is indeed the case, the surviving spouse may be forced to leave the home, even if she had contributed to home expenses during the course of the marriage.

Laws of inheritance are complex, and without proper planning, surviving loved ones may be subjected to unintended expense, delays and legal hardships. If you share a residence with a significant other or spouse, you should consult with an attorney to determine the best course of action after taking into account your unique personal situation and goals. There may be simple ways to ensure your wishes are carried out and avoid having to probate your partner’s estate at death.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Do Heirs Have to Pay Off Their Loved One’s Debts?

The recent economic recession, and staggering increases in health care costs have left millions of Americans facing incredible losses and mounting debt in their final years. Are you concerned that, rather than inheriting wealth from your parents, you will instead inherit bills? The good news is, you probably won’t have to pay them.

As you are dealing with the emotional loss, while also wrapping up your loved one’s affairs and closing the estate, the last thing you need to worry about is whether you will be on the hook for the debts your parents leave behind. Generally, heirs are not responsible for their parents’ outstanding bills. Creditors can go after the assets within the estate in an effort to satisfy the debt, but they cannot come after you personally. Nevertheless, assets within the estate may have to be sold to cover the decedent’s debts, or to provide for the living expenses of a surviving spouse or other dependents.

Heirs are not responsible for a decedent’s unsecured debts, such as credit cards, medical bills or personal loans, and many of these go unpaid or are settled for pennies on the dollar. However, there are some circumstances in which you may share liability for an unsecured debt, and therefore are fully responsible for future payments. For example, if you were a co-signer on a loan with the decedent, or if you were a joint account holder, you will bear ultimate financial responsibility for the debt.

Unsecured debts which were solely held by the deceased parent do not require you to reach into your own pocket to satisfy the outstanding obligation. Regardless, many aggressive collection agencies continue to pursue collection even after death, often implying that you are ultimately responsible to repay your loved one’s debts, or that you are morally obligated to do so. Both of these assertions are entirely untrue.

Secured debts, on the other hand, must be repaid or the lender can repossess the underlying asset. Common secured debts include home mortgages and vehicle loans. If your parents had any equity in their house or car, you should consider doing whatever is necessary to keep the payments current, so the equity is preserved until the property can be sold or transferred. But this must be weighed within the context of the overall estate.

Executors and estate administrators have a duty to locate and inventory all of the decedent’s assets and debts, and must notify creditors and financial institutions of the death. Avoid making the mistake of automatically paying off all of your loved one’s bills right away. If you rush to pay off debts, without a clear picture of your parents’ overall financial situation, you run the risk of coming up short on cash, within the estate, to cover higher priority bills, such as medical expenses, funeral costs or legal fees required to settle the estate.


Friday, August 15, 2014

8 Things to Consider When Selecting a Caregiver for Your Senior Parent

As a child of a senior citizen, you are faced with many choices in helping to care for your parent. You want the very best care for your mother or father, but you also have to take into consideration your personal needs, family obligations and finances.

When choosing a caregiver for a loved one, there are a number of things to take into consideration.

  1. Time. Do you require part- or full-time care for your parent? Are you looking for a caregiver to come into your home? Will your parent live with the caregiver or will you put your parent into a senior care facility? According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 58 percent of care recipients live in their own home and 20 percent live with the caregiver. You should consider your current arrangement but also take time to identify some alternatives in the event that the requirements of care should change in the future.
  2. Family ties. If you have siblings, they probably want to be involved in the decision of your parent’s care. If you have a sibling who lives far away, sharing in the care responsibilities or decision-making process may prove to be a challenge. It’s important that you open up the lines of communication with your parents and your siblings so everyone is aware and in agreement about the best course of care.
  3. Specialized care. Some caregivers and care facilities specialize in specific conditions or treatments. For instance, there are special residences for those with Alzheimer’s and others for those suffering from various types of cancer. If your parent suffers from a disease or physical ailment, you may want to take this into consideration during the selection process
  4. Social interaction. Many seniors fear that caregivers or care facilities will be isolating, limiting their social interaction with friends and loved ones. It’s important to keep this in mind throughout the process and identify the activities that he or she may enjoy such as playing games, exercising or cooking. Make sure to inquire about the caregiver’s ability to allow social interaction. Someone who is able to accommodate your parent’s individual preferences or cultural activities will likely be a better fit for your mother or father.
  5. Credentials. Obviously, it is important to make sure that the person or team who cares for your parent has the required credentials. Run background checks and look at facility reviews to ensure you are dealing with licensed, accredited individuals. You may choose to run an independent background check or check references for added peace of mind.
  6. Scope of care. If you are looking for a live-in caregiver, that person is responsible for more than just keeping an eye on your mother or father—he or she may be responsible for preparing meals, distributing medication, transporting your parent, or managing the home. Facilities typically have multidisciplinary personnel to care for residents, but an individual will likely need to complete a variety of tasks and have a broad skill set to do it all.
  7. Money.Talk to your parent about the financial arrangements that he or she may have in place. If this isn’t an option, you will likely need to discuss the options with your siblings or your parent’s lawyer—or check your mother’s or father’s estate plan—to find out more about available assets and how to make financial choices pertaining to your parent’s care.
  8. Prepare. Upon meeting the prospective caregiver or visiting a facility, it is important to have questions prepared ahead of time so you can gather all of the information necessary to make an informed choice. Finally, be prepared to listen to your parent’s concerns or observations so you can consider their input in the decision. If he or she is able, they will likely want to make the choice themselves.

Choosing a caregiver for your parent is an important decision that weighs heavily on most adult children but with the right planning and guidance, you can make the best choice for your family. Once you find the right person, make sure to follow up as care continues and to check in with your mother or father to ensure the caregiver is the perfect fit.

 


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Coordinating Property Ownership and Your Estate Plan

When planning your estate, you must consider how you hold title to your real and personal property. The title and your designated beneficiaries will control how your real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, vehicles and investments are distributed upon your death, regardless of whether there is a will or trust in place and potentially with a result that you never intended.

One of the most important steps in establishing your estate plan is transferring title to your assets. If you have created a living trust, it is absolutely useless if you fail to transfer the title on your accounts, real estate or other property into the trust. Unless the assets are formally transferred into your living trust, they will not be subject to the terms of the trust and will be subject to probate.

Even if you don’t have a living trust, how you hold title to your property can still help your heirs avoid probate altogether. This ensures that your assets can be quickly transferred to the beneficiaries, and saves them the time and expense of a probate proceeding. Listed below are three of the most common ways to hold title to property; each has its advantages and drawbacks, depending on your personal situation.

Tenants in Common: When two or more individuals each own an undivided share of the property, it is known as a tenancy in common. Each co-tenant can transfer or sell his or her interest in the property without the consent of the co-tenants. In a tenancy in common, a deceased owner’s interest in the property continues after death and is distributed to the decedent’s heirs. Property titled in this manner is subject to probate, unless it is held in a living trust, but it enables you to leave your interest in the property to your own heirs rather than the property’s co-owners.

Joint Tenants:  In joint tenancy, two or more owners share a whole, undivided interest with right of survivorship. Upon the death of a joint tenant, the surviving joint tenants immediately become the owners of the entire property. The decedent’s interest in the property does not pass to his or her beneficiaries, regardless of any provisions in a living trust or will. A major advantage of joint tenancy is that a deceased joint tenant’s interest in the property passes to the surviving joint tenants without the asset going through probate. Joint tenancy has its disadvantages, too. Property owned in this manner can be attached by the creditors of any joint tenant, which could result in significant losses to the other joint tenants. Additionally, a joint tenant’s interest in the property cannot be sold or transferred without the consent of the other joint tenants.

Community Property with Right of Survivorship: Some states allow married couples to take title in this manner. When property is held this way, a surviving spouse automatically inherits the decedent’s interest in the property, without probate.

Make sure your estate planning attorney has a list of all of your property and exactly how you hold title to each asset, as this will directly affect how your property is distributed after you pass on. Automatic rules governing survivorship will control how property is distributed, regardless of what is stated in your will or living trust.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Are You Bound by the Terms of a Real Property Letter of Intent?

Complex commercial real estate transactions typically involve a back-and-forth negotiation of numerous terms of the agreement, a process which does not occur overnight. Accordingly, parties to a real estate purchase or lease transaction generally first execute a letter of intent (LOI), which documents the parties’ intent to proceed with the negotiation of a full contract. The LOI includes the essential terms of the agreement, such as closing date and purchase price, or lease term and rate. However, detailed terms and conditions are reserved for the final, formal lease agreement or purchase contract.

The LOI, with its brief description of only the most basic, essential terms, is not intended to be a binding contract.  However, if it is not properly drafted, the parties could find themselves locked into a binding LOI. For example, the existence of elements required in an enforceable contract, such as property description, price, closing date and payment terms, without expressly declaring parties’ intent that it be non-binding, could constitute it as a valid contract.

While parties who enter into an LOI generally intend to consummate the transaction, if the LOI is deemed enforceable as a stand-alone contract, both parties may be subject to undesirable consequences. For example, the LOI lacks essential contract terms such as indemnity clauses, warranties, financing arrangements, or any other detailed terms necessary to protect one or both parties. To ensure the LOI serves its intended purpose, it must contain a specific provision that states the LOI is intended to be non-binding until such time a final agreement is executed by the parties.

What if you want parts of the LOI to be binding, regardless of whether the deal is finalized? Perhaps buyers and tenants want an enforceable provision stating that the seller or landlord will not offer to sell or lease the property to others while the parties are in negotiations. A hybrid LOI can be drafted to ensure the negotiations and final terms are kept confidential until a final agreement is executed. Just as with the provisions stating the LOI is intended to be non-binding, the provisions that are intended to be binding must be carefully drafted to ensure they are enforceable and do not pose unintended consequences for other provisions within the document. A hybrid letter of intent can be a very effective tool in facilitating the purchase or lease of commercial real estate, but care must be taken to ensure it is drafted so that it serves its intended purpose.  


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Does Bankruptcy Affect Retirement Accounts?

From the time we are young, we are encouraged to save for retirement. To make the process a bit easier, many employers even offer sponsored savings plan such as 401(k)s or Roth IRAs. Due to the struggling economy of the past few years, many Americans have used up their savings and have just their retirement savings left. If you find yourself in this situation and are facing massive debt, you are likely worried about what will happen to your retirement account should you file for bankruptcy.

If you are in a dire financial crisis, you might be considering cashing out your retirement account to pay off your debts.  This is usually not a good idea.  For one thing, you will incur excessive taxes and fees for cashing out the account before it matures.  You should also consider whether you have enough in your retirement account to pay off all of you debts.  Will you be able to get back on your feet and pay off the full amount of your debt or will you be left with large bills and have to pursue bankruptcy anyway?  In the later case, you may be making a mistake by using these funds to pay debts that you may not have been fully responsible for, had you filed for bankruptcy.  You also may have been able to pay off your debts for a fraction of their worth and been able to keep your retirement account.

In 2005, the Federal bankruptcy law was revised and the treatment of retirement accounts in personal bankruptcy was changed.  Now, most retirement accounts and pension plans are exempt under the bankruptcy code.  Their eligibility for exemption depends upon whether or not they are ERISA qualified.  ERISA, which stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, is a Federal law that protects the interests of employee benefit plan participants.  If the asset is exempt, it is not considered part of the bankruptcy estate at all.  This means that it will not be liquidated in Chapter 7 bankruptcy and will not affect the amount you pay to unsecured creditors in Chapter 13.

Many people are unclear about the impact that bankruptcy will have on their future, particularly retirement. If you are considering bankruptcy and are concerned about your retirement accounts, you should talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney who can help you to better understand changes in the law and explore the different options available to get you out of debt while protecting your future interests.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Selecting An Executor Post Mortem

The death of a loved one is a difficult experience no matter the circumstances.  It can be especially difficult when a person dies without a will.  If a person dies without a will and there are assets that need to be distributed, the estate will be subject to the process of administration instead of probate proceedings.

In this case, the decedent’s heirs can select someone to manage the estate, called an administrator instead of executor.  State law will provide who has priority to be appointed as the administrator. Most states’ laws provide that a spouse will have priority and in the event that there is no spouse, the adult children are next in line to serve. However, those that have priority can decline to serve, and the heirs can sign appropriate affidavits or other pleadings to be filed with the court that nominate someone else as the administrator. Once the judge appoints the nominated person they will then have the authority to act and begin estate administration.

In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to change the initially appointed administrator during the administration process. Whether this is advisable depends on many factors. First, the initial administrator will have started the process and will be familiar with what remains to be done. The new administrator will likely be behind in many aspects of the case and may have to review what the prior administrator did. This can cause expenses and delays. Also, it is possible that the attorney representing the initial administrator may not be able to ethically represent the new one, again causing increased expenses and delays. However, if the first administrator is not doing his/her job, the heirs can petition to remove the individual and appoint a new one.

If you are currently involved in a situation where an estate needs to be administered, it is recommended that you speak with an estate planning attorney in your state.


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