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Monday, March 28, 2016

What Rights Do Undocumented Citizens Have in the United States?

The Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly held that the protections of the US constitution are limited to U.S. citizen, but individuals maintain certain rights regardless of their immigration status. Every person has the right to equal protection under the law and to due process.  This means that a person accused of not maintaining legal status in the United States has the right to defend him or herself against removal from the country. Similarly, where there are criminal allegations against an undocumented immigrant, that person has all the same rights as would an American citizen. This includes the right to confront witnesses in a trial, the right to representation, and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures by the police.

Regardless of immigration status, everyone has a right to free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to peaceably petition the government. Undocumented children in the United States have a right to free public education. Publicly funded hospitals are required to provide medical care to all patients. They are prohibited from discriminating against a person based on immigration status. Undocumented immigrants are permitted to file lawsuits against other people and the government for claims arising out of negligence, just like any other person in the United States.

It is, however, against federal law to hire someone who is undocumented. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that every employee hired is legally permitted to work. Nonetheless, once a person is hired, that individual is entitled to some rights in the workplace. He or she must be paid the minimum wage. It is improper for an employer to prohibit anyone from forming a union. If an undocumented immigrant is injured on the job, he or she is entitled worker’s compensation and disability if it is part of the employer’s normal practice. Undocumented workers are protected from workplace discrimination and sexual harassment by federal law as well.

Many undocumented immigrants are victims of crimes and are afraid to come forward to the police for fear of deportation. This goes against public policy, so in 2000, the federal government created a new visa to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally for up to four years if that person is the victim of a qualifying crime. This visa is called a U visa and is an important tool to protect undocumented people from crime.


Monday, March 21, 2016

How to Rebuild Credit After Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is often a last resort for an individual struggling with keeping current on rent payments. This does not mean that bankruptcy is the end of a person’s financial life. Quite the opposite; it is a new beginning. It takes 7 to 10 years for a bankruptcy to be erased from a person’s credit report. In the meantime, it is important to take steps to rebuild credit.

The most important thing that a consumer can do to improve his or her credit is to practice responsible spending habits. Maintaining a budget and making sure that all monthly payments are made on time is crucial to re-establishing credit worthiness. It takes 7 years for a delinquent payment reported to a credit agency to be removed from a credit report, so it takes consistent payments over that long period of time to clear a credit report of all delinquencies. People should invest in saving after their bankruptcy to avoid falling into dire straits again in the future.

It is also important to check your credit report for any problems or mistakes. If a debt had been discharged and it still appears on your credit report as delinquent, it may be a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Errors or mistakes can damage your credit even further and should be disputed. Credit reports are available annually for free from each of the credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

In order to re-establish credit after a bankruptcy, a consumer might need to apply for a secured credit card. This credit card requires a deposit of money with a bank as a guarantee of payment. Usually, this security collects interest. It also helps to open a new checking or savings account. After a few months of responsible spending, applications for credit cards may come in. Obtaining a second credit card will improve a consumer’s credit rating, but it is important to pick a card that will not tempt the holder to splurge unnecessarily. A gas card can help an individual repair his or her credit while effectively preventing bad shopping habits common with other cards. The balances on the cards should be paid off in full every month and the cards should not be closed. Together, payment history and total amount owed against available credit make up 65 percent of an individual’s credit score.


Monday, March 14, 2016

The Rule against Perpetuities

 

The law allows a person preparing a will to have almost complete control over his or her assets after the testator passes on, but there are limits to such power. A person can restrict a property from being sold, or make sure that it is used for a specific purpose. A property can be bequeathed to a family member as long on condition that the person maintains the family business in a specific city, or exercises daily, or places flowers on the deceased's grave every week, or engages in any other behavior the testator desires. This freedom, however, is not without limits. The time limit on this ability is called the rule against perpetuities. The rule is also referred to as the “dead man’s hand” statute.

The rule against perpetuities is complex and rarely utilized. At the time of the passing of the testator, the heirs of the estate are locked in. These heirs are referred to as “lives in being.” For the purposes of this rule, if a child is conceived but not yet born at the time of the testator’s death, it will be considered a life in being. Once the last living heir named in the will passes away, the restrictions on the property will continue in place as the testator desired for 21 years. The idea is that a testator may control his assets for a full generation after his or her death. The rule is notoriously difficult to apply properly. When it does apply, the conditions on the bequest are abandoned and the gift returns to the residual estate.

What makes this rule so confusing is that, when an individual writes a will, he or she may make gifts to potential children or grandchildren. These children and grandchildren, however, may not be born until years later. If a child has been born at the time the decedent passes away, he or she is subject to the restrictions on the bequest during his or her lifetime. If a grandchild is conceived and born after the decedent’s death, however, the child may avoid the restrictions 21 years after the death of the last heir alive at the time of the decedent’s death. There is no way to predict when this might occur. The rule is archaic and easily avoided. A knowledgeable attorney can help a person planning his or her estate set up an equitable trust. Similar to a will, a trust may impose conditions on the use of assets, but is not subject to the rule against perpetuities. There are other advantages to a trust, but one of the most important is avoiding this unpredictable and confusing rule.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Do I Need a Fence if I Have a Pool?

A person who has a pool, trampoline, swing set, or other similar structure in their yard is usually required, by their homeowner’s insurance, if not by law, to also have a fence. This is because these structures are seen by the law as attractive nuisances. This means that a child who sees a such structures, and who may not appreciate the danger they present, is likely to trespass on the property to play in, on, or with them and injure him or herself. The doctrine of attractive nuisance puts an obligation on a homeowner to protect these children who are incapable of protecting themselves. 

The law does not limit liability to instances where the attractive nuisance is a pool or another type of recreational device. Children’s imaginations are vivid enough to turn any sort of dangerous structure or equipment into a playground. Piles of loose lumber and abandoned cars have been found by courts to qualify as attractive nuisances. An attractive nuisance must: 

  • Be an artificial hazard in a place where children are likely to trespass
  • Create unreasonable risk of harm to children incapable of understanding that risk
  • Be a greater risk to potential victims than the utility of the hazard and the burden of its maintenance 

Determining when a child is innocent enough to qualify for protection under the attractive nuisance doctrine is also unclear. A person with diminished mental capacity may be considered a child for these purposes even if he or she is over the age of 18. The determination of who qualifies as a child is made on a case by case basis. 

Using a fence is a good way to make sure that a child passing by is not intrigued by a potentially dangerous condition. Even if the child is able to see over the fence, he or she will have trouble climbing over it, sufficiently discouraging the trespass in order to avoid liability for injuries sustained. A sign warning individuals of danger may be enough to protect a homeowner from liability, except when a child is unable to read the sign. Regularly inspecting property for potentially dangerous conditions and making sure trespassers stay away from your property are the best ways to avoid liability under the attractive nuisance doctrine.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Entrepreneurial Immigrants: Building the American Dream

The American Dream of starting your own business and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is alive and well. In fact, it is the creation and growth of small businesses that is instrumental in helping America recover from the Great Recession. What many do not realize is that a significant percentage of new business ventures in this country are started by immigrants.  Despite their business startup prowess, Immigrants face a multitude of legal issues as they start new ventures in the United States.

If you are an immigrant and are considering starting a business in your new homeland, there may be a number obstacles ahead of you. At the top of that list is obviously obtaining legal status for yourself, your family, and your employees. America welcomes innovators and business creators, but obtaining legal status is never easy. Thankfully, there are several paths to legal status available to entrepreneurs. Working with an experienced immigration attorney is the best way to figure out which options will work for you.

Providing employment for family members and friends is one of the rewarding aspects of being a small business owner, but immigrants must strictly adhere to all laws governing the employment of non-citizens. If you are caught violating this law you could lose your business and put your legal status in jeopardy.

Immigrant entrepreneurs may also face discrimination. If you think that a lender, supplier, or other business-related contact has treated you unfairly because of your nationality, and your business suffered, you should contact an attorney. An attorney can help you seek compensation if appropriate, and can help you negotiate and enforce future contracts.

There are also unique opportunities in the business creation world for immigrants.  As newcomers to an area, immigrants have the ability to see gaps in the market that others may not notice. A business attorney can help you take your vision and make it a reality by helping you through the formation and permitting processes.  The government also has several special programs that are designed to help minority and woman-owned businesses flourish. Many immigrant business owners are able to take advantage of these programs.

Starting a business is challenging regardless of whether you’re an immigrant.  The pride of owning your own business, seeing it succeed and living the American Dream more than makes up for the trials and tribulations that founders encounter.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What Your Loved Ones Absolutely Need to Know About Your Estate Plan

The conversation about a person’s last wishes can be an awkward one for both the individual who is the topic of conversation and his or her loved ones. The end of someone’s life is not a topic anyone looks forward to discussing. It is, however, an important conversation that must be had so that the family understands  the testator’s final wishes before he or she passes away. If a significant sum is being left to someone or some entity outside of the family, an explanation of this action may go a long way to avoiding a contested will. In a similar vein, if one heir is receiving a larger share of the estate than the others, it is prudent to have this action explained. If funds are being placed in a trust instead of given directly to the heirs, it makes sense for the testator to advise his or her loved ones in advance.

When a loved one dies, people are often in a state of emotional turmoil. Each deals with grief differently and, often, unpredictably. Anger is a common reaction to loss, one of the five stages postulated to apply to everyone dealing with such a tragedy. Simply by talking to loved ones ahead of time, a testator can preempt any anger misdirected at the estate plan and avoid an unnecessary dispute, be it a small family tiff or a prolonged legal battle.

The executor of the estate must be privy to a significant amount of information before a testator passes on. It is helpful for the executor to know that he or she has been chosen for this role  and to have accepted the appointment in advance. The executor should know the location of the original will. Concerns of fraud mean that only the original copy of a will can be entered into probate. The executor should be aware of all bank accounts, assets, and debts in a testator’s name. This will avoid a tedious search for documents after the decedent passes on and will ensure that all assets are included as part of the estate. The executor of an estate should be aware of all memberships, because it will be the executor’s responsibility to cancel them. An up-to-date accounting of all assets and debts will simplify the settlement of the estate for an executor significantly.


Monday, January 25, 2016

What is a tax basis and how will it affect my estate plan?

A tax basis is essentially the purchase price of a piece of property. Whenever that property is sold, the seller must pay taxes on the difference between the sale price and the original purchase price. This concept applies to all property, including stocks, bonds, vehicles, mechanical equipment, and real estate. If debts are assumed along with the purchase price, the principal amount of the debt will be included in the basis. The basis can be adjusted downwards when a person deducts depreciation costs on his or her income tax returns, and may be increased for capital investments towards improving the property that are not deducted for income tax purposes. Selling a property that has been held for a long time can carry a serious tax burden because of inflation, particularly when real estate prices have increased.

When an individual receives property as an inheritance, the tax basis is reset to whatever the fair market value is at the time of the transfer of title. This means that the heir would pay significantly less taxes if that property is sold by the beneficiary than if the original owner were to sell it and devise the money to his beneficiaries. Most simple wills provide that all of a testator’s assets are placed into a residual estate to be divided equally among the heirs. This means that an executor must liquidate the assets of the estate and divide the proceeds among the heirs. However, because there is no transfer of title before the property is sold, the heirs are stuck with the grantor’s basis and they lose an opportunity for a sizeable tax break.

A person planning his or her estate may also reset the basis in his or her property by giving it as a gift directly to his or her heirs or by gifting the property to an inter vivos trust. These actions can have their own tax related consequences, or create other unintended problems for the beneficiaries. Only an experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on the most efficient way to pass your assets on to your heirs.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Factors to Consider Before Declaring Bankruptcy

Filing a petition for bankruptcy protection is a major decision that will have a huge impact on an individual’s financial future. There are many factors that a person has to consider before making that decision. These are some considerations to take into account.

  • It will take 7 to 10 years for the bankruptcy to be removed from the filer’s credit history.
  • The most common reasons for bankruptcy are divorce, unemployment, and excessive medical bills, but none of these are necessary to declare bankruptcy.
  • Filing will halt all collection efforts, including letters, phone calls, and lawsuits, through a process known as the automatic stay.
  • Depending on the chapter of the bankruptcy code under which relief is sought, the result will either be the discharge of debt, or the consolidation of the debt into a manageable monthly payment.
  • Secured debts,  that is, debts that are tied to an asset like a car loan or mortgage, cannot be discharged.
  • Many assets may be liquidated in order to pay off debts, but some assets will be exempt from collection.
  • Not everyone qualifies for bankruptcy protection; petitioners must meet income requirements.
  • Costs for bankruptcy attorneys and filing fees vary from region to region. Low-cost legal services are available for those who qualify.
  • Where a petitioner shares a debt with another party, such as an ex-spouse, the other party remains liable for the debt, even if it is discharged.
  • Bankruptcy petitioners are required to take a 90-minute course on financial management. The course is available online.
  • The bankruptcy petition and subsequent order is a part of the public record and can be found by anyone searching for it.
  • Not all debts will be discharged in a bankruptcy. Some debts, such as student loans, support payments, certain tax debts and many other debts are exempt from discharge in a bankruptcy.
  • An individual’s decision to declare bankruptcy cannot lead to negative action from a governmental entity or a private employer. This means that a public utility cannot refuse service, a student loan cannot be denied, and a petitioner cannot lose his or her job as a result of filing for bankruptcy protection.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Can an Individual be held responsible for his or her deceased loved one's debts?

When a loved one dies, an already difficult experience can be made much more stressful if that loved one held a significant amount of debt. Fortunately, the law addresses how an individual’s debts can be paid after he or she is deceased.

When a person dies, his or her assets are gathered into an estate. Some assets are not included in this process. Assets owned jointly between the deceased and another person pass directly to the other person automatically. If there are liens on the property at that time, they will stay on the property, but no new liens can be placed on the property for debts in the name of the deceased. Similarly, debt jointly in the name of the deceased and another party may continue to be collected from the other party. In community property states, all assets and debts are the joint property of both spouses and pass automatically from one to the other. The community property states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

From the pool of assets in the estate, an executor is required to pay all just debts. This means that, before a beneficiary may receive anything, all debts must be satisfied. Property might be sold to create liquidity in order to accomplish this. If there are more debts than there are assets, the estate must sell of as many assets as possible to pay off the creditors. If there is no money in the estate, the creditor can not collect anything. Rather than force people into this tiresome process, many creditors will agree to discharge a debt upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate or obituary. This is particularly true of small, unsecured debts. Life insurance proceeds were never owned by the decedent and should pass to a beneficiary without consequence to the estate. Proceeds of a retirement account may also be exempt from debts.

If creditors continue harassing the beneficiaries of debtors, they may be violating federal regulations under the FDCPA. They can be held accountable by their actions, either by the FTC, the state attorney general, or a private consumer law attorney.


Monday, December 28, 2015

What is a Life Estate?

A life estate is a special designation in probate law referring to a gift to a family member that lasts as long as the life of the recipient. If an individual uses a life estate as part of his or her estate plan, whatever is bequeathed under the life estate will revert back to the residual estate upon the death of the life estate recipient. It is most common in scenarios where an individual starts a new family without children later in life and wants to ensure that the present spouse is taken care of for the remainder of her or his life. The owner of a life estate is called a life tenant. A life estate is often used as an alternative to a trust because it provides the life tenant with more control over the transferred asset.

A life tenant may treat an asset as his or her own. A home may be rented to tenants for income. The life tenant may sell his or her interest in the property to the heirs of the residual estate or to third parties. If the property is sold to a third party, that third party must surrender the property to the residual heirs upon the death of the life tenant.

Though the property belongs to the life tenant, the life tenant has a duty to the residual heirs to keep the property reasonably maintained and in good condition. He or she has an obligation to avoid mortgage arrearages and tax liens while in possession of the property. Exploiting natural resources on the property may be restricted during a life tenancy. A life tenant may not bequeath his or her interest in a life estate through a will because that interest immediately terminates upon the life tenant’s death. Significant changes to the property need to be agreed upon by all parties.

Though there are benefits, there are also drawbacks to establishing a life estate as part of an estate plan. The action could create estate tax issues for the tenant’s estate. In addition, creditors of the tenant may attach liens on the property, creating complicated legal issues for the heirs of the residual estate.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Five Common Reasons a Will Might Be Invalid

There are several reasons that a will may prove invalid. It is important for testators to be aware of these pitfalls in order to avoid them.

Improper Execution

The requirements vary from state to state, but most states require a valid will to be witnessed by two people not named in the will. Some jurisdictions require the document to be notarized as well. Although these restrictions may be relaxed if the will is holographic (handwritten), it is best to satisfy these requirements to ensure that the testamentary document will be honored by the probate court.

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

Anyone over the age of 18 is presumed to understand what a will is. At the end of life, individuals are often not in the best state of mind. If court finds that an individual is suffering from dementia, is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or is incapable of understanding the document being executed for some other reason, the court may invalidate the will on the grounds that the individual does  not have testamentary capacity.

Replacement by a Later Will

Whenever an individual writes a new will, it invalidates all wills made previously. This means that a will might be believed to be valid for months until a more recently executed document surfaces. The newest will always takes precedence, controlling how assets should be distributed.

Lack of Required Content

Every will is required to contain certain provisions to carry out its purpose. These provisions, ensure that the testator understands the reason for executing the document.  Although these provisions vary from state to  state, some are common to all jurisdictions. It should be clear that the document is intended to be a will. The document  should demonstrate an individual’s wishes in regard to what should happen to his or her property after death. A proper will should also include a provision to appoint an executor to act as an agent for the estate and enforce the terms of the will. If the document  lacks any of these provisions, the will may be declared invalid. 

Undue influence or fraud

A will that was executed under undue influence, coercion or fraud will be invalidated by a court. If a will has been presented to a testator for a signature as if it were any other document, like a power of attorney or a business contract, the court will find that the will was fraudulently obtained and will not honor it. If an individual providing end of life care with exclusive access to the testator threatens to stop care unless a will is modified, that modification is considered to be the result of undue influence and the court will not accept it.


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