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Monday, July 27, 2015

Estate Planning for the Chronically Ill

There are certain considerations that should be kept in mind for those with chronic illnesses.   Before addressing this issue, there should be some clarification as to the definition of "chronically ill." There are at least two definitions of chronically ill. The first is likely the most common meaning, which is an illness that a person may live with for many years. Diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C and asthma are some of the more familiar chronic illnesses. Contrast that with a legal definition of chronic illness which usually means that the person is unable to perform at least two activities of daily living such as eating, toileting, transferring, bathing and dressing, or requires considerable supervision to protect from crisis relating to health and safety due to severe impairment concerning mind, or having a level of disability similar to that determined by the Social Security Administration for disability benefits. Having said all of that, the estate planning such a person may undertake will likely be similar to that of a healthy person, but there will likely be a higher sense of urgency and it will be much more "real" and less "hypothetical."

Most healthy individuals view the estate planning they establish as not having any applicability for years, perhaps even decades. Whereas a chronically ill person more acutely appreciates that the planning he or she does will have real consequences in his or her life and the life of loved ones. Some of the most important planning will center around who the person appoints as his or her health care decision maker and also who is appointed to handle financial affairs. a will and/or revocable living trust will play a central role in the person's planning as well.  Care should also be taken to address possible Medicaid planning benefits.  A consultation with an estate planning and elder law attorney is critical to ensuring all necessary planning steps are contemplated and eventually implemented. 


Monday, July 20, 2015

Student Loans & Bankruptcy: What are the Options?

I am drowning in student loan debt. Is this debt dischargeable in bankruptcy?

Traditionally, student loans were not considered a dischargeable debt under federal bankruptcy laws. However, as national student loan debt has skyrocketed into the trillions of dollars, struggling graduates may be able to escape the burden of four-figure monthly payments by successfully proving severe financial hardship. As well, there are a number of less common avenues through which student loan debt may be discharged, which could be a financial life-saver for those meeting eligibility criteria.

Three-prong undue hardship test

Under current consumer bankruptcy law, there is a three-part test to determine if a student loan is dischargeable based on undue hardship. First, you must prove that, if forced to repay the loan under its minimum payment terms, you would be unable to maintain a minimum standard of living. While the phrase “minimum standard of living” has not been officially defined in the bankruptcy code, it is generally considered to mean the financial ability to maintain adequate housing and meet daily needs for the borrower and his or her dependents.

Second, the borrower must show that the inability to maintain a minimum standard of living is not temporary in nature, and is likely to continue throughout the duration of the loan repayment period. Lastly, discharge may be possible if you have made a true good faith effort to repay the loan prior to filing for bankruptcy – which means a period of at least five years.

Known as the Brunner test, this three-prong analysis looks for poverty, persistence, and good faith – and may be a good option for borrowers who have tried, but are simply unable, to repay that those looming and unrelenting education debts.

Other options

As a debtor, there may be other options for avoiding student loan repayment, primarily if your alma mater  is involved in any kind of investigation for fraud or consumer deceit. In some instances, students have earned relief from some or all of their student loans by successfully highlighting their school’s false promises or exaggerated graduation/employment rates – thereby triggering a consumer protection or breach of contract action.


Monday, July 6, 2015

The Two Paths to Asylum

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This, according to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus,” is what the Statute of Liberty cries to the world. It is a reminder that America opens its doors to the most desperate of immigrants, those whose very life is threatened if they return to their home country.  In this day and age many of these immigrants are refugees seeking asylum.

A refugee is “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to and avail himself or herself of the protection of his or her country of nationality or, if stateless, country of last habitual residence because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

There are actually two paths to asylum self-proclaimed refugees can take, known as affirmative and defensive asylum respectively. Which path is appropriate depends largely on the filer’s current immigration status.

Affirmative asylum is available to refugees who have been physically present in the United States for less than a year, regardless of their immigration status. An application for affirmative asylum is filed directly with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If a self-proclaimed refugee has been physically present in the United States for more than a year, he or she can still apply for affirmative asylum if he or she can show that circumstances that materially affect his or her eligibility for asylum have changed, or that extraordinary circumstances delayed his or her filing. He or she must apply for affirmative asylum within a reasonable amount of time given the circumstances.

Defensive asylum, as the name suggests, is a defense to deportation. It is filed with the immigration judge presiding over the self-proclaimed refugee’s removal proceeding.

The key to success in both affirmative and defensive cases is proving the applicant is truly a refugee as defined above. How the evidence is presented depends on the type of asylum.

Affirmative applications for asylum are heard by USCIS Asylum Officers. The process is a non-adversarial interview. Defensive applications are heard by Immigration Judges in adversarial (court-like) proceedings.

If you think you are a refugee, you should contact an experienced immigration immediately in order to apply for asylum.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Is There Anyway a Disinherited Child Could Receive an Inheritance From an Estate?

If your estate plan and related documents are properly and carefully drafted, it is highly unlikely that the court will disregard your wishes and award the excluded child an inheritance.  As unlikely as it may be, there are certain situations where this child could end up receiving an inheritance depending upon a variety of factors.

To understand how a disinherited child could benefit, you must understand how assets pass after death.  How a particular asset passes at death depends upon the type of asset and how it is titled. For example, a jointly titled asset will pass to the surviving joint owner regardless of what a will or a trust says. So, in the unlikely event that the disinherited child was a joint owner, that child would still inherit the asset because of how it was titled.

Similarly, if you left that disinherited child as a named beneficiary on a life insurance policy or retirement plan asset, such as an IRA or 401k, that child would still receive some of the benefits as the named beneficiary even if your will stated they were to take nothing. Another way such a "disinherited" child might receive a benefit is if all other named beneficiaries died before you.

So, assume you have three children and you wish to disinherit one of them and you state you want all of your assets to go to the other two, and if they are not alive, then to their descendants.  If those other two children die before you and do not have any descendants, there may be a provision that in such a case your "heirs at law" are to take your entire estate and that would include the child you intended to disinherit.

If you wish to disinherit a child, all of these issues can be addressed with proper and careful drafting by a qualified estate planning lawyer.  


Friday, June 26, 2015

Mediation & Alternative Dispute Resolution Options in Divorce

My spouse and I would like to pursue an amicable divorce, and would like to stay out of court if at all possible. Are there alternative methods to divorce resolution?

With the dawning of no-fault divorce in New York, couples looking for a more amicable, less-stressful dissolution experience may be able to achieve such results through the use of alternative dispute resolution. Namely, mediation and collaborative divorce models have proven wildly successful in New York and elsewhere, allowing families the opportunity to transition their family dynamics with dignity and grace, as opposed to name-calling and vitriol.

Collaborative divorce

As the name suggests, a collaborative divorce is one in which all parties agree to forgo litigation (i.e., court intervention) in lieu of working together to arrive at a practicable solution. Issues ranging from spousal support to child visitation are negotiated in a non-adversarial environment, and parties are encouraged to work together – as opposed to in opposition – to arrive at a settlement agreement that meets the needs of the family as a whole. Collaborative divorce relies on the mutual agreement by both spouses to engage in full disclosure during all negotiations, as well as treat all parties involved with respect.

Mediation

As a component of the traditional divorce model, mediation is often used when parties are stuck on a particular issue, and is designed to avoid the costs and time investment of full-blown litigation. In lieu of the formal adversarial process, parties are seated at a table before a neutral third party. This third party will then work with both sides to determine the most important factors at play, as well as offer solutions for both parties to consider. If, at the conclusion of the session, an agreement cannot be reached, parties will be scheduled for a full hearing before a New York judge.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The American Dream is Alive and Well

The Internet can be a very hostile place, with trolls and bullies lurking around every corner. So it came as a big surprise when a photo of an illegal immigrant graduating from college went viral, not for generating an outpouring of xenophobia and hate, but of support.

The popular blog Humans of New York (HONY) was bombarded with positive comments after it posted a picture of a young lady in cap and gown with her accompanying quote “I’m an illegal immigrant.” Many commenters offered words of encouragement, with several noting that she is the living embodiment of the American Dream.

Others pointed out that the young woman's comment could be interpreted as a joke. If she were in this country on an educational visa, it would technically have expired the moment she got her diploma. 

Although the public is supportive of immigrants working towards a better life, immigration officials are not allowed to give you a free pass just because you are in school. Student visas are relatively easy to obtain compared to other types of visas, so there is really no reason not to have legal status while you are in school.

If you are an immigrant and are pursuing the American dream via starting your own business or seeking employment with a business within the United States, you may qualify for a different type of visa.  For example, those looking to work in the United States can apply for H1B, H2B and L1 visa’s among others.

If you are an immigrant, and your American Dream involves getting a college education, graduate degree, working for an American company or starting your own business within the United States, we strongly recommend hiring an experienced immigration attorney to help you navigate the system.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Effects of Bankruptcy on an Inheritance

If you are expecting an inheritance but considering personal bankruptcy, you might be concerned about what will happen. Whether an inheritance gets pulled into an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding depends on the size and form of the inheritance, the type of bankruptcy filed, and the timing of the death of the person leaving the inheritance relative to the filing of the bankruptcy proceeding.

Size and Form of the Inheritance

The word “inheritance” is most often associated with money; however, many estates consist of far more than cash. The nature of the item inherited can determine whether it is pulled into the bankruptcy estate of the recipient. For example, a vacation cabin on the lake that is passed down to multiple family members is going to be treated differently by the bankruptcy court than a few shares of stock willed to an individual.

Type of Bankruptcy

There are two different chapters under which most debtors file for personal bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. In a Chapter 7 case, the bankruptcy trustee can typically take the inheritance and liquidate it in order to pay off creditors, unless the debtor has an exemption they can use to protect it. In a Chapter 13 case, the debtor is more likely to be able to keep the inheritance, but he or she could see the repayment obligations to creditors increase.

Timing Issues

Whether an inheritance is part of the bankruptcy estate, and thus reachable by creditors, depends largely on when the bankruptcy was filed relative to when the person who left the inheritance passed away.

If the person who left the debtor the inheritance died within 180 days of the bankruptcy, the inheritance is part of the bankruptcy estate. There are two important things to note about this rule. First, it is the date of death, not the date that an inheritance is received, that matters. Second, the 180 days count both backward from the date of filing and forward from the date the bankruptcy is closed.

If you are currently going through a bankruptcy without the assistance of an attorney, or you are considering filing a bankruptcy and you have received notice of an inheritance (or even if you think you might be inheriting something in the near future), it is important to seek advice from an experienced bankruptcy attorney.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Abusive Relationships, Divorce and Immigration

If you are in an abusive relationship but are afraid leaving your spouse will jeopardize your or your children’s immigration status, you are not alone. The law is on your side, and an experienced attorney can help you break free from your abuser’s control and secure your immigration status.

Abuse can take many forms -- physical harm, forced sexual relations, emotional manipulation (including isolation or intimidation), and economic and/or immigration-related threats; the law recognizes this and provides an escape. There are three ways immigrants who become victims of domestic abuse may apply for legal immigration status:

  • Self-petitions for legal status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
  • Cancellation of removal (also known as deportation) under the VAWA
  • U-nonimmigrant status for victims of crime

A lawyer can help you determine which option is right for you and your children, and help you file the appropriate documents. All of the options above are confidential, so your abuser and other people will not know you have applied unless you tell him or her.

Marriage is not supposed to be a trap. Your immigration status should not prevent you from leaving a relationship that is harmful to you or your children.

If you or your children are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 911. Tell the police what you fear is about to happen, and be prepared to tell them about any abuse that has happened in the past. The police may arrest your spouse, and/or other people, if a crime has been committed. Once you are out of harm’s way, you can seek legal assistance from an attorney to help you gain a more permanent solution to your problems.

If you are not in immediate danger, it is a good idea to reach out to an attorney with experience handling these types of cases as this can be a confusing area of law. Having someone that can guide you along the way is critical.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Choosing a Guardian for Minor Children

If you are a parent and you are considering estate planning, one of the most difficult decisions you will have to make is choosing a guardian for your minor children.  It is not easy to think of anyone else, no matter how loving, raising your child. Yet, you can make a tremendous difference in your child’s life by planning ahead. 

The younger your child, the more crucial this choice is, because very young children cannot form or express their own preferences about caregivers. Yet young children are not the only ones who benefit from careful parental attention to guardianship. Children close to 18 years old will be legal adults soon, but, as you well know, may still need assistance of a parental figure after the fact.

By naming and talking about your choice of guardian, you can encourage a lifelong bond with a caring family. The nomination of guardians is a straightforward aspect of any family’s estate plan. It can be as basic or detailed as you want. You can simply name the guardian who would act if both you and your spouse were unable to or you can provide detailed guidance about your children and the sort of experiences and family environment you would like for them. Your state court, then, can give strong weight to your expressed wishes.

There are essentially four steps to this process. First, make a list of anyone you know that might be a candidate for guardian of your children.  It is important to think beyond your sisters and brothers and consider cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, child-care providers and business partners. You might also want to consider long-time friends and those you’ve gotten to know at parenting groups as they may share similar philosophies about child-rearing. Second, make a list of factors that are most important to you. Here are some to consider:

  • Maturity
  • Patience
  • Stamina
  • Age
  • Child-rearing philosophy
  • Presence of children in the home already
  • Interest in and relationship with your children
  • Integrity
  • Stability
  • Ability to meet the physical demands of child care
  • Presence of enough “free” time to raise children
  • Religion or spirituality
  • Marital or family status
  • Potential conflicts of interest with your children
  • Willingness to serve
  • Social and moral habits and values
  • Willingness to adopt your children

You might find that all or none of these factors are important to you or that there are others that make more sense in your particular situation.  The third step is to, match people with priorities. Use the factors you chose in step two to narrow your list of candidates to a handful.

For many families, it is as easy as it looks. For others, however, these three steps are fraught with conflict. One common source of difficulty is disagreement between spouses. But, consensus is important. Explore the disagreements to see what information about values and people is important to one another and use all of your strongest communications skills to understand each other’s position before you try to find a solution that you can both feel good about. Step four is to make it positive. For some parents, getting past this decision quickly is the best way to achieve peace of mind and happiness. For others, choosing a guardian can be the start of an intensive relationship-building process. An attorney who understands where you and your spouse fall on that spectrum can counsel you appropriately. 


Monday, April 27, 2015

Effects of a Cosigner's Bankruptcy on Your Assets

Cosigners are supposed to be a protection against default that a lender can rely on to make payments if the primary borrower cannot. Sometimes, however, the cosigner ends up being the borrower with financial difficulties. When that happens, the primary borrower needs to take special care to ensure that he or she does not become impacted by the cosigner’s money problems.

Here are a few examples of what could happen if the cosigner on your car loan files for bankruptcy.

  • If you, as the primary borrower, have been making all the payments, your cosigner’s bankruptcy will have little impact on you so long as you continue to make all the required payments. If you stop making payments, the car could be pulled into your cosigner’s bankruptcy estate and sold off to pay down your cosigner’s debt.
  • If your cosigner has been paying part or all of your car payments, you need to step up and start making the payments so the debt continues to be paid on time. If the lender is repaid as promised, the car will not be pulled into the cosigner’s bankruptcy estate even though he or she was putting some of his or her money toward the car loan.
  • If the car loan is already in arrears at the time the cosigner files for bankruptcy, the car will likely be pulled into the bankruptcy estate. If that happens, it will likely be sold to pay off some of the cosigner’s debt.

In sum, the lender does not really care who is making the payments, as long as the payments are made. If the lender is not getting paid, it might result in an attempt to repossess the car.

Cosigning a car loan is always risky because cars begin to lose value the second they are driven off the lot. This makes it likely that the car will be worth less than the loan for a good chunk of the repayment period. Cosigning is especially risky if you do not have the ability or the intention to make the car payments you agreed to make.

If you are the primary borrower on a loan and your cosigner is filing for bankruptcy, contact an experienced attorney today for advice on your specific case.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Effects of a Lay Off on Employment Sponsored Visa

The dragging economy has been tough on immigrants. An overabundance of citizens looking for work limits the number of some types of visas, and instability in the job market limits the appeal of employment-backed visas. Many workers who have lost their jobs because of the economic slowdown have had to leave the United States in order to avoid violating the law and jeopardizing their ability to live in this country in the future. However, some immigrant workers are finding ways to stay in the United States legally despite being laid off. 

  • Find another job. This is somewhat easier said than done, but workers who are able to find new employment can often extend their visa or get a new visa. This works best if the worker knows in advance that his or her current job will soon be ending and can find a new job to start before the old job ends.

There is technically no grace period in which to find a new job when a worker’s job ends (meaning a worker is out of status as soon as they clock out for the last time), but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) often approves petitions to change from one employer to the next if the gap between jobs is 30 days or less.

If a worker is out of work, and thus out of status, for more than 30 days, he or she will probably have to leave the country and get a new visa at a United States consulate office before starting a new job.

If a worker does have to travel abroad to get a new visa, the worker’s former employer may be required to pay for the worker’s trip home. Whether the employer is required to pay depends on when and how the worker’s job was terminated.

  • Become a dependent. If a worker in the United States on an employment-backed visa loses his or her job, one of the easiest ways to stay in status and prevent deportation is to become the dependent of someone who has legal status. Obviously, this only works if family circumstances allow.

It is important to note that if, for any reason, the worker's family member loses his or her legal status, then the worker who has become that person's dependent will lose his or her status as well.

  • Go to school. Workers who lose their jobs may have their status changed to student (F-1 status) if they are accepted into a full-time program at a college or university.

The further in advance a worker knows his or her job is in jeopardy, the easier it is to find a solution that will allow him or her to stay in the country legally. However, it is never too late to contact an experienced immigration attorney.


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Serving Southeastern Wisconsin, with offices in Milwaukee and West Bend, Affliated Attorneys, LLC represent clients throughout Milwaukee County, Washington County, Waukesha County, Dodge County, Ozaukee County, Racine County, Sheboygan County, Jefferson County, Fond du Lac County and Walworth County.



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