Affiliated Attorneys, LLC Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Are Alimony Payments Seized in Bankruptcy?

Divorce can wreak havoc on your finances and may even lead you to file for bankruptcy. When the worlds of family law and bankruptcy law collide, it can be somewhat confusing. In essence, both areas of law allow people to start fresh, but at the intersection of these two areas is an anchor that holds parties to previous obligations.

For over 100 years, alimony has been an absolute obligation owed by one ex-spouse to the other after the dissolution of the marriage. It arose because traditional gender roles (and, in many cases, the law) prevented women from earning a living independent of their spouses and did not consider women co-owners of marital property. Alimony became the law’s way to allow for divorces without creating a class of destitute women.

In this day and age, either a husband or wife can be awarded alimony payments depending upon which spouse is the primary breadwinner. It is not uncommon for a man to be awarded alimony by a divorce court.

Even with changes in social norms and the law, ex-spouses are still treated sympathetically, even in the world of bankruptcy. Alimony is one of the few debts that is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and it is one of the few sources of income that is exempted from bankruptcy proceedings under federal law. If a person receiving alimony payments files for bankruptcy, that money will be counted as income when the court does a means test to determine if the debtor can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but it will be exempted from the bankruptcy estate, and thus unreachable by creditors.

If you are going through a divorce, or are already divorced and are receiving alimony payments, and you are considering filing for bankruptcy, an experienced attorney can assist you in making this decision and explaining the effect it will have on your finances.

Monday, March 16, 2015

When Will an Immigrant Be Barred from Entry Because of a Connection to Terrorism?

Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) bars individuals from entry in the United States for a variety of reasons.  These include terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG). 

Regardless of whether a person is coming to the U.S for tourism or employment, and regardless of whether he or she has married a U.S. citizen or won a visa lottery, TRIG may bar entry completely.

Types of Terrorism-Related Activities That May Be Covered

Terrorism-related activities include some that are violent and illegal, others that involve association with and support of causes or people involved in terrorism.  For example, a person who engages in terrorist acts, who has received military training from a terrorist organization, who has incited terrorist activity, or who has endorsed or espoused terrorism would be inadmissible.  So too would a spouse or child of anyone who engaged in terrorist activity during the preceding five years.

The INA's definition of terrorist activity covers various types of sabotage, assassination, kidnapping, hijacking, and other acts commonly associated with terror. 

"Engaging in Terrorist Activity" can involve planning and carrying out a terrorist act, but it can also be recruiting others to act, providing support, fundraising, or other help.  Providing a safe house, transportation or fake documents might constitute material support of a terrorist group.  So would feeding members of the group, distributing literature, or making a modest financial contribution.

Categories of Terrorist Organizations

Terrorist organizations are divided into three tiers:

  • Tier I includes Foreign Terrorist Organizations  (FTO) that threaten the security of the U.S. or U.S. citizens. 
  • Tier II includes groups on the Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL).  These are organizations that carry out or provide material support for terrorist acts that are unlawful under U.S. law or the laws of another country.
  • Tier III involves groups of two or more, organized or not, that are engaged in terrorist activity.  A less formal designation than the others, Tier III changes from time to time and determinations of who is affected are made on a case-by-case basis.


The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security can exempt some individuals from TRIG.  Exemptions have been issued to people who acted under duress, to people who provided voluntary medical care, and to selected individuals with existing immigration benefits.  Because the definition of terrorist activity is broad, potentially encompassing freedom fighters, group exemptions have been given to a number of organizations ranging from the All Burma Students Democratic Front to the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Eritrean Kunama.

Being involved in terrorism is a serious matter and can have an effect on the ability to obtain U.S. citizenship.  For more information regarding TRIG or if you think you might be exempt from exclusion, contact an experienced immigration attorney today.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Problems with Using Joint Accounts as a Vehicle for Inheritance

When deciding who will inherit your assets after you die, it is important to consider that you might outlive the beneficiary you choose.  If you have added someone to your financial accounts to ensure that he or she receives this asset after you die, you might be concerned about what will happen should you outlive this person.

What happens to a joint asset in this situation depends upon the specific circumstances. For example, if a co-owner that was meant to inherit dies first, the account will automatically become the property of the other co-owners and will not be included in the decedent’s estate.  However, whether it is somehow included in this person’s taxable estate, and is therefore subject to state death tax, also depends on state law. Assuming the other co-owners were the only ones to contribute to this account, and that the decedent did not put any of his or her money into the account, there may be state laws that provide that these funds are not taxed.  The other co-owners might have to sign an affidavit to that effect and submit it to the state department of revenue with the tax return. Also, if the decedent’s estate was large enough to require the filing of a federal estate tax return ($5,340,000 in 2014) the same thing may be needed in order to exclude this money from his or her taxable estate. You would generally state that this person’s name was placed on the account for convenience, and that the money was contributed by the other co-owners.

If you are considering adding someone to your financial accounts so that they inherit it when you die, you should contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your options. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Debtor Education: Two Classes

Since the bankruptcy laws were overhauled in 2005, debtors have been required to complete two classes as part of every Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. Each debtor must take a Credit Counseling class prior to filing the bankruptcy petition; and they must complete a Personal Financial Management class prior to discharge. The Credit Counseling class is designed to focus on existing debts, while the Personal Financial Management session addresses budgeting and financial management issues. Both are an integral component of the bankruptcy proceeding.

Both debtor education classes are available in person or online from a variety of providers. A certificate of completion for each class must be filed with the court. If you do not provide the court with the certificate of completion for the Credit Counseling class, your case will be dismissed and you’ll have to re-file. If you do not provide the certificate of completion for the Personal Financial Management course, your case can be closed without a discharge order being issued. Without that discharge order, you still owe all of your debts and your bankruptcy filing will have been for naught.

To help ensure your bankruptcy goes smoothly, take both classes before the required deadlines and make sure you file both certificates of completion with the court. Verify that the course provider is a not-for-profit credit counseling agency which is approved by the Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program. Your bankruptcy attorney can help you find a suitable provider and take care of filing the required certificates.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Adopting Internationally? Immigration Issues to Consider

Adopting a child from a foreign country can be an incredible experience for both the parent and the child but it is not an easy process.  Even after the exhausting process of finding the right child, the adopting parents must work with officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department in order to bring the child home to the U.S.

There are three different ways for U.S. citizens to adopt a child internationally. They are Hague, Orphan (Non-Hague) and adopting an immediate relative. The Hague process applies to children who are in countries that are a party to the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention. The Orphan process applies to children who are in countries that are not a party to the Hague Convention.

In Hague adoptions, parents will typically choose an Adoption Service Provider that is Hague Accredited. An Adoption Service Provider will assist the parents with the adoption. Parents will next complete a home study from an authorized provider. Before adopting a child, parents need to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once USCIS approves the application, parents will work with an Adoption Service Provider to get a placement. Once a placement is found, the parents will file a petition with USCIS, and will then adopt the child. Upon adoption, the parents will obtain an immigrant visa for the child, and will transport the child to the U.S.

Non-Hague adoptions, or Orphan adoptions, apply to foreign-born children who either don’t have any parents, or have one parent who’s unable to care for the child and signed a document to that effect. As part of the case, the USCIS will investigate to verify that particular child is an orphan before allowing the adoption. Much of the rest of the adoption is similar to a Hague adoption – the adopting parents will need a home study and a visa for the adoptive child.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Estate Planning: Leaving Assets to a ‘Troubled’ Heir

If you have a child who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or who is financially irresponsible, you already know the heartbreak associated with trying to help that child make healthy decisions.  Perhaps your other adult children are living independent lives, but this child still turns to you to bail him out – either figuratively or literally – of trouble.

If these are your circumstances, you are probably already worrying about how to continue to help your child once you are gone.  You predict that your child will misuse any lump sum of money left to him or her via your will.  You don’t want to completely cut this child out of your estate plan, but at the same time, you don’t want to enable destructive behavior or throw good money after bad.

Trusts are an estate planning tool you can use to provide an inheritance to a worrisome heir while maintaining control over how, when, where, and why the heir accesses the funds.  This type of trust is sometimes called a spendthrift trust.  

As with all trusts, you designate a trustee who controls the funds that will be left to the heir.  This trustee can be an independent third party (there are companies that specialize in this type of work) or a member of the family.  It is often wise to opt for a third party as a trustee, to prevent accusations among family members about favoritism.

The trust can specify the exact circumstances under which money will be disbursed to the heir.  Or, more simply, the trust can specify that the trustee has complete and sole discretion to disburse funds when the heir applies for money.  Most parents in these circumstances discover that they wish to impose their own incentives and restrictions, rather than rely on the judgment of an unknown third party.

The types of conditions or incentives that can be used with a trust include:

  • Drug or alcohol testing before funds are released
  • Payments directly to landlords, colleges, etc., rather than payment to the heir
  • Disbursement of a specified lump sum if the heir graduates from university or keeps the same job for a certain time period
  • Payment only to a drug or alcohol rehab center if the child is in an active period of addiction
  • Disbursement of a lump sum if the child remains drug free
  • Payments that match the child’s earned income

If you are considering writing this type of complex trust, it is advisable to seek assistance from a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney who can help you devise a plan that best accomplishes your wishes with respect to your child.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Leaving a Timeshare to a Loved One

Many of us have been lucky enough to acquire timeshares for the purposes of vacationing on our time off.  Some of us would like to leave these assets to our loved ones.  If you have a time share, you might be able to leave it to your heirs in a number of different ways. 

One way of leaving your timeshare to a beneficiary after your death is to modify your will or revocable trust.  The modification should include a specific section in the document that describes the time share and makes a specific bequest to the designated heir or heirs. After your death, the executor or trustee will be the one that handles the documents needed to transfer title to your heir. If the time share is outside your state of residence and is an actual real estate interest, meaning that you have a deed giving you title to a certain number of weeks, a probate in the state where the time share is located, called ancillary probate, may be necessary. Whether ancillary probate is needed will depend upon the value of the time share and the state law.

Another way you could accomplish this goal is to execute what is called a "transfer on death" deed. However, not all states have legislation that permits this so it is imperative that you check state law or consult with an attorney in the state where the time share is located. A transfer on death deed is basically like a beneficiary designation for a piece of real estate. Your beneficiary would submit a survivorship affidavit after your death to prove that you have died. Once this document is recorded the beneficiary would become the title owner.

It is also important to investigate what documents the time share company requires in order to leave your interest to a third party. They may require that additional forms be completed so that they can bill the beneficiary for the annual maintenance fees or other charges once you have died.

If you want to do your best to ensure that your loved ones inherit your time share, you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney today. 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Sponsoring a Family Member for Immigration

The Immigration and Naturalization Act allows citizens and permanent residents of the United States to sponsor family members abroad for immigration to the U.S.  The relatives must be direct relatives, and their sponsors must commit to supporting them financially.

A petitioner may apply on behalf of a son, daughter, husband, wife, parent, brother or sister.  In many cases, these relatives may bring along dependents, such as a spouse or unmarried children under 21.

What Paperwork Is Required?

The sponsor begins by filing a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which contains basic information about the identity of the sponsor and the relative seeking to immigrate.  The sponsor must also complete a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, agreeing to be financially responsible for the relative.  

The Affidavit of Support assures the U.S. government that the immigrant will not need public assistance, such as food stamps or Medicaid.  If the immigrant ends up receiving "means-tested public benefits," the financial sponsor may be required to reimburse the government.  This affidavit remains enforceable until the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen or has done 40 quarters (10 years) of qualifying work.

Financial Requirements

A sponsor must have an income level at or above 125% of the federal poverty level, or 100% in the case of active duty members of the military bringing in a spouse or child.  The exact numbers, which can change, are listed in form I-864p, Poverty Guidelines.

Sponsors who do not meet this requirement can submit evidence of bank accounts, stocks and bonds, real estate, or other assets.  These assets must have a cash value equal to at least five times the difference between 125% of the poverty level and the sponsor's income, or three times if the relative is a spouse or adult son or daughter.  It can simply be equal to the difference if the relative is an orphan arriving for adoption.

Other Sponsors

Financial sponsors can count the income and assets of other household members related to them by birth, marriage, or adoption, if they are listed as dependents on the sponsor's tax return or have lived with the sponsor for the last 6 months.  The sponsor and household member must complete Form I-864A, Affidavit of Support Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member.

A sponsor can also have an unrelated "joint sponsor" willing to accept financial responsibility for the immigrant.  A joint sponsor must complete a separate Affidavit of Support and meet all of its requirements independently.

Sponsoring a family member for immigration is an important matter.  You should discuss your situation with a seasoned immigration attorney to ensure that the process is handled appropriately.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Life After Bankruptcy-How to Rebuild Your Credit

If you are thinking of filing for bankruptcy, you might be deterred by the devastating effects it can have on your credit score.  It is true that filing for bankruptcy can negatively impact your credit for the ten years that it is noted on your credit report. Luckily, you are not totally helpless as you can take steps to rebuild your credit after you have received your final bankruptcy discharge.

Knowledge is power!  Meaning that in order to have control over rebuilding your credit you must be informed about the things that are affecting it.  After your bankruptcy discharge date, or when your bankruptcy is finalized, you should get copies of your credit reports.  You can request copies from all three agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, in order to have the most complete information.  You should review these reports carefully in order to identify what is negatively affecting your credit and look for any mistakes.  If you find anything that is incorrect you should contact the agency to let them know and dispute the matter if necessary.

Another step you can take to rebuild your credit is to get a new credit card.  Most likely you will not qualify for a conventional card, but you probably will not have trouble getting a secured card.  A secured card is one in which you make a deposit to collateralize your line of credit.  If you do not pay your bill, the deposit is there for the company to seize.  The amount of your deposit will determine your line of credit.  You should only make small purchases with this card and should only use a small amount of the credit line.  It is also extremely important that you make on-time payments and pay off the entire balance each month.  If you do well with a secured card, you might qualify for a retail card within a few months.  These cards should be used the same way.

It is particularly important to pay your bills on-time when you are trying to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy.  If you can pay your bills early, you should do so.  Paying on time has a huge affect on your credit score and is one of the easiest ways to re-establish good credit.  Having a cash reserve is always a good idea as it can prevent you from relying on credit cards if you ever encounter an emergency.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How To Prove U.S. Citizenship for Work or Other Purposes

There are many situations in which an individual might need proof of citizenship.  All United States employers are required to verify that a newly hired employee can legally work in the U.S.  One must also prove citizenship to obtain a U.S. passport.  For someone born in the U.S., proving citizenship is usually straightforward.  For those born outside the U.S., whether to U.S. citizens or to non-citizens, there may be additional requirements.

Documents That Can Prove Citizenship

There are at least five types of documents that can help to prove citizenship.

  • Birth Certificate.  For individuals born in the U.S., a certificate from the state in which they were born is usually all that is needed.  The Bureau of Vital Statistics in each state can usually provide this.  It must be an official birth certificate, filed with the state's registrar, signed and embossed.
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA).  A CRBA is generally available to individuals born outside the U.S., provided that one parent was a U.S. citizen and lived in the U.S. for a required period of time.  After 1986, the minimum period is usually 5 years, during two of which the citizen parent was over age 14.  Parents must register their child's birth at the nearest consulate or Embassy when the child is born. 
  • Certificate of Citizenship.  Individuals born to a U.S. citizen abroad who do not obtain a CRBA by the age of 18 cannot use that option.  They can, however, apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a Certificate of Citizenship by providing detailed information on Form N-600 about their parents and the circumstances of their birth.
  • Naturalization Certificate.  Applicants who became U.S. citizens after turning 18 through the naturalization process can obtain one of these.
  • Passport.  Issued by the U.S. Department of State, a U.S. passport is proof of citizenship.  It helps to have one of the preceding proofs of citizenship already in hand when seeking a passport.  There are, however, ways to obtain one without them.

Secondary Evidence of Citizenship

Secondary evidence of citizenship may be used to obtain a passport.  Early Public Records from the first five years of one's life -- e.g. baptismal certificate, hospital birth certificate, census record, doctor's record, early school record -- may sometimes serve as evidence of U.S. citizenship.

Applicants born abroad who do not have a CRBA or a USCIS Certification of Birth but who claim citizenship through a U.S. citizen parent can also obtain a passport.  They must submit foreign birth documents with evidence of their parents' citizenship, including all of the following:

  • Foreign birth certificate (translated to English);
  • Evidence of citizenship of the U.S. citizen parent;
  • Parents' marriage certificate; and
  • A statement of the U.S. citizen parent detailing all times and places of residence or physical presence in the U.S. and abroad before the applicant's birth.

If you need to prove your citizenship for work or other purposes, you should contact an experienced immigration attorney to help you through the process.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Considering Online Estate Planning? Think Twice

The recent proliferation of online estate planning document services has attracted many do-it-yourselfers who are lured in by what appears to be a low-cost solution. However, this focus on price over value could mean your wishes will not be carried out and, unfortunately, nobody will know there is a problem until it is too late and you are no longer around to clean up the mess.

Probate, trusts and intestate succession (when someone dies without leaving a will) are governed by a network of laws which vary from state to state, as well as federal laws pertaining to inheritance and tax issues. Each jurisdiction has its own requirements, and failure to adhere to all of them could invalidate your estate planning documents. Many online document services offer standardized legal forms for common estate planning tools including wills, trusts or powers of attorney. However, it is impossible to draft a legal document that covers all variations from one state to another, and using a form or procedure not specifically designed to comply with the laws in your jurisdiction could invalidate the entire process.

Another risk involves the process by which the documents you purchased online are executed and witnessed or notarized. These requirements vary, and if your state’s signature and witness requirements are not followed exactly at the time the will or other documents are executed, they could be found to be invalid. Of course, this finding would only be made long after you have passed, so you cannot express your wishes or revise the documents to be in compliance.

Additionally, the online document preparation process affords you absolutely no specific advice about what is best for you and your family. An estate planning attorney can help your heirs avoid probate altogether, maximize tax savings, and arrange for seamless transfer of assets through other means, including titling property in joint tenancy or establishing “pay on death” or “transfer on death” beneficiaries for certain assets, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts or vehicles. In many states, living trusts are the recommended vehicle for transferring assets, allowing the estate to avoid probate. Trusts are also advantageous in that they protect the privacy of you and your family; they are not public records, whereas documents filed with the court in a probate proceeding are publicly viewable. There are other factors to consider, as well, which can only be identified and addressed by an attorney; no online resource can flag all potential concerns and provide you with appropriate recommendations.

By implementing the correct plan now, you will save your loved ones time, frustration and potentially a great deal of money. In most cases, proper estate planning that is tailored to your specific situation can avoid probate altogether, and ensure the transfer of your property happens quickly and with a minimum amount of paperwork. If your estate is large, it may be subject to inheritance tax unless the proper estate planning measures are put in place. A qualified estate planning attorney can provide you with recommendations that will preserve as much of your estate as possible, so it can be distributed to your beneficiaries. And that’s something no website can deliver.

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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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