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Monday, January 22, 2018

What are Letters Testamentary?

An individual who has been named as a personal representative or executor in a will has a number of important duties. These include gathering the deceased person's property and transferring it to the beneficiaries through a court-supervised process known as probate. In order to initiate this proceeding, the executor must first obtain what are referred to as letters testamentary. This document gives the executor the legal authority to administer the deceased person's estate.

While the process varies from state to state, the executor must petition the probate court in the county in which the decedent lived. This typically requires submitting the death certificate and completing a short application. The application includes a sworn statement that the person has been named as the executor in the will, as well as an estimate of the estate's property and debts.

The probate court will then hold a hearing to verify that the individual meets the qualifications to act as executor. Generally he or she must be a mentally competent adult and not be a convicted felon. If approved, the court will issue letters testamentary and officially open probate.

In short, the letters allow the executor to collect the assets of the deceased which may be held by  another person or an institution such as a bank. Since banks and other institutions may want to keep the document on file, it is necessary to obtain multiple certified copies. The executor can also carry out his or her other duties such as inventorying and appraising assets, paying debts, and transferring property to beneficiaries, according to the terms of the will.

Letters of Administration

In the event a person dies without a valid will in place, an heir of the decedent, typically a legal relative, needs to petition the probate court for letters of administration. In this situation, the court will hold a hearing to appoint this individual to act as the estate administrator, issue the letters and open probate. The administrator then manages and distributes the assets according to the state's intestacy laws which generally give priority to spouses, children and parents.

 


Monday, January 22, 2018

What Happens When Spouses Work Together and Get Divorced?


We spend so much of our lives working, it is understandable that many of us end  in relationships with co-workers. In fact, CareerBuilder.com reports that 39% of people end up dating a co-worker and 30% of those people end up marrying the co-worker. Additionally, many small businesses are co-owned by couples. In as far back as 2000, an estimated 3 million of 22 million U.
Read more . . .


Monday, January 15, 2018

What Happens to Debt in Divorce?

With all the focus on division of property in divorce, an important aspect often gets looked over. Where does the marital debt go? Marital debt will be subject to division just like the assets. From mortgages to credit card debt, someone will be responsible for taking on the repayment of these debts assumed during marriage.

If you cannot agree to who will assume debt that has accrued during the marriage, the trial court will do so for you. Factors to consider during this process will vary between states, but often, the court will consider:

· What was the purpose of the debt?

· Did one spouse or another incur the debt? Who was responsible for taking on the debt?

· Which spouse benefited from assuming the debt? For example, if the debt was a car loan, the court would look to see who drives that car.

· Which spouse is best able to repay the debt? One spouse may be in a better financial situation to have the ability to consistently make payments on the debt.

The trial court will use the answers to the questions above to attempt at dividing the marital debt in the best was possible. It is important to note that only marital property will be subject to division. Debt incurred prior to the marriage will stay with the spouse that brought the debt into the marriage, with some exceptions. Sometimes a spouse will assume responsibility for the other spouse’s debt for credit and other reasons. This may lead the debt to be included in the marital debt evaluation. Generally speaking, however, marital debt includes those debts incurred by either spouse individually or both spouses jointly during the marriage. This means that any debt incurred from marriage up until the date of the final divorce hearing is considered marital debt.

The fact that any debt taken on during the divorce process will still be considered marital debt may be disconcerting to many. Malicious or simply irresponsible spouses may try to put you in a bad financial situation by assuming as much debt as possible during divorce proceedings. If you have a valid basis for these fears, you may request that the court order certain spending restrictions, including:

· Making high risk investments
· Spending money for the sole intention of harming you
· Over spending or frivolous spending
· Excessive gambling.

If you are considering divorce or are beginning the divorce process, be mindful of all of the above. Division of debt, just like division of property, can have substantial and lasting impacts on your finances. Additionally, and this is very important, remember that while the court may order who will be responsible for paying a specific marital debt, you can still be held responsible by the lender should your former spouse fail to make the required payments. A creditor may go after either spouse when payments are not received. Some states even have a stipulation in divorce decrees that states each party acknowledges that assignment of responsibility for paying a debt incident to the divorce does not necessarily change the creditor’s ability to go after either spouse for a debt owed.

 


Monday, November 13, 2017

How to Negotiate a Commercial Real Estate Lease

There are number of considerations for business owners involved in negotiating a commercial lease, not the least of which is the fact that the main objective of landlords is to maximize profits. By understanding the following fundamental concepts, it is possible to make a good deal.

Market Conditions

First, understanding the market conditions for commercial properties is crucial. Generally, pricing is based on square footage, but there is a difference between "usable" square feet and "rentable" square feet.

Rentable square feet is the actual measurement of the space that is being leased. However, rates are typically quoted based on usable square feet which combines the space with a percentage of common areas such as lobbies, hallways, stairways and elevators.

In addition, commercial leases are considered "triple net." This means that tenants are also required to pay for taxes, insurance, and maintenance for a unit as well as a percentage of these costs for the common areas. By understanding these market conditions and the rate other businesses are paying for similar units, it is possible to negotiate the appropriate rate.

The Term

There are a number of factors involved with the term of a lease. For some businesses, such as retail stores or medical professionals, having a stable location is essential for attracting customers and patients, respectively. With this in mind, the term should be long enough to minimize rental increases, but sufficiently flexible to avoid getting locked in. This goal can be accomplished by negotiating terms of one or two years with renewal options.

Repairs, Maintenance, and Build-outs

It is also important for a commercial lease agreement to establish which party is responsible for paying  repair and maintenance costs of the space, building and grounds. In some cases the tenant pays for insurance, custodial services and security costs unless the landlord agrees to pay for a portion or all of these expenses. In addition, if new space is being leased, landlords will often agree to pay for the costs of "buildouts" to customize the space, or offer the tenant a rental abate instead.

Options and Incentives

By establishing a track record of making timely rental payments, it is often possible to renegotiate the lease to obtain more favorable terms. Although a lease may contain renewal options, it may not be necessary to exercise them automatically. At times, market conditions may change, in which case a new lease should be negotiated.

The Bottom Line

In the end, business owners face a number of challenges, and negotiating a commercial lease can have a significant impact on the company's long term success. For this reason, it is essential to engage the services of an experienced real estate attorney.

 


Monday, October 16, 2017

What is Settlement Planning?


Settlement planning is a unique and expanding area of law that is designed to help individuals preserve benefits that have been received from a personal injury settlement, inheritance or judgment. The practice encompasses an array of legal services such as special needs planning, estate planning and financial planning. The objective is to assist clients with resolving claims and to create a structure to properly manage the funds.

Settlement planning is particularly designed for minors, individuals with disabilities, adults who lack capacity and individuals who are receiving public benefits. Without careful planning, those who receive a large settlement or other proceeds may have difficulty managing these funds.
Read more . . .


Monday, September 11, 2017

Why Your Business Needs an Email Policy

In the contemporary workplace, email is an essential and efficient form of communication. Whether it's used internally among staff members, or for exchanges with vendors and customers, email is a necessary business tool. At the same time, misuse of this technology can expose an organization to legal and reputational risks as well as security breaches. For this reason, it is crucial to put a formal email policy in place.

First, an email policy should clarify whether you intend to monitor email usage. It is also necessary to establish what is acceptable use of the system, whether personal emails are permissible, and the type of content that is appropriate. In this regard, the policy should prohibit any communication that may be  considered harassment or discrimination such as lewd or racist jokes. In addition, the email policy should expressly state how confidential information should be shared in order to protect the business' intellectual property.

By having employees read and sign the email policy, a business can protect itself from liability if a message with inappropriate content is transmitted. Further, it personal emails are not permitted, employees are more likely to conduct themselves in a professional manner. Because personal emails tend to be more informal and unprofessional, these messages pose a risk to the company's image if they are accidentally sent to customers. Lastly, email that is used for non-business reasons is a distraction that can adversely affect productivity.

The Takeaway

In order for a policy to be effective, it is necessary to provide training to all the employees, enforce it consistently and implement a monitoring system to detect misuse of the email system. Ultimately, establishing formal email policy and providing it to all employees will ensure a business remains productive and efficient. If an employee violates the policy, a company will also have the ability to take disciplinary action. Lastly, a well designed policy will ensure the company's image and brand is protected.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Testamentary v. Inter Vivos Trust

The world of estate planning can be complex. If you have just started your research or are in the process of setting up your estate plan, you’ve likely encountered discussions of wills and trusts. While most people have a very basic understanding of a last will and testament, trusts are often foreign concepts. Two of the most common types of trusts used in estate planning are testamentary trusts and inter vivos trusts.

A testamentary trust refers to a trust that is established after your death from instructions set forth in your will. Because a will only has legal effect upon your death, such a trust has no existence until that time. In other words, at your death your will provides that the trusts be created for your loved ones whether that be a spouse, a child, a grandchild or someone else.

An inter vivos trust, also known as a revocable living trust, is created by you while you are living. It also may provide for ongoing trusts for your loved ones upon your death. One benefit of a revocable trust, versus simply using a will, is that the revocable trust plan may allow your estate to avoid a court-administered probate process upon your death. However, to take advantage this benefit you must "fund" your revocable trust with your assets while you are still living. To do so you would need to retitle most assets such as real estate, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, CDs, and other assets into the name of the trust.

Since one size doesn’t fit all in estate planning, you should contact a qualified estate planning attorney who can assess your goals and family situation, and work with you to devise a personalized strategy that helps to protect your loved ones, wealth and legacy.


Monday, July 24, 2017

A Primer on Advance Medical Directives

While the main objective of estate planning is to help individuals protect their assets and provide for  loved ones, there are other important considerations, such as planning for incapacity. In short, it is crucial  to plan for the type of medical care people wish to receive if a serious accident or illness makes them unable to make or communicate these decisions. By putting in place advance medical directives, such as a durable power of attorney for healthcare and a living will, it is possible to plan for these unexpected events.

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A durable power of attorney for healthcare is commonly referred to as a healthcare proxy. This estate planning tool enables individuals to designate a trusted family member or friend to make medical care decisions in the event of incapacity. This person essentially acts as an agent, and is responsible for working with doctors and other medical professionals to ensure they provide the type of medical care the incapacitated individual prefers. If a healthcare proxy is not in place, it will be necessary for loved ones to ask the court to appoint someone make these decisions. In the end, this advance medical directive protects individuals in the event of an emergency and relieves others of the burden of going to court.

Living Will

A living will is another important advance medical directive that clarifies the type of medical care an individual prefers to receive if he or she becomes terminally ill and cannot communicate decisions about end of life treatment. In particular, a living will establishes whether certain measures, such as a ventilator or a feeding tube, should be used to prolong the individual's life

Other Essential Healthcare Directives

In situations when an individual becomes critically ill and does not wish to receive extraordinary life prolonging measures, it is necessary to complete a do not resuscitate order (DNR). In the event of a medical emergency, a DNR notifies doctors, nurses and emergency personnel not to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation to keep an individual alive.

Lastly, it is also important to ensure that other healthcare providers and organizations can access an individual's medical records and history. For this reason, it is necessary to complete a HIPAA authorization - a document required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

In the end, the possibility of becoming ill and not being able to communicate is not something most of us want to think about. However, putting in place these important advance medical directives can give you and your loved ones peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be carried out.


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Difference Between Equal and Equitable Inheritances

When it comes to estate planning, many individuals believe that dividing assets equally among adult children is the best choice. However, there are situations in which leaving each child the same amount might not be practical. For this reason, it is important to know the difference between an equal inheritance and an equitable inheritance, in which each child receives a fair share based on his or her circumstances.

What is an equal inheritance?

In this situation, each child gets the same amount of the remaining estate after both parents have died.

This option works well when the needs of each child are the same, or the parents provided similar support to each child in the past. Moreover, each child must be mentally or emotionally capable and financially responsible.

It is important to note that cases in which an estate includes real property and other tangible assets, it may be necessary to determine the differences in value of these assets in order to leave each child an appropriate amount. Lastly, leaving an equal inheritance may be the best way to avoid the emotional and financial costs of disputes.

What is an equitable inheritance?

In some cases, leaving each child and equal inheritance may not be the right thing to do. For example, it may be wise to reward a child who has taken on the role of caregiver for an aging parent or to compensate him or her for lost time and wages. There are also circumstances in which children may have been given different amounts of money while the parents were alive either for a wedding, educational expenses or a down payment on a home.

Lastly, for those who have a disabled child who receives public benefits, it may be necessary to provide for living expenses and medical needs in a special needs trust. In all of these situations, an equitable distribution of the estate assets is the best option.

The Bottom Line

In the end, determinations about the distribution of an estate to surviving children should be made in a way that will preserve family harmony. For this reason, it is important to discuss your decisions with your children and engage the services of an experienced estate planning attorney.




Monday, July 10, 2017

How to Leave Gifts to Step-Children

Today, blended families have become increasingly common, and many individuals have step-children, that is, children of a spouse or partner. In situations where step-children have not been legally adopted, however, they do not have a legal right to an inheritance from a step-parent. For those who wish to leave step-children part of their estate , it is necessary to include them in an estate plan.

The easiest way to leave gifts to step-children is to name them in a will. As with any other gift, they can be given a percentage of the estate, or specific gifts. If there are other children involved, it is important to avoid confusion by naming each child and step-child by using their individual names, rather than terms such as "descendants," "heirs," or "children."

There are also a number of estate planning tools that can be utilized to include step-children in an inheritance. If the objective is to avoid probate, for example, a revocable living trust can be established in which a step-child is named as a beneficiary. Moreover, it may be necessary to provide for a disabled step-child who is eligible for public benefits by establishing a special needs trust. Lastly, a step-child can also be named as a beneficiary in a life insurance policy or a pay-on-death financial account.

While there is no legal obligation to leave step-children an inheritance, it may be the best choice for those who have a close relationship, or played a significant role, in raising them. However, this will reduce the amount of assets available to other children and beneficiaries. Because blended family relationships are complex and subject to emotional challenges, it is important to explain these decisions with all family members.

By engaging in an open and honest dialogue, you can minimize the potential for strife and the possibility of a will contest. In particular, it is important to clarify why you gave each recipient a gift, the selection of your executor, and your thoughts about the family.  Lastly, you are well advised to engage the services of an estate planning attorney who can help ensure your wishes regarding step-children are carried out.


Monday, June 26, 2017

How a Prenuptial Agreement Can Protect Your Estate

There are many circumstances that can impact an estate plan, not the least of which is divorce. While ending a marriage is complicated, it is not only crucial to arrive at a fair and equitable distribution of the marital assets, but to preserve your estate as well.

While the laws vary from state to state, it is important to understand the difference between separate and marital property. Generally, separate property includes any property owned by either spouse before the marriage, as well as gifts or inheritances received by either party prior to or after the marriage.

Marital property, on the other hand, is any property that is acquired during the marriage such as houses, cars, retirement plans, 401(k)s, IRAs, life insurance, investments and closely held business, regardless of who owns or holds title to the property.

One way to protect an estate in the event of a divorce is to put in place a prenuptial agreement. This legal document specifies each party's property ownership and clarifies their respective property rights should they end the marriage. A prenuptial agreement can reduce the conflict that is normally associated with divorce, avoid court intervention regarding questions of property division and also serve as an effective estate planning tool.

In short, a well designed agreement will distinguish separate property from marital property so that those assets are not misclassified if one of the spouses dies. Moreover, a prenuptial agreement is beneficial to those who are entering into second marriages because it will help to preserve the rights of children from prior relationships. In addition, for those who marry later in life and acquire significant assets, a prenuptial agreement can protect the estate from claims by former spouses.

In the end, a prenuptial agreement can enable each spouse to protect their assets and provide for their loved ones in the event of divorce or death. If you are considering marriage, it is essential to put a comprehensive estate place that includes a prenuptial agreement.

 


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