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Monday, April 17, 2017

Real Estate Contracts in a Nutshell

Buying a home typically involves entering into an agreement with the seller and most real estate contracts contain standard terms. However, it is essential to consult with an experienced real estate attorney who can review the contract. Let's take a look at some of the key terms in a real estate contract.

Obviously, the agreement must specify the purchase price. Unless you are paying for the property in cash, it will be necessary to obtain a loan from a bank or mortgage lender. Accordingly, the contract should state that the offer is contingent upon a loan approval. If possible, the interest rate and other terms of the loan should be specified to make sure you can make the monthly payment. If the application is rejected or lender offers a higher rate, you may need to back out of the deal. In short, without this provision in the contract, you may lose your deposit.

Further, a critical aspect of buying a home is arranging for an inspection of the dwelling to ensure that it is structurally sound, the roof does not need repairs, and that the heating and electrical systems are functioning properly. If there are defects that need to be repaired, the contract should specify that the seller will agree to make and pay for them.

While homebuyers often assume that fixtures and appliances come with the home, this is not always the case. For this reason, the contract should specify whether the refrigerator, dishwasher, washer/dryer, ceiling lights and other appliances and fixtures are included.

In addition, it is important to clarify which party will pay specific closing cost such as escrow fees, title search fees, title insurance, notary fees, re-coding fees, bank fees, and the like. In some transactions, it may be possible to negotiate a seller's concession. In this arrangement, the seller agrees to pay part or all of the buyer's closing costs.

Lastly, the contract should also include a planned closing date that considers other factors such as whether the buyer is simultaneously selling an existing home, conditions of the loan commitment, and any other issues that could delay the loan closing.

In the end, if you are planning to buy a home, an experienced real estate attorney can help protect your interests and get the best deal.


Monday, April 10, 2017

A Primer on Irrevocable Trusts

Many individuals are aware that a will is one way to plan for the distribution of their assets after death. However, a comprehensive estate plan also considers other objectives such as planning for long-term care and asset protection. For this reason, it is essential to consider utilizing an irrevocable trust.

This estate planning tool becomes effective during a person's lifetime, but it cannot be amended or modified. The person making the trust, the grantor, transfers property into the trust permanently. In so doing, the grantor no longer owns property, and a designated trustee owns and manages the assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

In short, irrevocable trust provide a number of advantages. First, the property is not subject to estate taxes because the grantor no longer owns it. Moreover, unlike a will, an irrevocable trust is not probated in court. Finally, assets are protected from creditors.

Common Irrevocable Trusts

There are a variety of irrevocable trusts, including:

  • Bypass Trusts -  utilized by married couples to reduce estate taxes when the second spouse dies. In this arrangement, the property of the spouse who dies first is transferred into the trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. Because he or she does not own it, the property does not become part of this spouse's estate when he or she dies.

  • Charitable Trusts - created to reduce income and estate taxes through a combination of gifting and charitable donations.  For example, charitable remainder trust transfers property into a trust and names a charity as the final beneficiary, but another individual receives income before,  for a certain time period.

  • Life Insurance Trusts - proceeds of life insurance are removed from the estate and ownership of the policy is transferred into the trust. While insurance passes outside of the estate, it is factored into the value of the estate for tax purposes, so this vehicle is designed to minimize estate taxes.

  • Spendthrift Trusts – designed to protect those who may not be able to manage finances on their own. A trustee is named to manage and distribute the funds to the beneficiary or directly to creditors, depending on the terms of the trust.

  • Special needs trusts - designed to protect the public benefits that many special needs individuals receive. Since an inheritance could disqualify a beneficiary from Medicaid, for example, this estate planning tool provides money for additional day to day expenses while preserving the government benefits.

The Takeaway

Irrevocable trusts are essential estate planning tools that can protect an individual's assets, minimize taxes and provide for loved ones. In the end, these objectives can be accomplished with the advice and counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney.

 


Monday, March 27, 2017

Making Decisions About End of Life Medical Treatment


While advances in medicine allow people to live longer, questions are often raised about life-sustaining treatment terminally ill patients may or may not want to receive. Those who fail to formally declare these wishes in writing to family members and medical professionals run the risk of having the courts make these decisions.

For this reason, it is essential to put in place advance medical directives to ensure that an individual's preferences for end of life medical care are respected. There are two documents designed for these purposes, a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) and a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST).

What is a DNR?

A Do Not Resuscitate Oder alerts doctors, nurses and emergency personnel that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should not be used to keep a person alive in case of a medical emergency.
Read more . . .


Monday, March 20, 2017

Alternatives to Divorce: Collaborative Law


Let's face it:
getting divorced can be an emotionally charged experience, particularly if the proceedings become contentious. One way to avoid the acrimony that can arise in a marital breakup is by pursuing an approach known a collaborative law divorce.

Collaborative Law at a Glance

There are three overarching principles of a collaborative divorce. First, this approach is designed to avoid litigation and intervention by the courts. Further, the parties must engage in a good faith exchange of information and evidence without going through a formal discovery process. Finally, the parties must agree to communicate in a manner that will advance the highest priorities of the divorce.

This approach involves the considerations typically associated with divorce, such as the division of property, spousal maintenance, child custody and child support. The divorcing spouses and their respective attorneys must agree in writing to not litigate the matter and to negotiate a settlement, however. A collaborative law divorce is unique in that it relies on an interdisciplinary approach in which other professionals, such as psychologists, child specialists, accountants and other financial experts collaborate with the attorneys.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the parties can still take the case to court, but they both must replace their attorneys.  Moreover, if either party violates the principles by hiding assets, lying about relevant information or acting in bad faith, the attorneys can withdraw from the proceeding.

In the end, this alternative approach to divorce provides an opportunity for the parties to resolve their differences fairly, honestly and expediently. Because this process avoids spending time in court hearings, trials and filing motions, it is also less costly that a traditional divorce. A collaborative law divorce can ideally protect children from the emotional harm that often arises in a parental conflict, and restore family unity and harmony. By engaging the services of an attorney with experience in collaborative law, you can find a way to respectfully end your marriage and move on with your life.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Common Types of Will Contests

The most basic estate planning tool is a will which establishes how an individual's property will be distributed and names beneficiaries to receive those assets. Unfortunately, there are circumstances when disputes arise among surviving family members that can lead to a will contest. This is a court proceeding in which the validity of the will is challenged.

In order to have standing to bring a will contest, a party must have a legitimate interest in the estate. Although the law in this regard varies from state to state, the proceeding can be brought by heirs, beneficiaries, and others who stand to inherit. While these disputes are often the result of changes to the distribution plan from a prior will, some common types of will contests are as follows.

Lack of testamentary capacity

The testator, that is the person making the will, must have the mental capacity and be of sound mind at the time the will is executed , modified or revoked. Further, being of sound mind means that the testator knows what property he or she owns and understands the effect of executing the will. Although these are considered to be low standards, claims that the deceased lacked the mental capacity when the will was executed are common.

Undue influence

If the deceased was coerced into executing the will, it may be considered invalid. In order to ensure that the testator is not subjected to undue influence, the will should be prepared by an attorney. Moreover, heirs and beneficiaries should not take part in meetings and discussions between the testator and his or her attorney.

Will improperly executed

There are certain formalities that must be followed in order for a will to be considered validly executed. While some states require a notarized signature, others insist on a certain number of witnesses being present when the will is executed. If these formalities are not strictly followed, the will may be found to be improperly executed.

Fraud

A will can also be considered invalid if a person is intentionally deceived when preparing and executing the document.

The Takeaway

If a will is successfully contested, it can be declared invalid by the court. This means that the assets will be distributed either according to the terms of a prior will or if no such will exists, the state's intestacy rules. Ultimately, engaging the services of an experienced estate planning an attorney can minimize the risk of a will contest.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Top Five Estate Planning Mistakes

In spite of the vast amount of financial information that is currently available in the media and via the internet, many people either do not understand estate planning or underestimate its importance. Here's a look at the top five estate planning mistakes that need to be avoided.

1. Not Having an Estate Plan

The most common mistake is not having an estate plan, particularly not creating a will - as many as 64 percent of Americans don't have a will. This basic estate planning tool establishes how an individual's assets will be distributed upon death, and who will receive them. A will is especially important for parents with minor children in that it allows a guardian to be named to care for them if both parents were to die unexpectedly. Without a will, the courts will make decisions according to the state's probate laws, which may not agree with a person's wishes.

2. Failing to Update a Will

For those who have a will in place, a common mistake is to tuck it away in a drawer and be done with it. Creating a will is not a "once and done" matter as it needs to updated periodically, however. There are changes that occur during a person's lifetime, such as buying a home, getting married, having children, getting divorced - and remarried, that need to be accurately reflected in an updated will. Depending on the circumstances, a will should be reviewed every two years.

3. Not Planning for Disability

While no one likes to think about becoming ill or getting injured, an unexpected long-term disability can have devastating consequences on an individual's financial and personal affairs. It is essential to create a durable power of attorney to designate an individual to manage your finances if you are unable to do so. In addition, a power of attorney for healthcare  - or healthcare proxy, allows you to name a trusted relative or friend to make decisions about the type of care you prefer to receive when you cannot speak for yourself.

4. Naming Incapable Heirs

People often take for granted that their loved ones are capable of managing an inheritance. There are cases, however, when a beneficiary may not understand financial matters or be irresponsible with money. In these situations, a will can appoint an professional to supervise these assets, or in the alternative a "spendthrift trust" can be put in place.

5. Choosing the Wrong Executor

Many individuals designate a close relative or trusted friend to act as executor, but fail to consider whether he or she has the capacity and integrity to take on this role. By choosing the wrong executor, your will could be contested, leading to unnecessary delays, costs and lingering acrimony among surviving family members.

The Takeaway

In the end, estate planning is really about getting your affairs in order. By engaging the services of an experienced trusts and estates attorney, you can avoid these common mistakes, protect your assets and provide for your loved ones.

 


Monday, February 20, 2017

How to Enforce a Child Support Order

As many can attest, going through a divorce can be a difficult experience and the process can become contentious. Even after the spouses reach a settlement, conflict may continue to arise, particularly when a parent fails to make the required child support payments. In these cases, it may be necessary to take legal action to enforce the child support order.

Child Support at a Glance

While child support determinations may vary state to state, the courts generally consider a number of factors in reaching these decisions, including:

  • The child's standing of living while the parents were married

  • The income of each parent

  • Whether one parent is paying alimony to the other

  • The health, medical and educational expenses of the child

Child support orders specify the amount that is to be paid and usually require payments to be made on a monthly basis until the child becomes an adult.

Enforcing a Support Order

While both parents are responsible for the financial well-being of their children, the parent who has primary custody will typically be awarded child support. A parent who fails to comply with court ordered child support can be held accountable by the other parent. In order enforce the order, it is necessary to file an "Order to Show Cause" or a similar legal document with the court. This order must also be served on the non-paying parent.

The court will then hold a hearing and the non-paying parent will need to explain why the payments have not been made. In some cases, there may be legitimate reasons, such as a sudden loss of income or an illness or other emergency. If the order was violated without cause, however, the court will move to enforce the order. In these situations, the court has a number of options, such as ordering payments to be automatically deducted from the non-paying parent's paycheck.

If the parent is a repeat offender, the court can also garnish his or her wages, place a lien on real property or even seize bank accounts. A more drastic step, the court may find the non-paying parent to be in contempt of court which could result in a prison sentence and fines. However, courts are generally not inclined to go this far since the parent will then be unable to earn income to comply with the child support order.

In the end, divorcing spouses have a duty to support their children, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce. If you need help enforcing a child support order, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.

 


Monday, February 13, 2017

Responsibilities and Obligations of the Executor/ Administrator

When a person dies with a will in place, an executor is named as the responsible individual for winding down the decedent's affairs. In situations in which a will has not been prepared, the probate court will appoint an administrator. Whether you have been named  as an executor or administrator, the role comes with certain responsibilities including taking charge of the decedent's assets, notifying beneficiaries and creditors, paying the estate's debts and distributing the property to the beneficiaries.

In some cases, an executor may also be a beneficiary of the will, however he or she must act fairly and in accordance with the provisions of the will. An executor is specifically responsible for:

  • Finding a copy of the will and filing it with the appropriate state court

  • Informing third parties, such as banks and other account holders, of the person’s death

  • Locating assets and identifying debts

  • Providing the court with an inventory of these assets and debts

  • Maintaining any assets until they are disposed of

  • Disposing of assets either through distribution or sale

  • Satisfying any debts

  • Appearing in court on behalf of the estate

Depending on the size of the estate and the way in which the decedent's assets were titled, the will may need to be probated. If the estate must go through s probate proceeding, the executor must file with the court to probate the will and be appointed as the estate's legal representative.

By doing so, the executor can then pay all of the decedent's outstanding debts and distribute the property to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. The executor is also is also responsible for filing all federal and state tax returns for the deceased person as well as estate taxes, if any. Lastly, an executor may be entitled to compensation for the time he or she served the estate. If the court names an administrator, this individual will have similar responsibilities.

In the end, being name an executor or appointed as an administrator ultimately means supporting the overall goal of distributing the estate assets according to wishes of the deceased or state law. In either case, an experienced probate or estate planning attorney can help you carry out these duties.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Do I need an attorney if I am buying a home?


Buying a home can be an exciting experience, but the process can be complicated. While some homebuyers may think hiring an attorney will be too expensive, not having proper legal representation can be even more costly. Although real estate agents typically bring buyers and sellers together, a highly skilled attorney can perform critical due diligence, anticipate problems, and be your advocate at the closing table.

It's often been said that real estate is all about the price and "location, location, location," but there are a number of factors to consider such as purchase and sales contracts, home inspections, title issues as well as arranging for financing. An experienced real estate attorney who knows the local housing market can help a buyer navigate these issues and protect his or her investment.
Read more . . .


Monday, January 16, 2017

An Overview of Foundational Corporate Documents


There are a number of steps involved in forming a corporation from selecting a name, obtaining the necessary licenses and permits, paying certain fees, and filing foundational documents with the appropriate state agency. While an attorney can help prepare and file the required papers, the owners, officer and directors should have a basic understanding of these documents.

Articles of Incorporation

The first underlying document is the Articles of Incorporation which states the corporate name, and the  purpose of the business. This is typically a generic statement to the effect that the corporation will conduct any lawful business in the state in accordance with its objectives.  In addition, the type and amount of stock that will be issued (common or preferred) must be established.
Read more . . .


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Wrongful Birth and Wrongful Life


Children who are born with significant disabilities or birth defects often experience pain and suffering, and caring for them can be an emotional and financial burden for the parents. Today, medical advances allow medical professionals to conduct genetic tests on parents to determine if they are carrying certain genes as well as prenatal tests to determine if those genes have been passed on to the unborn child.

Wrongful Birth

When a serious condition is identified, the parents have the option to terminate the pregnancy. If a medical processional fails to properly diagnose a child or provide reasonable genetic counseling about the risks of a birth defect to the parents, they may be able to pursue a wrongful birth lawsuit. In order to have grounds for a lawsuit, the parents must show that they would have terminated the pregnancy or would have elected not to conceive had they known of the potential risk.
Read more . . .


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