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Gianelli Nielsen News Blog

Monday, July 4, 2016

When is a person unfit to make a will?

Testamentary capacity refers to a person’s ability to understand and execute a will. As a general rule, most people who are over the age of eighteen are thought to be competent to make and sign the will. They must be able to understand that they are signing the will, they must understand the nature of the property being affected by the will, and they must remember and understand who is affected by the will. These are simple burdens to meet. However, there are a number of reasons a person might challenge a will based on testamentary capacity.

If the testator of a will suffers from paranoid delusions, he or she may make changes to a testamentary document based on beliefs that have no basis in reality. If a disinherited heir can show that a testator suffered from such insane delusions when the changes were made, he or she can have the will invalidated. Similarly a person suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may be declared unfit to make a will. If a person suffers from a mental or physical disability that prevents them from understanding from understanding that a will is an instrument that is meant to direct how assets are to be distributed in the event of his or her death, that person is not capable of executing a valid will.

It is not entirely uncommon that disinherited heirs complain that a caretaker or a new acquaintance brainwashed the testator into changing his or her will. This is not an accusation of incapacity to make the will, but rather a claim of undue influence. If the third party suggested making the changes, if the third party threatened to withhold care if the will was not changed, or if the third party did anything at all to produce a will that would not be the testator’s intent absent that influence, the will may be set aside for undue influence. Regardless of the reason for the challenge, these determinations will only be made after the testator’s death if the will is presented to a court and challenged. For this reason, it is especially important for the testator to be as thorough as possible in making an estate plan and making sure that any changes are made with the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.


Monday, June 27, 2016

An Overview of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that allows employees to take significant time off from work to take care of a loved one with an illness, medical problem or condition. The law does not require an employer to pay the employee for the time missed, but allows the employer to substitute accrued paid vacation/sick time for unpaid leave taken during the FMLA, meaning that the employee’s leave cannot be extended beyond the statutory period by using his or her vacation time. The FMLA prohibits employers from enforcing any negative consequences against the employee for exercising his or her rights under the FMLA. These would include termination, cutting back on hours, reducing pay, or diminishing the employee’s title or responsibilities.

The FMLA applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. To qualify, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least one year and must have worked at least 1250 hours in that year. The law allows the employee to take up to 12 non-consecutive weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for a spouse, parent or child who has a serious medical condition. There is special consideration given to family members caring for ill military service members. The parents, spouses, and children of these individuals are permitted to take up to 26 weeks off each year to care for their loved one. 

The most common use of the law is to allow an employee to take time off work after a child is born, even though most would not call pregnancy a “serious medical condition.” This is commonly referred to as maternity leave. Although it is not customarily exercised, fathers have an equal right to take time off to bond with their children after birth. The FMLA also allows new parents to take time off work immediately after an adoption. Some people use the Family Medical Leave Act to care for family members dealing with mental health issues, including dementia, addiction, or schizophrenia. The law covers any medical condition which require an overnight stay in the hospital, chronic conditions that require treatment at least twice a year, and conditions that incapacitate the affected person for more than three consecutive days. 


Monday, June 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, June 6, 2016

Controlling Estate Planning Through Trusts

How can I control my assets after death?

The practice of estate planning is dedicated to preserving an individual’s control over his or her assets after death. A simple will can control which individuals receive what assets, but a more thorough plan has the potential to do much more. Establishing a trust is the most common method used to exercise this kind of control. 

A trust can issue a bequest restricted by a condition; for example, a trust might be established to pay out $10,000.00 to a specific grandchild only once he or she has reached 18 years of age. Multiple payments can be made to the beneficiaries as long as the trust is funded. The trust can stipulate that the grandchild may have to graduate from college to receive the money, or even that he or she must graduate from a specific school with a minimum grade-point average or membership in a particular fraternity or sorority.

A trust can make the condition of payment as specific or as broad as the creator of the trust wishes. It may, for instance, bequeath benefits to a humanitarian organization on condition that the organization continues to provide food and shelter to the homeless. There is no limit to the number of conditions permissible in a trust document. Even when the conditions go against public policy and general norms and mores established by society, as long as the conditions may be met legally, they will be upheld by the court.

In order to create a trust, there must be a capital investment to fund it and a trustee must be named. The trustee is responsible for protecting the assets of the trust, investing them to the best of his or her ability, managing real estate and other long-term assets, interpreting the trust document, communicating regularly with the beneficiaries of the trust and performing all of these actions with a high level of integrity. Trust assets may be used to pay for expenses of managing the trust as well as to provide a stipend for the trustee if so provided for in the trust document.

If a trust document is not well written, it may be the target of a lawsuit seeking to dissolve the trust and disburse the assets held therein. Even if the trust is defended successfully, the costs of this challenge may deplete its coffers and frustrate the very reason for its creation. In order to avoid these possible pitfalls, it is imperative that a trust document be drafted by an attorney with a high degree of experience in estate planning law.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Why Should I Incorporate my Small Business?

 

Not every small business needs to form an LLC in order to function. A child selling lemonade by the side of the road has no use for a Tax ID number. It doesn’t seem practical to set up a new business entity to host a garage sale or a Tupperware party. As a venture starts to grow from a hobby to a full-time job, however, there are questions every business owner should ask to determine whether it is best to incorporate the business into a legal entity.

Do I need to protect my personal assets?

The greater the risk of being sued, the more necessary it becomes to file the necessary paperwork to form a Limited Liability company. This will limit the owner’s financial liability to the assets invested in the business. This means that, if a business gets sued, the business owner’s personal assets, like his or her home, automobile, personal bank accounts, and belongings, may not be targeted by the lawsuit. Common lawsuits of concern are for the satisfaction of contracts and leases and personal injury claims for accidents on the premises. Similarly, a bank may not seek a business owner’s assets to repay a loan unless the business owner signs a personal guarantee. Banks often require such a guarantee for new businesses that have no credit history.

Do I need flexibility in my obligation to pay income taxes?

A C corporation, which is a type of Limited Liability Company, has the flexibility to shift the business’s tax burden from one year to another. Normal business expenses and salaries can be deducted from a business’s taxes that may ultimately reduce a business owner’s tax burden depending on the income he or she derives from the business and from other sources.

Do I need to protect my company name?

In most states, companies register their names with the state to ensure that only one business can operate under that name. This is important for branding and marketing purposes. Adding LLC to the end of a company’s name can also add legitimacy to a new business, thus enhancing the brand.

Do I want to sell all or part of the business?

Ownership of an LLC or corporation can be shifted easily compared to those of a sole proprietorship. Adding partners and selling the business can be difficult if there are no lines between where the business ends and the owner begins. Once a business is incorporated, it lasts until it is dissolved, meaning it continues to be an asset for a business owner’s estate after the individual passes on.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Protecting the Rights of Parents with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, recognized the civil rights of a large class of citizens with physical and mental disabilities by making it illegal to discriminate against them in employment, transportation or public services and accommodations. Since its enactment, much progress has been made, enabling people with disabilities to obtain an education, pursue a career, live independent lives and fulfill their dreams. 

Despite this progress, people with disabilities who have children are more likely to have their parental rights terminated or lose custody after a divorce. 

Discrimination in the Courts

These discriminatory actions are often justified on the grounds that the courts are protecting the best interests of the child, but there is little research to support the assumption that someone who is disabled is incapable of being a good parent. In fact, according to advocacy groups there are likely more than 4 million parents with physical disabilities currently raising children. 

Most family courts work diligently to provide services and support to ensure that children maintain contact with their parents whenever possible. This is not always the case when disability is involved. There have been cases where disabled parents have not been allowed to bring their newborns home and the state subsequently filed to have their parental rights revoked, even in the absence of evidence of abuse or maltreatment. The presumption is that the disability endangers the welfare of the child. Currently, two thirds of the states have laws permitting the removal of children based on the disabled status of the parent.

Disadvantage in Custody Cases

Parents with disabilities are also at a disadvantage in custody cases, particularly if the ex-spouse does not have a disability. Competent parents with special disabilities require knowledgeable advocates who can demonstrate that they are able to effectively carry out their parenting duties in their own adaptive ways.

Fighting Discriminatory Practices

Advocates for the legal rights of parents with disabilities are waiting for a landmark trial that halts the discrimination suffered by parents with disabilities and protects their rights to have and raise children. While everyone agrees that children should not be exposed to a hazardous environment, decisions to remove children from homes where a parent is deaf or has a low IQ are often made by individuals who fail to grasp the remarkable capabilities of such parents despite their significant handicaps. More education on disability issues is needed at all levels of the child welfare and family court systems. At the same time, parents with disabilities must have better access to fair legal representation and support services. 


Monday, May 9, 2016

What is a Life Estate?

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

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

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

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


Monday, April 25, 2016

Legal Tips from the Shark Tank

Lawyers are often mocked in pop culture as “sharks,” but a quick flip through the TV guide tells you the real sharks out there are in the business world. The ABC reality show “Shark Tank” has become a cultural phenomenon, inspiring tons of people to start their own businesses and invent new products.

If you are part of the wave of Shark Tank inspired entrepreneurs, here are some legal tips for you.

Don’t go into the Shark Tank, or into business, without a plan. On the show, the entrepreneurs that do the best are the ones that are the best prepared to answer all of the sharks’ questions. In the everyday business world the same is true. It’s just that it’s not sharks asking the questions - it’s investors, employees, and the other companies you are doing business with. 

Be prepared to take risks, but preferably not legal ones. Starting a business is a gamble, but it can be downright dangerous if you don’t fully comprehend the legal risks you are taking on. Several entrepreneurs have had their dreams crushed by the sharks because their business is just too big of a legal risk to invest in. In order to be successful in business you need to know what risks you face so you can plan around them.

Be prepared to negotiate. The sharks rarely buy into a business on the first terms offered to them by the entrepreneurs. In and outside the tank, the successful business owners and inventors are the ones prepared to negotiate to get a deal that is good for both parties. This often means giving up more equity than originally planned or revaluing assets to reflect market realities.

Patents are shark bait. The old saying “you’ve got to spend money to make money” is absolutely true in the innovation world. The sharks’ eyes light up when an inventor mentions that they have a patent on the idea or product they are pitching. That’s because patents are hard assets that you can buy, sell, license or build a business around. If you have a great idea, spend the money to patent it. 

Going head to head with the sharks is something only a few businesses do. But feeling like you have been thrown to the sharks is something all business owners and inventors can identify with. If you are looking for someone to help you navigate the legal issues your business is facing - from starting up, to scaling up, to selling out - consider contacting an experienced business law attorney today.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Glossary of Estate Planning Terms


Will - a written document specifying a person’s wishes concerning his or her property distribution upon his or her death.

In order to be enforced by a court of law, a will must be signed in accordance with the applicable wills act.

Testator/Testatrix - the person who signs the will.

Heirs - beneficiaries of an estate.

Executor/Executrix - the individual given authority by the testator to make decisions to put the testator’s written directions into effect.


Read more . . .


Monday, April 11, 2016

Employee Handbooks: Important Provisions

An employee handbook is an instrument that is widely used by employers to communicate their expectations and policies to employees.  There are many reasons to develop and distribute an employee handbook.  These written documents enable employers to clearly outline what is expected from employees and what employees can expect from the employer.  In the event of a dispute with an employee or when a claim is made with a government agency, the handbook can be invaluable in protecting employer’s position. 

When drafting an employee handbook, certain information should be included. This includes:

Wages, Salaries and Other Compensation

An employee handbook should cover how and when employees will be paid.  It should also note how time worked it to be recorded, what taxes will be taken out and explain overtime policies.

Schedules

This document should also cover daily schedules.  It should note hours to be worked, breaks, attendance, lateness, how to request time off and whether employees are entitled to paid time off and when.

Benefits

An employee handbook can also be used to give employees information about benefits. It should cover what benefits are offered and how employees can qualify for them.

Employee Conduct

This manual should also be used to let your employees know how they are expected to act while at work.  It should also detail the dress code, if one exists.  You might also want to include guidelines for behavior in common situations.

Disciplinary Matters

An employee handbook should always include a section on employee discipline in the event that an employee should violate company rules or guidelines.  This section should detail any disciplinary system that is in place, and, if one is not in place, explain that matters will be handled on a case by case basis.

Safety Concerns

Your employee handbook should also cover how to respond to any and all foreseeable safety concerns.  These might include safety issues relating to work conditions, employee disputes and inclement weather.

Employment Discrimination/ Sexual Harassment

Employment discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace are real issues that can cost businesses a great deal of money.  By including your company’s firm stance on these matter and explaining that neither will be tolerated might help you avoid conflicts in the future. Employee handbooks differ greatly depending on business structure, size and even the industry in which it operates. Some manuals are just a few pages whereas others may be dozens.  In order to create a comprehensive employee handbook and ensure maximum protection for your business, you should consult with a business or employment law attorney to advise you on these matters.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Would transferring your home to your children help avoid estate taxes?


Before transferring your home to your children, there are several issues that should be considered. Some are tax-related issues and some are none-tax issues that can have grave consequences on your livelihood. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that the current federal estate tax exemption is currently over $5 million and thus it is likely that you may not have an estate tax issue anyway. If you are married you and your spouse can double that exemption to over $10 million. So, make sure the federal estate tax is truly an issue for you before proceeding.
Read more . . .


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