#FamilyFriday: ERA’s Fixed Fee Family Services

Potential clients are often concerned with the expense associated with resolving their family disputes.  

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By: Valerie E. Anias, Esq.

Potential clients are often concerned with the expense associated with resolving their family disputes.  It’s understandable as these matters can accrue substantial legal fees.  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses ways you can mitigate your expenses and how we can help!

  1. Mediation. Mediation is often a less litigious and less expensive means to resolve your dispute.  Often families need the assistance of a third party that can help guide the parties, fueled by emotion, towards a resolution.  The resolution is ultimately up to the parties but having that guide can be beneficial and save you the time and energy of duking it out in the courtroom.  ERA offers mediation services for families that are separating, needing a modification, attempting to develop a parenting plan, drafting a property settlement agreement, and more.  Our fees are $250.00 per hour to be split equally among the parties.
  2. Uncontested Divorce by 12 Month Separation. In those cases where families have been separated for 12 months and are proceeding with their divorce uncontested, ERA offers fixed fee services ranging from $500.00 to $1,500.00.  Generally these partners will have a Separation Agreement already settling all disputes but this is not required.
  3. Uncontested Divorce by Mutual Consent. In these cases, married couples without minor children can get divorced without having to wait a certain period of time.  To be divorced by mutual consent, the couple must have settled all issues relating to their marriage.  ERA offers fixed fee services to complete the agreement and file the divorce.  These range from $2,500 to $3,500 depending upon the amount of marital property.
  4. Separation Agreements. You and your spouse want to discuss and settle issues related to any joint bank accounts, cars, real property, debt, retirement, and alimony before filing for divorce.  Hiring an attorney to draft the settlement agreement to ensure it contains all necessary contract language and covers all potential property disputes is important to make sure you truly have settled all property issues.  Additionally, sometimes parties think they’re on the same page only to learn that they’re not.  Discussing these issues initially allows for a smooth settlement and divorce. ERA fixed fees range from $2,000 to $3,000.
  5. Parenting Plans. Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children, how best to co-parent, and how to anticipate and/or address the various changes in their lives at the time of its creation and in the future. It also allows the parties to decide what is in the best interest of their children rather than leaving it up to a Judge.  Often the Judgment of Absolute Divorce is silent on many issues which results in parties having to come back to Court for future modifications.  A well-drafted Parenting Plan can resolve many, if not all, of these issues.  More importantly, it allows parents to come together as parents – not as spouses.  They may no longer be spouses but they will always be parents.  ERA fixed fees range from $1,500 to $3,500.
  6. Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements. Marriage is both a romantic and business relationship. With very few exceptions nearly everything is or becomes marital.  As such, nearly everything can become subject of costly litigation in the event of divorce or death.  A well drafted and all-inclusive pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement will limit many of these issues.  For example, the agreement will identify what is and is not marital property, each parties’ rights in the event of death or divorce, predetermine rights and obligations for spousal support, inheritance, and more.  In addition, the agreement will have a complete financial disclosure including each spouses’ assets, liabilities, and income.  ERA’s fixed fees range from $2,500 to $5,000.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today and schedule a free 30-minute consultation regarding your family related matter at (410) 919-1790.

#FamilyFriday: Nesting Agreements

It is difficult to imagine your children living somewhere other than their home.  There is an alternative!

Children and finances are two driving factors in a divorce.  How will your children handle the idea of their parents separating and how will your bank accounts suffer?  Finding a separate living space, especially one that can accommodate your children, during your divorce is difficult.  It is difficult to imagine your children living somewhere other than their home.  There is an alternative!  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses an alternative approach called Nesting Agreements.

While parents are divorcing and sorting their finances, one alternative approach is to develop a nesting agreement.  Nesting agreements allow the children to always remain in their home while the parents take turns residing there.  For example, perhaps parent 1 resides in the home Monday from school pick up through Thursday school drop off and parent 2 resides in the home from Thursday school pick up through Monday school drop off.

During this nesting time, the parties can agree to maintain a joint account that each contribute to for paying household bills.  Perhaps the parents can stay at a family member’s home during the time they are not with the children or get a small 1-bedroom apartment in the interim.  It allows couples to work through the nitty gritty of their divorce while keeping stability for their children.

An important consideration is how well you and the other parent can communicate and co-parent.  At times, the feelings or circumstances involving the divorce don’t allow for that to happen effectively.  In those situations, a nesting agreement would not be beneficial.

If you’d like to consider a nesting agreement or some other alternative approach to separation and sharing custody, contact ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to learn more!

#FamilyFriday: Co-Parenting Resources

Figuring out how to co-parent after a breakup, separation, or divorce is difficult.  When parents don’t communicate well, that makes it even harder. 

Figuring out how to co-parent after a breakup, separation, or divorce is difficult.  When parents don’t communicate well, that makes it even harder.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC want to help parents by identifying various resources available to help them Co-Parent.

Some parents find difficulty in communicating with one another.  At times the communication is simple and other times, it is rather difficult.  Nonetheless, both must parent their children.  Removing face-to-face conversation is sometimes the best place to start when trying to co-parent effectively.  The below programs and apps provide various resources for the separated and divorced parents.

  1. Our Family Wizard

Our Family Wizard is an online program which provides a platform for communication.  The parents can “email” back and forth, add items to a joint calendar, and, most importantly, if their dispute needs to be taken to Court, the correspondence can be tracked by the Court.  This also serves as a means to encourage parents to speak with each other in a respectful manner and keep it about the children.  There is an annual cost of approximately $100.00 per parent.  This is a web-based program though there is an app for iOS and Android.

  1. 2Houses

Similar to Our Family Wizard, this program offers a mutual calendar, financial tab, and photo album tab.  It does not allow for direct communication but there is a journal function which allows parents to make notes.  The financial tab is particularly helpful as it outlines each parents expenses and each parent can upload what expenses they have paid on behalf of the child.  There is no cost to this program.  This is a web-based program though there is an app for iOS.

  1. Kidganizer

Like the former two programs, this is also a means for both parents to keep information related to their children in one central location.  It does not permit the parents a platform for direct communication such as Our Family Wizard, but there is an alert system to alert each parent regarding important events like doctor appointments or parent-teacher conferences.  This is an iOS only app program and costs $1.99.

  1. Custody Junction

Custody Junction provides a Scheduling Center which allows parents to schedule their visitation/events/vacations, etc. up to 2 years in advance.  It also has a Tracking Center which allows parents to track when events were created, edited, amended, what the expenses were, who was present at each event, etc.  It gets rid of the “he said, she said” regarding who, what, where, and when.  Similar to 2Houses, it also has a Reporting Center which provides for accumulated expenses as well as reporting about child support payments, denied or forfeited parenting time, etc.  This program is only web-based and costs $47.00 per parent for a 1 year subscription.

  1. Appclose

AppClose is a combination of the above 4 programs.  It has a joint calendar, a messenger option like texting, an expense forum that acts like Venmo by requesting reimbursement from the other parent as well as the ability to track expenses, the ability to create a parenting schedule, set important reminders, and keep track of family information such as immunizations, date of births, etc.  Much like Facebook, it also has a NewsFeed function which displays all communications, events, etc. at a glance.   This is a free app only program available for iOS and Android.

  1. SKEDi

This program is a family calendar of sorts.  It syncs your calendars so that each parent and/or child knows everyone’s schedule.  It also has the capability of being shared with caregivers and babysitters if necessary.  This is an iOS only app program and costs $9.99.

If you are in need of co-parenting assistance, call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 for your free 30-minute consultation!

#TuesdayTips: Long-Term Care Insurance Policies

A long-term care insurance policy can be an effective tool to pay for your long-term care, while at the same time, allowing you an opportunity to preserve your assets and qualify for government needs-based benefits.

By Jessica L. Estes

 Generally, most people do not have sufficient income or assets to fund their long-term care for extended periods of time.  And, most people are not what the government deems “needs-based,” so they would not qualify immediately for any needs-based benefits.  Rather, most individuals are somewhere in the middle.

For anyone in this “middle” category, a long-term care insurance policy can be an effective tool to pay for their long-term care, while at the same time, allowing them an opportunity to preserve their assets and qualify for government needs-based benefits.  For example, if you have a policy that will supplement your income to cover your monthly long-term care costs, you could gift money to an asset protection trust and use the policy and your income to pay through any look-back period.  When the policy is exhausted, you would be eligible for benefits, as the gift would be outside the look-back period.

Moreover, having an insurance policy that will pay benefits not only for nursing home care, but for home care, adult day care, assisted living and respite care is best, as it covers all the bases.  The policy does not need to have a lifetime benefit; usually, a 3 to 5-year term, with an inflation rider of 3% to 5%, compounded if one can afford it, is ideal.  The shorter the elimination period – the time you must wait before benefits are paid, the costlier the policy.  However, a 90 to 120-day elimination period is typical.

Additionally, you may want to consider a policy that qualifies as a partnership policy under the Maryland Long-Term Care Insurance Partnership Program.  Certain policies that qualify as a partnership policy will allow individuals to preserve assets in an amount equal to the benefits that were paid out on the policy if they ever need to apply for Medicaid.  In other words, if one has a partnership policy that paid out $300,000.00 toward his/her long-term care and then he/she applies for Medicaid, he/she will be allowed to keep $302,500.00 in assets instead of the normal $2,500.00.

Even though these policies may seem costly, the annual premium likely is less than a month’s cost in a nursing home; yet, most people do not want to spend the money if there is a chance they will never use the policy.  For these individuals, companies have created policies that can act as an annuity and provide a return of premiums if they never use it or can act as life insurance and provide a death benefit.  Also, for a married couple, and if both spouses can qualify for a policy, some policies will allow a transfer of benefits to one spouse if the other spouse does not use them.

The Maryland Consumer Guide to Long Term Care provides information on the companies authorized to sell policies in Maryland, as well as detailed information regarding Maryland’s Partnership Program.  Also, there is a one-time tax credit up to $500 that you can take on your Maryland return for purchasing a long-term care insurance policy.

To schedule an appointment with Jessica L. Estes, Esq., call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

#FamilyFriday: Grounds for Divorce

There are a number of ways to obtain a divorce in Maryland.

There are a number of ways to obtain a divorce in Maryland.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC discuss the ways to obtain a divorce in Maryland.

There are two types of grounds for divorce:  grounds based on a fault and no fault.  Grounds based on fault may permit a party to obtain an absolute divorce within 12-months and could serve as a factor considered by the Court in determining alimony or a marital award.  There are two no-fault grounds for divorce.  The most common is a 12-month separation which means that the parties have lived separate and apart without resuming cohabitation for at least a period of 12-months.  The second no-fault ground is a divorce by mutual consent which requires the parties not have children and resolve all their property issues.

If you believe your spouse is responsible for the divorce, you may want to consider some grounds based on fault.

  • Adultery:  your spouse has cheated on you.
  • Desertion: your spouse has left the marital home (called “actual desertion”) or you were justified in leaving the marital home (called “constructive desertion”), the desertion is deliberate and final, and 12-months have passed.
  • If your spouse was convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, has been sentenced to serve at least three (3) years or an indeterminate sentence, and has served at least 12 months of that sentence.
  • Insanity: If your spouse has been confined to a mental institution or hospital for at least 3 years prior to filing for divorce and at least 2 physicians testify at trial that the insanity is incurable and there is no hope of recovery.
  • Cruelty of treatment involves either physical or verbal abuse where the spouses conduct endangers the life or health of their spouse or minor child(ren) which makes living together unsafe.
  • Excessively vicious conduct involves a pattern of serious domestic violence or some other severe physical or emotional action.

If you are separated and need assistance, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

#TuesdayTips: Charitable Remainder Trusts

It’s that time of year again… the hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us!  If you are like me, you may still be searching for that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  Perhaps this year, as you make your list and check it twice, you may want to consider a charitable remainder trust.

It’s that time of year again… the hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us!  If you are like me, you may still be searching for that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  Perhaps this year, as you make your list and check it twice, you may want to consider a charitable remainder trust.

A charitable remainder trust is an irrevocable trust that allows the donor, or anyone else you name, to receive each year either a fixed dollar amount from the trust or a percentage (at least 5%) of the value of the trust.  The right to receive this distribution is either for the individual’s lifetime or for a period of years not to exceed 20 years.  At the end of the term, the amount remaining in the trust is distributed to a qualified charity.  Generally, a qualified charity is one that has been deemed tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service.

Moreover, the charity will serve as trustee of the trust and will be responsible for investing and managing the asset(s) to produce income for you.  Because the charity is also the remainder beneficiary, it has an incentive to increase the value of the trust, which in turn, benefits not only the charity, but you as the income beneficiary of the trust.

In addition to the income benefit, there are three primary tax benefits.  First, after you have transferred the asset(s) to the trust, you may take an income tax deduction, spread over five years.  You are not, however, allowed to deduct dollar for dollar the amount that you gave.  Rather, you are only allowed to deduct the amount of the “gift,” which is the amount donated less the amount of income you are expected to receive.  Second, whatever the charity receives at the end of the trust term, is not subject to estate tax.  Similarly, the donation will not be subject to gift tax based on the amount the “gift,” unless the income beneficiary of the trust is someone other than the donor or their spouse, in which case, there may be a gift tax imposed on the amount of income that is paid to the income beneficiary.  Lastly, because the charity is tax-exempt, there is no capital gains tax on the sale of the asset(s) in the trust.  So, you can turn non-income-producing property that has increased significantly in value from the time at which you acquired it, into cash without having to pay capital gains tax on the profit.  This enables you to invest the full proceeds of the sale into an income-producing asset.

Further, you can elect to have either fixed annuity payments or a percentage of the current value of the trust.  If you choose the fixed annuity, you will receive a fixed dollar amount each year.  This is beneficial if the trust has a lower than expected income return because you will still receive your fixed payment.  Sounds great, but be careful.  The higher your annuity is, the lower your income tax deduction.  Also, if the trust does not generate enough income to cover your annuity payment, then the trust’s principal will be used.  The more principal that is used, the less likely it is that the charity would receive anything at the end of the trust term and consequently, the less likely it is that the charity would accept your donation in the first place.

Conversely, if you elect a percentage of the value of the trust, your payments will reflect any gains or losses in value of the investments each year.  And, it is important to note, that once a decision is made, you cannot change it later.  If you are considering a charitable remainder trust, call ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 before making a final decision.  Happy gift giving!