#TuesdayTips: The “Simple” Will

All too often will-seeking clients call the firm asking if we do “simple” wills, say they need a will, but don’t want one of those “long wills”, or claim to not have anything, so they just need a “basic” will.  On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses how having a properly drafted will can mitigate many of these foreseen and unforeseen problems.

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All too often will-seeking clients call the firm asking if we do “simple” wills, say they need a will, but don’t want one of those “long wills”, or claim to not have anything, so they just need a “basic” will.   Most law firms will respond to the client, “Yes! We can do that!”  But there are pitfalls that can arise, some foreseen and some unforeseen, when a person only has a “simple” will, and the client does not even know these potential pitfalls exist.  On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses how having a properly drafted will can mitigate many of these foreseen and unforeseen problems.

Two common scenarios arise when people have a “simple” will that case issues: (1) Age issues, and (2) Disability issues.  The first scenario, age, has two parts: (a) what happens if someone who is under eighteen (18) years old is set to inherit money or property from the decedent; and (2) what if someone who is over eighteen (18) years old is set to inherit money or property, but is irresponsible to handle a substantial inheritance?

In Maryland, a person under eighteen cannot inherit money or property and hold legal title to that property in their own name.  Someone else over eighteen must hold title to that property, for the minor’s benefit, until the minor attains eighteen years old.  Often times, though, the Testator or Testatrix (man/woman who creates the will) might not think that a person at eighteen is mature enough to handle inheriting money or property; therefore, in a properly drafted under-stated age trust (a.k.a. a minor’s trust) set up in a will, he/she can set the minimum age to inherit to an age he/she feels is more appropriate.  Often, a Testator or Testatrix will choose somewhere between age 23 and 25 because the person inheriting has completed college, grad school, a trade school and/or has been working for a reasonable amount of time and a can hopefully manage an inheritance of money, property or both.  Therefore, it is advantageous for your will to contain an under-stated age subtrust that directs how a minor’s or individual’s inheritance who is under a stated age will be held and managed.  Last, this subtrust can avoid the requirement of court intervention if a minor is set to receive an inheritance and no provisions are made outlining how to handle a minor receiving an inheritance.

The next scenario is: what happens if a person who is incompetent or disabled is set to receive an inheritance?  It is possible that when a person dies, he or she has designated an individual who is incompetent or disabled to receive all or a portion of their estate.  If that happens, it can have dire consequences for the beneficiary.  For example, what happens if the child of a decedent has a severe cognitive disability (i.e., severe autism or severe Downs Syndrome) and is receiving SSI and Medicaid because he is unable to work. If the parent does not do proper planning, that disabled child may inherit a substantial sum of money causing that child to lose his SSI and Medicaid benefits.

Or this other scenario: a husband is in a nursing home on Medicaid because of severe dementia, but the wife still living in the community suffers a massive heart attack and dies.  Now the husband in the nursing home may be designated in the wife’s will to receive all of her estate.  Now the husband in the nursing facility might lose his Medicaid benefits because he now inherited a house that needs to be sold.  Remember, the husband has severe dementia, cannot sell the house himself, and does not have a power of attorney.  Now a guardianship issue has presented itself in addition to him losing his Medicaid benefits because he now has excess assets.

All of the problems caused in scenario two can be avoided if the decedent’s will has a properly drafted Incompetent or Disabled Beneficiary Trust.

At ERA Law Group, LLC, we advise our clients of these potential pitfalls, even when the client wants to do “basic” planning.  Unfortunately, if not properly counseled, “basic” planning can cause very complex issues later after someone dies.  At that point, it may be too late to cure the issues.  That is why ERA’s “basic” or “simple” will includes both of these subtrusts…we don’t want our clients to be left stranded if these difficult and “unforeseen” scenarios come up later.  Call us today at (410) 919-1790!

#FamilyFriday – Military Retirement Pay, Disability Benefits, and Divorce.

Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, a former spouse may now lose a significant amount of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay despite what was awarded to them in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorney’s at ERA Law Group, LLC are discussing the recent change in how Court’s treat a service member’s waiver of retirement pay for disability benefits and the effects it may have on the former spouse.  A service member’s retirement pay is considered marital property.  Depending on the length of the marriage and the Court’s Order, a percentage of the marital portion of the retirement pay is reserved for the former spouse upon the service member’s retirement.  Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, a former spouse may now lose a significant amount of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay despite what was awarded to them in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

In Maryland, upon entering a Judgment of Absolute Divorce, couples negotiate what, if any, percentage of the service member’s retirement pay will be awarded to the former spouse. If a service member applies for and receives disability benefits, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) automatically reduces the member’s retirement pension on a dollar-for-dollar basis.  This automatic waiver prevents members from double dipping and receiving both retirement pay and disability benefits.  In practice, in exchange for the disability benefits, a member’s retirement pay is decreased which also results in a decrease for the former spouse.  Put simply, the former spouse will receive a smaller piece of the pie than what was originally contemplated.

Until recently, Maryland and many other states, treated the award of the service member’s retirement pay as a contractual arrangement.  This permitted the former spouse to retain their agreed upon portion of the service member’s retirement pay if and when a service member obtained disability benefits or increased benefits after the divorce which resulted in a waiver of their retirement pay.  The Court interpreted the waiver as a dilution of the former spouse’s share.  Finding this arrangement unfair, Maryland Courts continued to enforce the award in the Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  In other words, the service member was still required to pay the difference.

A recent Supreme Court decision, Howell v. Howell, has changed the way Maryland and other states have treated such circumstances.  Now – regardless of what the award was – a former spouse is only entitled to receive a portion of the retirement pay even if that retirement pay is now significantly smaller.  The Supreme Court suggested that state courts consider the unreliability of the former spouse’s portion of retirement pay when making a marital award and, if applicable, compensate the spouse elsewhere.  For example, perhaps this would increase alimony or a lump sum award.

If you are a military spouse, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to ensure your rights and benefits are protected!

#FamilyFriday – How is Child Support Calculated?

Frequently parents are confused by the child support calculation when considering their other bills and obligations.  What many don’t realize is that in nearly all scenarios the amount of child support ordered is determined by a calculator and factors such as “I have student loans” or “I have rent to pay” don’t necessarily matter.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys’ at ERA Law Group, LLC want to explain exactly how child support is calculated.  Frequently parents are confused by the child support calculation when considering their other bills and obligations.  What many don’t realize is that in nearly all scenarios the amount of child support ordered is determined by a calculator and factors such as “I have student loans” or “I have rent to pay” don’t necessarily matter.

Maryland uses a Child Support Guideline formula to calculate child support.  Both parents are required to complete a Financial Statement which outlines the various components of that formula.  First, the parents identify their actual monthly income.  This would include salary, Social Security benefits, alimony, etc.  Second, the parents then identify earlier child support or alimony obligations – per Court Order – which will reduce their actual monthly income.  This is called their adjusted monthly income.  Third, if there are any work related child care expenses, health insurance expenses, or extraordinary medical expenses such as braces, those will also be identified by both parents.

Once both parties’ have identified the above, the formula then predicts what percentage of the parents combined income would have been attributed to the child(ren) had they continued living together.  This number is then used to determine the “basic child support obligation.”  The additional factors such as work-related child care and health insurance are incorporated to determine the “total child support obligation” that the non-custodial parent would be responsible for paying to the custodial parent.  Some exceptions exist, such as, if a parent receives Social Security Income, food stamps, or transitional services which would not be considered actual monthly income.

If you or a loved one need help obtaining child support for your children, call ERA Law Group today at (410) 919-1790 or visit our website at www.eralawgroup.com!

#FamilyFriday – Fast Track to Divorce

Many people get married and mutually agree that a divorce is what’s right for them.  A divorce by mutual consent allows parties to file for divorce so long as there are no minor children and there is an agreement as to all property issues.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help you get divorced and quick.  Many people get married and mutually agree that a divorce is what’s right for them.  Prior to 2015, if you wanted a divorce you had to wait at least one year.  The theory behind the wait period was to encourage partners to reconcile and hopefully avoid divorce.  Fortunately the law has caught up with reality and in many cases, when you know you know.

A divorce by mutual consent allows parties to file for divorce so long as there are no minor children and there is an agreement as to all property issues.  Determining whether you have minor children is easy but settling property can sometimes be difficult depending on the duration of the marriage and the property accrued.  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 a true divorce by mutual consent.

Once you have your agreement signed you can then file for the divorce.  Your spouse can come with you and immediately file their answer which avoids waiting for the summons and having to formally serve the Defendant.  When filing for the divorce you must include a copy of your agreement so the Court is satisfied that there are no unresolved property issues.  After you’ve filed, the Court will set an uncontested hearing for about ten (10) minutes.  Some counties take longer than others but a good estimation of the time it would take to get divorced is three (3) months.

The attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC offer fixed fee services to draft and finalize your  agreement and handle your uncontested divorces.  Call us today!

#TuesdayTips – The Importance of a Lease

Leasing property is a business and with any business a well drafted contract is a necessity.  Your lease is your contract. 

On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to stress the importance of obtaining a well drafted lease for your rental property.  As landlords you are entrusting a tenant or multiple tenants with taking care of your property and timely paying rent.  Despite your best investigative skills you may end up with tenants that are the opposite of what they seem on paper and ultimately destroy your property, fail to pay rent, or some other violation.  What do you do?  How can you protect yourself from these harms?  It starts with a well drafted lease.

When a tenant doesn’t pay rent or destroys property some landlords just think “I’ll evict my tenant.”  The process of evicting a tenant can be long and administratively cumbersome.  It requires notices, filings, a court appearance, a waiting period, abiding by local eviction procedural rules, scheduling an eviction, and then waiting for the date to arrive.  In the meantime, months have passed and your tenants may have destroyed property and/or failed to pay rent during that period.

Many landlords choose to download free leases from the internet and are left in a precarious situation when they cannot evict a tenant, charge late fees, collect attorney fees, or sue for the damage done to the property.  A well drafted lease will include many provisions to protect the Landlord’s interest and remedies in the event of default.  Additionally, these leases will have clauses which will permit the collection of late fees, attorney fees, bounce check fees, security deposit policies, authorized uses of the property, duties of the tenant and landlord, and similar provisions.  A sloppy or poorly drafted lease could result in your tenant getting away with damage, rental loss, etc. and leave you without any opportunity to collect.

Leasing property is a business and with any business a well drafted contract is a necessity.  Your lease is your contract.  Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today and ask about our fixed fee leases!

#FamilyFriday – Contempt

The very purpose of receiving a Court Order is to once and – hopefully – for all settle a dispute between the parties.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. 

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC are addressing individuals who have fallen victim to an ex-spouse or parent who refuses to abide by the Court’s Order.  You’ve gotten divorced or filed suit for custody and support, the Judge made their determination and you received a Court Order outlining that decision.  What happens when one person decides not to listen?

Contempt is when one party decides to act in contradiction of the Court or Court Order.  The very purpose of receiving a Court Order is to once and – hopefully – for all settle a dispute between the parties.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  That intentional decision to ignore or act inconsistently with a Court Order is important because it qualifies the contempt as willful.  Being in willful contempt of a Court Order can have serious ramifications.  The contempt-ing party may be subject to a fine, attorney fees, and in serious cases, jail.

The contempt-ing party also creates various consequences for the other party.  For example, say a provision of the Order requires Parent A to pay one half of private school tuition to the school directly and Parent A refuses to pay.  If Parent A refuses to pay their share of the child’s private tuition than Parent B may have to come out-of-pocket for the balance and, if they can’t, their child may not be able to return the following year.  These and similar situations wreak havoc – financially and emotionally – for the party who correctly abides by the Court Order.

If you are being forced to endure the consequences of someone who has decided not to adhere to your Court Order, call your advocates at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (443) 906-3566!

#TuesdayTips – *CRASH* Now what?

If you or a loved one have been injured in an auto accident it is imperative that you know your rights and what steps to take to ensure maximum compensation for your injuries.

You’ve been involved in a car accident.  Best case scenario, you’re not injured.  Worst case scenario, you are.  If you or a loved one have been injured in an auto accident it is imperative that you know your rights and what steps to take to ensure maximum compensation for your injuries.  On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help those looking to recoup after suffering an injury from a car accident.

  • First, get medical treatment. Don’t wait.  Go to the ER, your primary care, a specialist, physical therapy, etc.  There are many medical providers that will offer their services even if you don’t have insurance.
  • Second, get a copy of your police report and, if there was one completed, the accident investigation report. Find out as much information about the other driver as possible including their name, insurance information, vehicle type, and the circumstances leading up to the accident.
  • Third, if you’ve missed work or are now out of work because of your injuries, get documentation.  Have your employer (or former employer) print out the days you’ve missed, your hourly rate, any changes or accommodations made to your employment as a result of your injuries or disability, and any other details about your employment.
  • Fourth, get a disability rating. Perhaps you’ve injured your hand and are no longer able to use it, you’ll never be able to walk again, or can’t raise your arm above your head.  These considerations are important in filing your claim.
  • Lastly, take care of you! Hiring an attorney will help take the administrative and legal pressure from you and give you the opportunity to make sure you and your family get back on your feet.

Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (443) 906-3566.  Let us help you while you and your family recover!