Guest Feature: Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friend By Jennifer Jackson Bell * Whoever said “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” obviously never owned a pet. Many people, myself included, think of their pets as their fur-babies or fur-children and dote on them as such. There is no doubt that pets hold a special place in our hearts but they also hold a special place in our wallets as well. Owning and caring for a pet takes love, and time, as well as financial responsibility. After we are no longer capable of caring for our beloved fur-children we want to make sure they are taken care of, as we would our human children. However there is one major problem we face: pets are seen as property in the eyes of the state, especially when dealing with wills and probate. This means that you cannot leave money or any type of property to your pet after your death. The only way to ensure that your fur-child is doted on and spoiled as much as he/she was when you cared for him/her is to create a Pet Trust. What Exactly is a Pet Trust? A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of one or more companion animals (or fur-children) in the event of a grantor’s (owner’s) disability or death. A pet trust is created like every other form of trust, with a Grantor (the owner), Grantee and Trustee (the pet). Typically, you will appoint someone you trust first and foremost and whom you would want to love and care for your pet after your incapability as Trustee. The trustee will hold property (cash, for example) “in trust” for the benefit of your pet(s). The trust will continue for the life of the pet or until the death of the last living pet included in the trust. Why Should I Have One? Trusts are legally enforceable arrangements. A Pet Trust ensures that your wishes for your fur-children will be carried out, and any and all directions regarding your fur-children will be followed. A trust can be very specific. For example, if your cat only likes a particular brand of food or your dog looks forward to daily romps in the park, this can be specified in a trust agreement. If you want your pet to visit the veterinarian four times a year, this can also be included. Since as pet...read more
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Is Your Custody Order Out of Date? When it comes to custody cases, most parents usually either sign a separation agreement, sign a consent order (order by agreement) or they go to court and have an order entered by the court after the trial. The drama dies down and hopefully life goes back to normal, at least as normal as things can get after a dispute of this nature. Life changes. As the years pass, children grow, parents get married or remarried and maybe a few more kids are added along the way. Especially when parents are young, they become more mature. Once the threat of on-going court battle is has subsided, parents may stabilize as co-parents and begin to trust each other. The best parents simply do what needs to be done. They might not rely on the custody order after a couple of years because they develop a co-parenting routine. As Time Goes By . . . Assume you and the other parent reach an agreement about your 4 year old son. It calls for him to be with you every other weekend from Friday at 6:00 p.m. until Sunday night at 6:00 p.m., every other Wednesday night, and two weeks during the summer. For a number of reasons, when your son is 6 and starts school, both of you agree it would be in his best interest to live with you and reverse the visitation schedule. This works great for years. What’s The Problem? The problem is that the old custody order remains in effect as is unless and until it is changed, or it “expires” when a child reaches the age of 18. Now assume that your son is 11, and the other parent suddenly tells you he or she will now be going back to the court-ordered visitation schedule, and your son will be staying there full time until further notice. You rush home, dig up the custody order, blow the dust off and see that it only gives you visitation every other weekend and Wednesday nights. From that messy situation, it is obvious you have a real problem. If the order had been updated, this problem could’ve been avoided. When you no longer agree with the other parent, you risk being held in contempt of court if you fail to abide by the custody order. Ultimately, a judge has the ability to enforce the order by whatever means is...read more
Ex Parte Orders: When Will I Have My Day in Court? The Courts and due process rights in the United States Constitution are built upon the right of each person to a fair trial. Fundamentally, a person who is served with a lawsuit has the right to respond in writing, by testimony and by evidence offered during the trial. Both parties may exercise the right to file motions asking the court to do something, seek documents in the possession of the other party (called discovery), and have an attorney issue a subpoena compelling a witness to testify or provide evidence to the court. The law gives each person his or her day in court. Exceptions to the General Rule While this holds true with family law cases, there are times when there is an extreme emergency serious enough to warrant the court entering a temporary order based only on one side of the story. If you’ve been in court maybe you’ve heard the term ex parte but no one ever explained it. It is a Latin term that means something takes place based on only one side of the story. In this context, it means the court makes a ruling without the other party being present. EPOs are generally disfavored in court. The judge must weigh the seriousness of the allegations and decide whether they justify delaying the due process rights of the other party. Judges take the facts of each individual situation into account on a case by case basis. There is no “one size fits all” approach to deciding whether an EPO is justified. For example, when a spouse or other family member attempts to cause bodily injury to the other, or intentionally causes bodily injury to him or her, the court might enter an ex parte order (EPO) in the form of a domestic violence order. When the judge grants the EPO, it is served on the other party who must obey the order even though he or she didn’t have an opportunity to tell his or her version of what happened. But, he or she will be entitled to his or her day in court shortly. How Does the Ex Parte Order Play Out? If someone is served with an ex parte order, time is of the essence. An EPO is usually served with several documents, and includes notice of the date and time for the trial. People are often upset because there is a hearing date...read more
What Do You Want Out of the Divorce Process? People don’t live their lives expecting litigation, a terrible separation or the other parent taking their children away from them. Although it is not always the case, people often find themselves overwhelmed by unexpected circumstances by the time they make it to the attorney’s office. It is not uncommon for a client to schedule an appointment after recently discovering the other spouse (or the other parent) has been making plans to separate for some time. Almost all cases begin in the “triage” stage, when someone’s day to day life has just been turned upside down. The “emergency phase” of a case usually involves necessary arrangements for the short-term, such as where to live, what to do about immediate financial support, and when a parent has visitation with a child. Once that emergency phase of the case settles down, perhaps there is a temporary agreement or temporary court order in place. What Happens Now? After the emergency phase of a case, the real work begins. Take inventory of what matters in your life. Clients who seek counseling or therapy tend to uncover important goals, especially when they’ve made accommodations for their mates over many years. Turmoil can provide new opportunities. You might decide to return to school or consider relocating to another city or state. Or, you want to make healthy long term co-parenting a priority not only for you children but your future grandchildren so your family won’t have to endure drama at events such as graduations and weddings. A career change might also be an option based on your new situation. Talk To Your Attorney Like any other relationships, attorney-client relationships involve all kinds of personalities. Some clients have clear objectives and take an active role in their case, others don’t. By default, your attorney should be advocating for as much of the marital property as possible, and if you are a parent, the goal is to get as much time with the child or children as possible. That’s obvious. But there’s so much more than that. Make sure to share your personal goals with your attorney if he or she doesn’t specifically ask. Although our job is to advocate for you, we will do a better job of advocating if you clearly express your plans. For example, we could try to structure alimony to coincide with the completion...read more
Guest Feature: What Exactly is an Estate Plan? By Jennifer Jackson Bell* Stated in the simplest terms, estate planning is the practice of preparing for a person’s eventual demise. As morbid as it may seem to think about your death, planning for the end or rather what will happen to your belongings or loved ones afterwards is an important yet most-often complicated task. This is why hiring an Estate Planning attorney is paramount and also, very beneficial. An attorney will be knowledgeable of the current tax law governing gifts, estates and transfers. With the help of an attorney you can minimize the taxes your loved ones will face after your death. A more inclusive definition of Estate Planning is the process of anticipating and arranging, during a person’s life, for the management and disposal of that person’s estate during their life and at and after their death. An estate is the worth of a person. In essence it is the sum of a person’s assets minus any liabilities. Assets can include: real estate, jewelry, cash, vehicles, equipment, antiques, life insurance policies, etc. Basically an asset is anything of value. Liabilities can include: credit card debts, mortgages, tax debt, child support, etc. Liabilities are things for which you are responsible, principally financial obligations. Leaving your loved ones with items from your estate is more complex than it may seem, especially when it comes to the applicable tax law. You may be thinking, but I don’t need an estate plan, I’m not rich! Don’t make the mistake of overlooking your assets because you don’t think you have much or any for that matter. An estate plan is an important financial document for everyone to have. With only a few exceptions, everyone has an estate. If you own something of value and you would like to leave it to someone or some place after your death, you have an estate. And whether you know it or not, you also have an estate plan, but one you had no control over or decisions about. North Carolina has made one for you; actually they have one for every person that does not put an estate plan into place of their own. When a person dies without an estate plan, probate governs how their estate will be dispersed. Probate is a court-supervised process that gathers a person’s assets and distributes them to creditors first then...read more