Thursday, May 14, 2020

Experienced lawyers write better wills


I recently had a client (not in for estate planning) mention their wills are over 30 years old.  I encouraged them to review it with an estate planning lawyer.  

Why?

First, laws change.  In the past decade (beginning 1/1/2011) there have been a number of changes in the law that affect estates.  Congress changed the estate tax rate; Virginia has enacted a number of changes, from “Digital Access” to completely re-writing (and changing the Code sections) on administration of an estate. While reference to olde code section still ‘work’, there are subtle changes that reference to the new section makes planning easier.

Second, case law changes.  The various courts have to review estate questions regularly and many write opinions which describe the problem, provide an answer, and explain why. Experienced lawyers use those opinions to adjust their advice to reflect current ways of meeting the client's objective.

Third, our lives change.  Are you Divorced from that spouse? Did that spouse die? Did you remarry? Does your new spouse have children? Each of these is a HUGE reason to review an estate plan.

Fourth, goals change. Many estate plans which were written when children are young place their money in trust until they are (hopefully) mature enough to handle it.  Those children have grown and may no longer need protection of a trust.  But there are grandchildren to consider, or someone may have a disability.

Fifth , assets change as well as the way the assets are ‘titled’ (whose name they are in, and whether the title grants automatic survivorship). Many people establish ‘living trusts’ as their estate plan, but don’t maintain them properly – they buy property in their own name, not the trust, which can screw up the whole plan.

My recommendation to my clients to keep their plan up to date:

ANNUALLY, Read your estate plan on a ‘significant anniversary date’ (wedding anniversary or birthday are suggested) to make sure it still says what they want to happen on their death. If it’s no longer a good plan, make an appointment with the estate planning lawyer.

EVERY FIVE YEARS Consult your estate planning lawyer to do a comprehensive review of the plan. This allows the lawyer to see where all the changes affect the plan and suggest modifications to the plan to meet the new laws, lives, goals and assets.  I suggest a ‘divide by 5’ year (birthday or anniversary - 50, 55, 60, 65, etc) or calendar (2015, 2020, 2025, etc.) to make it easy.



If A SIGNIFICANT EVENT occurs – spouse dies, child dies, they win the lottery, get (re)married. Call the estate planning lawyer for an appointment and review. Retirement qualifies as a ‘significant event’.

Estate plans are not ‘static’; they are not “carved in stone”. They are very fluid and need to change with the circumstances.  Consult your estate planning lawyer.

Notice I didn’t say ‘call your lawyer’ but ‘call an estate planning lawyer’ – almost all lawyers now ‘focus’ their practice on a particular area of the law.  Criminal defense lawyers don’t know the nuances of estate planning (and estate planning lawyers don’t know the nuances of criminal defense and have forgotten who ‘Miranda’ ever was).  Unfortunately a lot of lawyers who spend a lot of time practicing ‘other things’ will happily draft a will not knowing all issues they should address. Would you go to a podiatrist for brain surgery? Same with lawyers – get one who focuses on estate planning.

New section of blog - "The Practice of Law"

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Since I'm a lawyer, I really should post stuff about my area of focus (some would call it 'expertise', but I won't go that far). 

So I'm starting an area called "The Practice of Law" - look at the labels that accompany my posts to see how I categorize my musings.

I hope it is helpful - first post in this area after this is about will writing.
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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A gift and a memory . . .

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Just received a gift from a good friend and colleague - essentials for these COVID-19 daze.  A bottle of wine and a roll of toilet paper. Both welcome.

It reminded me of something 51 years ago - I graduated high school in 1969 and went on one of those 'educational school tours' in Great Britain (Wales, actually). For two weeks we stayed at a dorm at Bangor University, Bangor Wales, went to classes and toured the area.

But what my friend's gift reminded me of was the toilet paper they had in the dorm. Worst Toilet Paper EVER. A page from the old Sears catalog compared favorably to that stuff. And it was 'medicated', whatever that means. After a day or so everyone went to town and bought their own and took it with them when they went to the restroom.

Not only was it bad stuff, but it was insulting . . . on the bottom of each sheet was printed in red "Now wash your hands, please".

Of course these days that's great advice. 
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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

he knew more than a lawyer . . . NOT

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As part of my elderlaw practice I wrote a deed from parents to their disabled son - a permissible transfer as one of the few exceptions under Medicaid laws. His siblings had the deed recorded at the courthouse (not really necessary but that's for another essay).
Son tells siblings he doesn't think it's a valid deed. They tell me - I tell them to have the idiot call me.
Today he does. The reason he doesn't think it's valid is because the internet says there should be two witnesses to the signatures.
My response was a full, clearly enunciated, eight letter word that refers to a bovine by-product. *
I told him I've been doing this for 45 years, have written thousands of deeds, and he now owns the property. Other states may want a witness, but not Virginia.
And told him he confused an internet search with my law degree.
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*bovine by-product = B.S.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Parking Saga


There is an on line forum called Quora https://www.quora.com/ where people ask questions, answer questions, and tell some pretty good stories in the process. I've learned a lot there. There was a question ‘Have you ever blocked someone using your assigned parking space?” I posted the following.

In the 50’s 60’s and early 70’s, my father had The. Best. Parking. Space. In Downtown. It was easy to pull in to and get out of. (the curb was, maybe, an inch and a half high). The space was about a half block from the office, which for a lawyer having to travel to various court houses was almost ideal. And there was a HUGE sign “Private Parking Day and Night” etc.

Unfortunately, if my dad wasn’t in it, some idiot thought they could use it. The location of the space was also such that he could block the offender in and not inconvenience other parkers. So he did.  Sometimes the offender would appear in the office and apologize profusely – my dad would move the car and let them out. If they were demanding or abusive, he’d tell them he left at 5:00 and would move it then.  Once he took a cab home.

Not only did he block them in, he had special peel-and-stick signs printed – 8.5 x 11 inch signs with legend “YOU ARE PARKED HERE ILLEGALLY” printed in bright red. And the signs were the old fashioned plain paper bumper sticker type that would NOT come off easily but instead in 1” pieces.

My dad was so famous for this that neighbors of the parking lot would warn off any interlopers.

When I was in college I had a 1970 Ford Maverick.  I had installed a car alarm -- old fashioned siren on motor -- that could be heard blocks away (and it saved some electronic equipment but that’s another story). One day I was downtown, saw he had someone blocked, and went into the office to ask if he wanted to switch cars and I set the alarm. Instant evil grin on his face, and I went to switch our cars. While I was doing this the neighbors called the office to see what was going on – my dad just said ‘watch and enjoy’.

A short while later the happy couple came back. Wife was a battleax type, husband was a meek Walter Mitty type. Dad was in the middle of dictation (olde school stenographer) and heard the siren.  So he finished his dictation and went to the parking lot, walking down the other side of the street.  Neighbors were watching – Battleax decided she’d pick off the stickers (he usually put 2 or 3 on a windshield) and Walter would move my car which I had kindly left it unlocked.  He opens the door and the siren starts up – and it won’t stop until you put the key in the switch. After another minute of the ear-splitting siren he goes over, shuts it off, and the happy couple leaves.

That stunt was talked about for years.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Why payday lenders hate me . . .

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Payday lenders are the scourge of the earth. Just totally pissed one off: he called my 'creditor line' (phone number for creditors of people I've been appointed guardian for), and I called back the number left. My conversation with the collection agent:
CA: Mr. Puffuffnick, to verify you identity, your social security number ends in 1234, correct?
ME: That's close enough.
CA: We're getting ready to send out to the court papers to collect on a pay-day loan.
ME: (loud, obnoxious laughter)
CA: What's so funny?
ME: (in between laughs) You really think I'm gonna pay that?
CA: We'll get a judgment.
ME: (chuckling) so what?
CA: Don't you want to pay it?
ME: (with a helluva smile in my voice) Why would I?
CA: Because you got the money
ME: And had a memorable drunk with it. May even have gotten laid, too!
CA: Don't you want to pay it?
ME: Hell No. Good luck trying!
CA: Have a nice holiday.
ME: I will with the money I'm not sending you.
(end of conversation)

Why collection agents hate me . . .


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Since I serve as guardian for a number of people, their creditors try to make me pay them. Most of the time the creditors have bought the account.  See my earlier discussion here: http://rossiferous.blogspot.com/2011/09/drive-collection-agents-nuts.html
There is one very memorable call with a CA (CollectionAgent) – and probably my favorite war story.  The individual I was guardian was 94 years old at that time (he’s still alive at 102!).  the call went like this:
CA:  I’m looking for Irving Puffuffnick
ME:  Yeah
CA:  Irving, to verify your identity, does your social security number end in 1234?
ME:  That’s close enough.
CA:  Irving, Sleazo, Inc. has bought your Wells Fargo credit Card Account. You owe $7492.11
ME:  “Cool!”
CA:  We need you to make payments.
ME:  I can send $1.00 per month.
CA:  That’s not enough. Remember you used that money.
ME:  And I had a damn good time with it too.
CA:  Why won’t you pay more?
ME:  I don’t feel like it.  What are you going to do about it?
CA:  We’ll have to sue you
ME:  Hell, son, look at my age.  I could be dead by the time it gets to court!
CA:  (after looking up ‘my’ age)  Wow. You’re really up there! But you sound younger than your age.
ME:  It’s that Viagra, sonny, it’s good for more than humpin’.
CA:  (click) 


Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Snake story

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As part of my mis-spent youth I did radio and a little bit of television before I got an honest (?) job.  At age 16 I had my own radio show – naturally it was ‘The Ross Hart Show’ on WPXI radio 910 AM dial in Roanoke. I also worked other stations.

But this story isn’t about radio.  It’s about the 3 months in the Summer of ’72 when I worked at a Roanoke TV station. The TV was WRFT channel 27, in Roanoke.  It was put together on a shoestring, which kept fraying as it struggled to survive. All the equipment was ‘used’ when we got it.  Well used. And our studio cameras were black and white, not color – that’s a shoestring.

My job was primarily as ‘switcher’ meaning I was responsible for pushing the buttons to get what you were supposed to see on the air at the right second. Secondary was to point a camera at the ‘talent’ when we actually taped or broadcast something from our studio.  And the studio was on the top of “Little Brushy Mountain” west of Salem.  The good news is there were a lot of berry bushes to snack on; the bad news is that snakes liked the berries also. 

One FCC requirement to keep a broadcast license in those days was to broadcast ‘public affairs’ stuff ‘to inform the public’. So our version of public affairs was an incarnation of an old Roanoke Area show called the “Eb and Andy” show.  The original show was bluegrass; ours wasn’t. 

What we did was have a host and his sidekick discuss stuff, have guests to discuss stuff, and when all else failed they’d introduce some public service film and then discuss it. The host/straight man was a great guy named Jeff Hunt (I also worked with Jeff at a radio station).  The sidekick was Tom Hughes who dressed up as a hillbilly named ‘Uncle Looney” – red beard, confederate cap, overalls, sat in a rocking chair and affected a hillbilly drawl.

Our air conditioning system in the studio was broken and the station couldn’t afford to repair it. But we still had to produce the Eb and Andy show every day. In July.  A hot July.  

One day it was real nice outside – a little cooler, blue skies, gentle breeze.  So the show producer decided to set up the show in the parking lot next to the studio doors.  Everything was set up.  Microphones were connected and tested; the cameras were ready and adjusted to the lighting. The show just before our live broadcast was ending so it was maybe 2 minutes before air time.  Davis and I are chatting with the ‘talent’ and Davis mentioned that he killed a copperhead that Looney had seen a week earlier.  Looney was already in character and expressed his appreciation about killing that ‘nasty ole' snake’ when another snake came out from under the studio building, slithered between Jeff and Looney and on down the side of the mountain.  

There wasn’t time to move the set. So we had to open the show as is.  Except Jeff and Looney had their feet on the table – soles of their shoes facing the cameras. Their introduction included comments about their mothers teaching them to keep their feet off the table, but they had a good excuse:  the snake. 

Then into the show. 

After 10 minutes a loud round of laughter came over the headsets from the control room.  Apparently, that very day a member of the crew had gone to Woolworth’s department store and bought their novelty of the summer:  the rubber snake.  The kind of rubber that jiggles when you touch it.  Woolworths sold two sizes:  the $1.95 (18 inch) size and the $3.95 (3 foot) size.  Yep, he went whole hawg and got the big one.  The director told him to ‘do it’ so I saw him sneak into the studio and toss the rubber snake smack dab in the middle of the table where it jiggled as if alive. 

The Talent moved quickly. Very quickly.  Would you believe instantaneously? Jeff was at the end of his microphone cord off one side of the set.  And Uncle Looney?  That’s the only time in my life I’ve seen anyone do a back flip out of a rocking chair. And he ended up at the end of his microphone cord off the other side of the set. 

The amazing thing is that they – especially Looney - kept in character and nothing had to be bleeped (not that we could given the shoestring). Imagine an excited hillbilly drawl “Goodness gracious, what in Tarnation were Dat Thang?"

We went to commercial, came back live and the rest of the show was pretty much watching two guys laugh.