Sunday, July 29, 2012

The High-Asset Complicated Divorce

Divorce is difficult, emotionally and financially.  During a divorce, the divorcing couple will try to determine how to split their life together into two.   This is never an easy task, and can be especially daunting when the assets are difficult to determine, or difficult to split. 

Issues can arise about which portion of the property is community property, and which portion is separate. What may seem very obvious to one spouse may not be seen the same by the other spouse.   For instance, the wife may say that an account is her own separate property because it was started before she was married and partially funded by an inheritance that she received from her family. Her husband may disagree, stating that he was consistently depositing a portion of the family funds into the account and that his wife had gratuitously placed his name on the account as a co-owner, while she made numerous withdrawals.  Which portion remains as her separate property? All? Some? None? 

When it comes to money and assets which are "co-mingled" (mixed) with other assets, determining what belongs to whom can be quite complicated.   Rarely, one spouse will have separate funds that are kept separate, in his/her own name, and are NEVER mixed in any way with the marital funds or separate funds of the other spouse. However, it is more common that things become mixed up, transferred, sold, added-to, gifted, bargained and exchanged. This is life. 

If you have a high-asset complicated divorce, it is important that you have an attorney representing you that has experience in these issues and knows how to defend what is yours. Your divorce attorney will need to work closely with you, and possibly with your accountant or other professionals, reviewing documents and asking questions, getting a full picture of your estate. This includes the date of inception of the assets, ownership and title, interest rate, growth, withdrawals, deposits, and other details.  A picture will emerge which will enable you and your attorney to explain the case to the opposing side, a mediator, judge and/or jury. You will be presented with a realistic picture so that you can determine your expectations, ability to settle, or necessity or proceeding to your day in court. 

Kalish Law Office is located in The Woodlands, Texas and has been representing clients in high-asset divorce cases since 1984. 




Risk Management for Advertising- Online and Off!

Everyone’s doing it! Advertising online is essential for many businesses today. Even if you, as a small business owner, have not launched an online advertising campaign, your business is probably found online in one or more directories.   In addition, you may have created at a few specific ads, whether online or as paper copy.  

But beware!  Just because an advertising campaign gets temporary results may not make it worth it in the long run.  Here are a few tips to be sure that you steer clear of trouble while printing or posting profiles, coupons, or ads, and engaging in social networking:

1.       Don’t promise more than you are willing to give.

2.       Don’t be so vague that your ads or “deals” can be interpreted two or more ways.

3.       Make sure your staff is aware of any deals or ads that are running.

4.       Take the time to update your ads. If an employee or partner is no longer with you take the time to remove their name and contact information from your online ads.  This is especially important if the parting was unpleasant.

5.       Don’t post negative things about your competition.

6.       Keep drama offline.  

7.       THIS IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT! If you hold a state professional license, find out whether specific rules govern the advertising of your profession.  Don’t just assume that a marketing person or marketing firm is familiar with the latest rules… it’s your license, be aware!

 These rules are quick and simple but following them can save you a lot of grief!








Monday, July 23, 2012

Do you HAVE to Pay the Debts of a Deceased Family Member?

Often when a person dies, he or she owes money.  Even if the person did not use credit cards, s/he may be responsible for a mortgage, car payment, or even medical bills from his/her last illness.

Obviously, if a mortgage or car payment is ignored after a person’s death, the property can be foreclosed on or repossessed.  But what about the other debts?

Creditors may begin contacting the deceased person’s relatives (especially if s/he had a spouse). Some are polite and honest, but other creditors are not, and often creditors are impatient.  It can be especially difficult for a grieving spouse, domestic partner, or child to know what to do and what s/he is responsible for paying, if anything.

Contrary to some popular belief, debts do not just “disappear” when a person dies.   Creditors will watch the newspapers and court notices to see if a probate action has been filed. The creditor is then able to file paperwork in the case and attempt to collect the debt from the estate.  Consequently, you might think that it is better not to file for probate at all.  This is not necessarily true. You may need to file a probate action for other reasons (to distribute and transfer real estate and bank accounts, for instance). 

Some creditors will get very aggressive and will intentionally mislead the surviving family member.   It is safe to assume that some collection agents have gotten more aggressive as they are “hungry” in this economy.  Abuses may occur, especially when the surviving family member is an elderly widow or widower.   The collection agent may encourage the survivor to “protect your husband or wife’s good name” (even if the surviving spouse is not legally required to pay the debt and to do so would work a great hardship.)

Having said that, there are some instances in which a survivor may be obligated to pay the debt of a deceased person.   For instance, if the two people both signed a contract together, or if the survivor had co-signed or guaranteed the debt of the deceased.  However, being an “authorized user” is different than being a “co-debtor”. For instance, when pertaining to credit cards, an “authorized user” is someone who has permission to use a credit card, but is not necessarily responsible for the debt. A “co-debtor” is responsible jointly for all debt that is incurred.

In some situations, a spouse may be responsible for paying a debt of a deceased spouse because of community property laws.  But whether something is a “community debt” can be a tricky question. 

In addition, there are a few other situations in which a survivor may have to pay the debts of a deceased person, and some other situations in which they are not responsible.   Many situations have to be decided on a case-by-case basis, with a good look at all the facts and the documentation that pertains to the estate.

If you are responsible for an estate (or choose to take on that responsibility), be aware that you must understand and comply with the appropriate laws.   If you distribute funds improperly you can be held legally responsible.

The Federal Trade Commission has an excellent guide about this subject on the FTC website.

Bottom line:  Don’t be pressured into making a decision when you do not have all the information you need. If you are grieving the death of a loved one you may need time to heal before you tackle non-emergency financial issues.  It is worth the time and money to have a consult with a Texas probate attorney to determine what options you have before you act.

Kalish Law Office 281-363-3700 Helping Texas families with wills and probate since 1984.

“Passionate, Professional and Personal. Since 1984.”  The Woodlands, Texas

Monday, July 16, 2012

Digital Estate Planning?

Planning for the end of your life or your incapacity is important.  

Through estate planning involves drafting documents, sure, that’s a given, but in order to really be effective, you need to look at the practical aspects of daily life as well.

For instance, you may have a really good will with a well-thought out plan. You may have saved money and taken good care of your property. Maybe you have excellent health insurance and take good care of yourself.  You have a power of attorney for health care, and even a power of attorney for day-to-day business decisions.

But… can the person/ people who are designated to step in find what they need to do what they need to do?

Now days, it is common for people to pay all of their bills online.  Maybe there are no “files” in your home that would allow someone to step in and write checks for the mortgage, utilities, and other monthly bills.  If your loved one or business partner is busy worrying about you, visiting you in the hospital and trying to keep up with other duties, do you really want them to have to try to figure out who your providers are for your utilities and what your online passwords are?

Therefore, as part of your plan, make sure that the person who needs to act for you will be able to do so quickly and efficiently by understanding what needs to be done and where to go to do it.

There is a bit of extra planning involved, but the positive aspect of this is that now bills can be paid without running all over town.  

Using technology to make your life easier is a good thing. 

And for help from technology in regards to your will, you can also scan the will and save a pdf of it on your computer, and/or send it to the person(s) who you would like to have a current copy.

In addition, you might also want to take digital photos of certain items that are being handed down in your will and leave the photos with your will to help guide your executor in distribution, especially if they are family heirlooms.

The digital age has enhanced our lives, and technology can be incorporated to make our lives easier on a day-to-day basis if we are willing to look at new ways of doing things.

Kalish Law Office 281-363-3700 Serving Texas families and businesses since 1984.

“Passionate, Professional and Personal. Since 1984.”  The Woodlands, Texas

Monday, July 9, 2012

What Kind of Training Do Texas Mediators Have?

Professional mediators in Texas who are appointed by Texas courts to mediate lawsuits have at least 40 hours of training. This training consists of classroom learning, role-play, and practical and written examinations and evaluations.

Mediators who mediate family law cases have an additional 24 hours of training in family dynamics, family law and childhood development as well.

Mediators may be attorneys or retired judges, but not necessarily.  Many psychologists and social workers do quite well as mediators, because their prior training means that the mediation process is quite natural to them.  Mediators come from a variety of backgrounds.

Mediators who mediate for neighborhood disputes or within certain companies, groups or organizations (non-court related), may or may not have the same training as detailed above.

If a court has ordered you to mediation, you can expect for your mediator to be a well-trained professional who believes in the process and has had the necessary training to deal with a variety of issues. 

Kalish Law Office 281-363-3700 Serving Texas families and businesses since 1984. “Passionate, Professional and Personal. Since 1984.”  The Woodlands, Texas 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Should you Settle your Business Case at Mediation?

If you are involved in a legal battle and have agreed to go to mediation (or have been ordered to go by the judge), it will be helpful to you to enter mediation with the right “mindset”.

Mediation is entered into with the hope (or at least possibility) of settlement of the case.   Some litigants (parties to the lawsuit), view that attitude as defeatist and feel that they are “giving in”.   Not necessarily true. 

Before you say, “No, I will not settle!” consider the case realistically.  Review in your mind the amount of time and money that you will spend if you do not settle.  Include all of the obvious and “hidden” expenses.  More attorney’s fees and court costs are obvious, but what about lost work time, stress, transportation expenses, lost work time, lost time with your customers and so on?

Of course, there are times when you shouldn’t settle.   Sometimes the opposing side is just not being reasonable and you cannot settle, even if you’d like to, because you just don’t feel that you can afford it. You have taken a realistic attitude, listened to your lawyer, and you just cannot do it.  The reason may be financial, or there may be other reasons why you believe that you must try to "win" in court (reputation of your company, your future employment prospects, effect of a voluntary settlement on third parties).

If you can, go into the mediation with the attitude “Let’s see what happens here.   The opposing party is not usually reasonable, but I am going to do my best to put aside my anger and evaluate this practically and see if settlement is good for me.  I am going to do what I think is best, whatever that may be, and then I am not going to look back.”

If your business case is going to mediation, be ready with facts, dates, figures and any other information that can help with evaluation or settlement of the case.  Before you say "no" to settlement, be sure that you have a realistic picture of what the costs of continuing litigation might be, and whether they are worth it in a practical sense.

Kalish Law Office 281-363-3700 Serving Texas families and businesses since 1984.

“Passionate, Professional and Personal. Since 1984.”  The Woodlands, Texas