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Family Law

Friday, April 12, 2019

What's in a Name?


I’m occasionally asked to file a petition for legal name change for a client, and I’m always interested in why people want to take on a new moniker. Both famous people and ordinary folks change their names, and they usually have some very good reasons to do it. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Most of us are not celebrities, and want to request a name change when there are changes in life situations that require a new social and legal identity:

  • Take back a maiden name after a divorce
  • Take a natural father’s name after out-of-wedlock-birth, or adoption by a new parent
  • Change to a pen name, or maintain a maiden name after marriage
  • Simplify a name that is complicated, hard to spell or hard to pronounce
  • Change a name when there is a change in gender identity
  • When one simply dislikes the name he or she was given at birth

     

    Celebrities often change their birth names to something that has more impact, is easier to remember and sets them apart from others in their line of work. Many legally change their names before they become famous, preparing for themselves an identity that will be unique and memorable in the public eye. Here are a few of the many celebrities who have changed their names.


Read more . . .


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Out of the Shadows - Sexual Harassment and Domestic Abuse


These are scary times as both women and men continue to come forward alleging serious sexual harassment incidents, many involving well-known celebrities. While all of this is at the forefront of the news and popular concern, a huge number of ordinary, everyday people suffer a wide range of harassment events, and we just don’t hear about them.

We allow so many frightening issues to remain hidden in dark shadows – violent events that cause injury in ways that can never be remedied. I’m thinking of domestic abuse – incidents that go far beyond sexual harassment of individuals in a social or business encounter. When violence becomes part of an intimate relationship, the result is often very serious lifelong physical or mental damage, and sometimes death.


Read more . . .


Friday, January 12, 2018

How to Survive a Divorce


The best of intentions just don’t work out, sometimes. The fantastic advance of legal same sex marriage was a euphoric event for so many in the LGBTQ community. Some who hadn’t quite thought it through were caught up in the excitement. Others were so committed to their long-time partnership they didn’t realize how marriage would change their relationship. And some, like many humans, just couldn’t stick out the legal and binding commitment.


Read more . . .


Thursday, November 10, 2016

2016 Election Analysis for LGBT Issues


Many of my LGBT clients have reached out to me in a panic wondering how the election of Donald Trump will impact their families, benefits, marriages, and other legal issues.  My advice….breathe, try to relax and let’s take a look at what the election MAY mean in the future.

In my opinion, the biggest issue is the future of the Supreme Court.    There is one vacancy that will now be filled by President-elect Trump.
Read more . . .


Monday, August 3, 2015

The No-Party Clause and Other Bumps in the Road

The No-Party Clause and Other Bumps in the Road

Everyone has questions from time to time about how to handle knotty problems that threaten to make life miserable. I get phone calls or emails from many of these people who hope that I can provide answers, or refer them on to someone who can. Some are minor issues or sad ones – and some of them are very serious. They cover a vast range of troubles that could happen to any of us. Here are a few recent questions that came up:

Question: Two friends and I get along really well, so we signed a lease on a house together.


Read more . . .


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I'm a Consumer! What has the California Attorney General's Office and the Department of Consumer Affairs Done for Me Lately?


The Attorney General heads up the California Department of Justice (DOJ), and according to the department’s mission statement, has broad responsibilities to enforce laws fairly and impartially; ensure justice, safety and liberty for everyone; encourage economic prosperity, equal opportunity and tolerance; and safeguard California’s human, natural, and financial resources for this and future generations.  Justice is served by helping to prevent and prosecute criminal activity, protect consumers from victimization, and promote public safety.

The Attorney General can’t give specific legal advice about personal problems or represent individual Californians, but whether you realize it or not, your life is touched by many of the Attorney General’s actions every day. Here are some of the major areas that are designed to support your safety, general welfare, and quality of life:

 The Attorney General heads up the California Department of Justice (DOJ), and according to the department’s mission statement, has broad responsibilities to enforce laws fairly and impartially; ensure justice, safety and liberty for everyone; encourage economic prosperity, equal opportunity and tolerance; and safeguard California’s human, natural, and financial resources for this and future generations.  Justice is served by helping to prevent and prosecute criminal activity, protect consumers from victimization, and promote public safety.
Read more . . .


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Money Matters


I handle estate planning for people who have a handful of assets, tons of assets, and everything in between. Other people have serious financial problems, and I help them file bankruptcy, so they can get a fresh start. And some folks are married or registered domestic partners and need me to file for a dissolution of the relationship. Whatever your fortune or misfortune, money and other assets are usually the focus of my work. Here are some notes and suggestions that can help protect what you already have, or regain a solid footing when you need it:

  • Finding Money: You or a family member may have money waiting for you.

Read more . . .


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When Life Throws You Questions, You Need Answers

A new year is ahead of us, and some of these real-life questions and answers may help you make and keep resolutions that will pay off in the future:

 

Question:  Joanne and Marie are planning to marry in January. They know they need a marriage license from the county clerk. Is any other paperwork required before they can have their wedding ceremony?

 

Answer:  No other paperwork is required by the state or county, but there are several important issues that should be reviewed by the couple before they marry. When their status changes from single to married, many of their rights and responsibilities will change, too. Ownership of assets like a home, bank and investment accounts, and beneficiaries of retirement funds, insurance policies and annuities may need to change. There may be tax advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered. It is wise to sign a pre-marital agreement that spells out who owns what. This new chapter in their lives needs a rock-solid legal and financial footing. The marriage license is just a piece of paper – the icing on the cake.

 

Question:  U.S. citizens Sammy and Dejohn were live-in partners for 2 years, and decided to jump on the marriage bandwagon in Palm Springs last year. Everyone was doing it. Now, things are falling apart, and they are going their separate ways. Dejohn is moving back to his family’s original home in Jamaica, to settle down there near his relatives. Since Jamaica doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, is Sammy still married, in case he wants to marry someone else in the future?

 

Answer:  The two guys are still married under U.S. laws and those of many other countries. They should file for a dissolution and move on. Bigamy is never a good idea.

 

Question:  Calvin and Greg are in their 60’s and have lived together for 24 years.  Recently, Greg had a stroke, is developing some memory problems, and is not fully able to care for himself. Calvin is taking physical care of him, but Greg’s sister is handling his medical bills and personal paperwork. Recently, she brought over some papers, which she persuaded him to sign. Then she told Calvin that Greg had given her authority over all his finances, and she is going to make some major changes in his bank and investment accounts. Calvin is really concerned, because he and Greg have several joint accounts and own the house together. What should Calvin do?

 

Answer:  If this couple ever registered as domestic partners, or married each other, it is likely that Greg can’t give away spousal rights just by signing a paper. Also, Greg can’t sign over the joint ownership of the home and bank accounts.  However, in joint accounts, either owner is entitled to use of the whole account. Technically, if the sister is now Greg’s legal agent, she could take all the funds out of the bank accounts, leaving Calvin with nothing. Calvin should consult an attorney immediately, to find out what he  can do to protect his share of the assets. And definitely contact the local elder abuse authorities – it is possible the sister used undue influence to obtain control of Greg’s finances.

 

Question:  Wally and Susan’s mother was a smart lady, and she created a simple Will for herself on her computer. As assets, she listed her house and personal property, including 2 antique cars, some valuable art pieces and jewelry. Wally, Susan, nephew Randy, and 3 friends were listed as beneficiaries, with the items each would receive. She signed the Will, had it notarized, and put it away in her safe deposit box, where it was found when she passed on 12 years later.

 

Mother named Randy as executor in the Will, and as required, he petitioned the probate court to give him authority to manage her estate and distribute all her property. Everyone was shocked to learn that the Will wasn’t valid. California Wills require at least two disinterested witnesses, not a notarization. Aside from that, the list of assets was sorely out of date – in need of money, mother had disposed of many of the items over the years, including most of the personal property promised to her beneficiaries. And 2 of the 3 friends had passed away. The Will said nothing about what would happen to their bequests if they departed. And mother’s house now had a reverse mortgage, and no equity left in it at all. What more could go wrong?

 

Answer:  Wills must meet very specific requirements to be valid in California. In spite of her intelligence, mother made several critical mistakes: the most obvious were not knowing the legal requirements for a valid Will; not providing for what would happen if named beneficiaries passed away before she did; and not updating her Will regularly to keep the list of assets and property current. Now, Randy must ask the court to probate an “intestate” (without a Will) estate, and appoint him administrator to pay off debts and distribute any remaining assets to the statutory heirs, who, under California rules, are normally the next of kin. Wally and Susan are mother’s closest relatives. Randy is farther removed, so he and the remaining friend have no right to inherit anything.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Broken Relationships - Avoiding the Fallout

 

LGBT relationships run the gamut from simply living together (cohabitation) to marriage. Most couples form lasting unions, but there will be rifts in others that lead to a break-up, with the two individuals going their separate ways. Financial differences or problems are a common result of the failures, and disagreements can result in emotional crises, costly court cases, and judgments that neither party likes. A little careful planning can usually avoid most or all of the drama. Here are some of the things to consider:

 

Cohabitation

 

Many partners have been in long-term cohabitation relationships, because domestic partner registration or marriage weren’t available to them. For others, cohabiting is simply a casual, convenient and voluntary way to live together. They may not realize that there can be specific responsibilities the partners have under civil law. They may not be able to just walk away if they decide to separate.

 

Civil Court (as opposed to Family Court) handles disputes cohabiting partners might have over the terms of their relationship. Were promises made and not kept? A partner must prove a legal basis for a claim, such as an oral, written, express or implied contract. The Court will determine whether there was an enforceable contract, and if so, whether it has been breached by one or both of the parties. These lawsuits (popularly known as “palimony cases”) can be very expensive, take many years, and are difficult to win.

 

A Cohabitation Agreement is the best way to avoid financial disputes in the relationship. The partners identify their financial contributions to the relationship, and what they expect to take away from the relationship if they separate. If the partners don’t want a formal agreement (“It’s not romantic”; “We would never do anything to hurt each other”), then it is essential for each partner to maintain individual bank and investment accounts, not hold title to any assets in joint ownership, and not contribute any money toward the purchase of any asset (house, car, etc.) that is only in the name of the other partner. Never give up a job or other assets because a partner promises support, without a specific agreement in writing stating the promise and that the partner will not be left destitute if the relationship ends.

 

Marriage and Registered Domestic Partnerships (RDP’s)

 

In California, marriage and RDP’s are essentially identical. Under state law, spouses and registered partners have very clear and defined obligations to care for and support each other. They can’t just say goodbye and walk away if one of them has trouble with money, gets sick, or finds a new love-outside the union. If they want to end the union, they must file a petition for dissolution of marriage and/or RDP.

 

Family Court handles the dissolution process, and supervises all the steps that must be taken to ensure that the final judgment will be fair and equitable. The expense of dissolution and the emotional toll on spouses or partners is directly related to whether the couple can agree to an amicable split. Each must disclose detailed financial information to the other, including listing all assets and debts. If minor children are involved, there will be a comprehensive review of their current status and a determination will be made about the best plan for their future support and care. Pets, too, are often part of the picture, and their welfare must be carefully considered in a judgment. The dissolution process can take anywhere from a minimum of 6 months to a year or two, depending on how quickly the couple can reach agreement on all the terms.

 

Pre-marital or pre-RDP agreements are the best way to avoid future conflicts and disruption of personal lives when a marriage or RDP ends. Post-marital or post-RDP agreements may be created if the union has already taken place. Based on many of the dissolution cases we have handled, these agreements should be essential for any couple sincerely making a long-term commitment to each other. Couples can gain security or lose a fortune by choosing to enter or not to enter into such agreements.

 

Both Pre-marital/RDP and post-marital/RDP agreements must meet strict California legal requirements, including:

 

  • The agreement must be made voluntarily, and not under fraud, duress, or undue influence

  • Parties to the agreement must have legal capacity to enter into an agreement

  • The agreement may not be unconscionable

  • The agreement must not be against public policy

  • Full disclosure of each party’s assets, debts and financial details must be made

  • There must be independent legal counsel for each party, unless that right is

    properly waived in a separate writing (in our practice, both sides are always represented by independent counsel)

 

Every relationship faces an uncertain future. Agreements are roadmaps that make each relationship stronger and more secure. They provide clear understanding of each person’s financial status and obligations, and are the foundation for a couple’s future, no matter what happens.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage: Down the Primrose Path

It’s been a year since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The LGBT community is still rejoicing, and with great energy, is pushing ahead for equal rights in all the other aspects of our lives. 

 

What have I seen in my practice this year? Many committed same-sex couples getting married - some quietly, some with joyous celebrations, and a few with reckless and thoughtless abandon. Most have lots of questions about what the legal and financial effects of marriage will be. Those who have come to me for answers are eager to “do things right” and protect themselves and their future. Some who rush into marriage without thinking, or without understanding the consequences, may not make it into the future together.

 

Here are a few of the questions and issues I have worked with recently:

 

  1. If we marry, does everything we own become community property?

    That depends on how you own the property before you marry, and how you

    agree to acquire new property after you marry. Do you already have joint bank

    and investment accounts? Do you own your house as joint tenants? Do you

    share legal title on your car? It is likely that these will be considered community property once you marry. If you are Registered Domestic Partners, you are already subject to community property rules, and marriage will not change that.

 

  1. We own a checking account together, and furniture and things in the house, but we want to keep our investments and other property separate after we marry. I want to stay owner of our house. How can we do that?

    The very best way is to create a pre-marital agreement that clearly identifies each person’s separate property and the couple’s shared property. This agreement will also state who will own new property acquired by either or both after marriage. Both partners agree that all property will be covered under the agreement during the marriage. And if there should be a breakup in the future,

    there will be little or nothing to argue about when dividing up their assets and debts. A pre-marital agreement usually must be signed by both parties at least seven days before the date of marriage, so it is not something that can be put off until the last minute.

     

  2. We just want to be sure that once we are married there won’t be any problems with everyone recognizing that we are now legally responsible for each other.

    You will have your marriage license, if anyone asks. But in most states in the U.S., this will be meaningless. In spite of federal recognition of same-sex marriages, they are only legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia right now. In all the other states, lawsuits are pending, but will not be quickly resolved. If you travel to other countries, most do not recognize marriage equality at all, and some criminalize homosexual behavior of any kind.

     

    For legal protection, married and unmarried same-sex couples should have all the important documents that spell out the rights of partners and spouses to make personal and medical decisions in case of emergency, incapacity or death.

    At a minimum, there should be an Advance Health Care Directive, and a means to provide this immediately to medical and other professionals in an emergency.

     

    You may not want to carry the actual documents around with you all the time, so there are some excellent organizations that store them for you electronically, and can provide them 24/7, any day of the year. We provide this service to most of our clients.  You are issued an emergency access card, the size of a credit card, to carry in your pocket or wallet. It provides the information necessary to access your documents right away. This can give partners and spouses a solid legal foundation for their relationship, and peace of mind, no matter where in the world they might be.

 

  1. My old partner and I were Registered Domestic Partners (RDP) years ago, and then split up. Now I am going to marry my new partner. Will this be a problem?

    Unfortunately, yes. You are not free to marry a different person until your RDP is terminated. In nearly all cases, you are required to file for a dissolution (divorce), just as if you had been married. You must file a petition with the court, and go through the process of serving notice to your old partner, dividing up assets and debts, and agreeing to a settlement of your affairs that the court will find is fair for both of you. A dissolution can take anywhere from 6 to 8 months to a year or two, depending on the amount of cooperation between partners in getting all the paperwork filed, and any disagreement as to how to settle things.

     

 

 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cross Your Fingers and Fill in the Blanks

You’ve heard enough about estate planning from your family and friends. You’re finally convinced that you need to do something to protect yourself, your partner, your property. But, you say, “I’ll be darned if I’ll pay a high-priced attorney to fill out a few forms”. You saw an ad for a complete estate plan package for $995.00  -  just go on-line, down-load all the forms, fill them out and the job’s done. You don’t have to meet with an attorney, think about it, or even leave your home to do all the estate planning you need. 

Or you heard about a “document service” where a paralegal provides you with several forms, you fill them out, and she puts them in a nice, neat file folder for you. Cheap, over and done with.

And guess what? Your local office supply store sells pre-printed legal forms. Pick them up, fill in the blanks, and you’re good to go. Why not take advantage of these or other low-cost shortcuts to peace of mind? 

There are very strong reasons why most people should avoid these methods. Wills and Trusts require careful thought and sound legal advice. Tax planning is an important part of it, too. An estate plan isn’t just an assortment of forms and documents. It is a map for the future that considers all the aspects of your present life, requires decisions about what might happen to you and your family, and is crafted so the plan will continue to evolve as time goes by.

A recent court case illustrates one major hazard of do-it-yourself documents: 

A Florida lady filled out an “E-Z Legal Form” when she made out her Will. She wanted to leave all of her property to her sister, then to her brother, if her sister predeceased her. The sister did die first, and the brother claimed he was entitled to the entire estate. But the pre-printed Will stated that all “listed” items should go to the brother. Not all of the lady’s assets were listed. And the Will did not have a residuary clause (and not even any room on the form to add such a clause) providing for the disposition of property not listed in the document.

Two of the lady’s nieces (children of another brother, already deceased) brought action. After lengthy arguments on both sides, the court decided that the listed items must go to the brother, as the Will provided, but the unlisted assets must pass outside the Will, to the nieces, who were the next heirs in the line of succession.   Although it may have been the lady’s intent that her brother inherit all of her estate, the Will did not say so, and it did not provide any way for him to claim the unlisted items. Concurring Justice Barbara Pariente commented, “While I appreciate that there are many individuals in this state who might have difficulty affording a lawyer, this case does remind me of the old adage ‘penny-wise and pound foolish.’”

Pre-printed forms can’t possibly include all the language needed to cover the wide range of possibilities and probabilities that are part of our everyday lives. There is no single Will, Trust, Power of Attorney or any other pre-printed form or pre-written format that can meet the needs of everyone. How would you know if some essential language is missing, or certain statements can cause problems, or your intent is not truly reflected in the document? How do you know what you don’t know?

Attorneys have studied the laws (and the court cases) and get to know you and all the details of your particular situation. They recognize the hazards and pitfalls of missing or incorrect language, and draft comprehensive documents that fit you like a glove. You are not a John Doe, and your estate plan shouldn’t be, either.

For those of us in the LGBT community, it is even more crucial that our plans cover the  unique family, health and property issues we face because we still lack equality under most state and some federal laws. A properly crafted estate plan gives us the visibility and legal standing that is so essential to protect our families and our assets. Our special needs require special planning.

There should be ads and articles in the newspaper and magazines cautioning people against using pre-printed legal forms. But attorneys often chuckle about this. They don’t plan to run any ads. They get a lot of business from clients who tried the do-it-yourself approach and found the documents unusable when they were needed. Folks who wanted to save a little money bought a lot grief for themselves or their families.

In the court case, the lady may have tried to save herself a few dollars by filling in the blanks, but in the end her estate had huge attorneys’ fees and two years of wasted time. The nieces, of course, were delighted with the E-Z Legal Form she used. They came out over $100,000 ahead. Definitely not the result the lady wanted.


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