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Garden City, NY Estate Planning & Complex Litigation Blog

Monday, December 12, 2016

Auto Recalls and the Dangers They Seek to Avoid

Automakers recall millions of vehicles every year. A recall seeks to reach out to consumers to return faulty products, mistakenly put in the marketplace, for repair. In 2014, more than 60 million vehicles were recalled, nearly doubling the previous record set in 2004. These automobiles all had some sort of defect. Some of the defects, while annoying, were not of serious concern, such as a faulty air conditioners, while others resulted in significant safety issues, like problems with the ignition switches, brakes, or steering. Honda issued a recall of 14 million vehicles because its airbags might shoot sharp pieces of metal into the car when deploying.

Of the 60 million cars that were recalled in 2014, less than half were actually repaired. Consumers may not be aware of the recall. Cars change hands several times, and dealers have trouble reaching out to everyone who might have the car. Several major car manufacturers have been caught purposely misleading regulators and consumers about recalls to save money. Toyota recently paid a $1.2 billion fine for this improper action. Even when everyone is aware that a recall has been issued, a consumer may not prioritize it. When consumers are able to bring their automobiles in for the recall, the part necessary for the repair may be unavailable, especially on older model cars that are no longer in production.

This leaves millions of automobiles on the road every year that may pose significant safety issues. Wiring issues can increase the risk of car fires. Vehicle components could break resulting in loss of control of the vehicle. Seat belts might be defective. Windshield wipers might not work properly. All of these problems make the roads less safe for drivers of these vehicles and everyone else on the road.

If a consumer is injured as a result of an issue caused by an automobile defect, he or she may have a substantial claim against the auto manufacturer. If the defect has caused a collision, the car company may be responsible for all injuries. A consultation with an experienced attorney is necessary to determine whether or not a claim is viable in a particular situation. 

 


Monday, December 12, 2016

Common Types of Will Contests

The most basic estate planning tool is a will which establishes how an individual's property will be distributed and names beneficiaries to receive those assets. Unfortunately, there are circumstances when disputes arise among surviving family members that can lead to a will contest. This is a court proceeding in which the validity of the will is challenged.

In order to have standing to bring a will contest, a party must have a legitimate interest in the estate. Although the law in this regard varies from state to state, the proceeding can be brought by heirs, beneficiaries, and others who stand to inherit. While these disputes are often the result of changes to the distribution plan from a prior will, some common types of will contests are as follows.

Lack of testamentary capacity

The testator, that is the person making the will, must have the mental capacity and be of sound mind at the time the will is executed , modified or revoked. Further, being of sound mind means that the testator knows what property he or she owns and understands the effect of executing the will. Although these are considered to be low standards, claims that the deceased lacked the mental capacity when the will was executed are common.

Undue influence

If the deceased was coerced into executing the will, it may be considered invalid. In order to ensure that the testator is not subjected to undue influence, the will should be prepared by an attorney. Moreover, heirs and beneficiaries should not take part in meetings and discussions between the testator and his or her attorney.

Will improperly executed

There are certain formalities that must be followed in order for a will to be considered validly executed. While some states require a notarized signature, others insist on a certain number of witnesses being present when the will is executed. If these formalities are not strictly followed, the will may be found to be improperly executed.

Fraud

A will can also be considered invalid if a person is intentionally deceived when preparing and executing the document.

The Takeaway

If a will is successfully contested, it can be declared invalid by the court. This means that the assets will be distributed either according to the terms of a prior will or if no such will exists, the state's intestacy rules. Ultimately, engaging the services of an experienced estate planning an attorney can minimize the risk of a will contest.


Monday, November 28, 2016

The Revocable Living Trust

There are many benefits to a revocable living trust that are not available in a will.  An individual can choose to have one or both, and an attorney can best clarify the advantages of each.  If the person engaged in planning his or her estate wants to retain the ability to change or rescind the document, the living trust is probably the best option since it is revocable. 

The document is called a “living” trust because it is applicable throughout one's lifetime.  Another individual or entity, such as a bank, can be appointed as trustee to manage and protect assets and to distribute assets to beneficiaries upon one's death. 

A living trust will also protect assets if and when a person becomes sick or disabled.  The designated trustee will hold “legal title” of the assets in the trust.  If an individual wants to maintain full control over his or her property, he or she may also choose to remain the holder of the title as trustee. 

It should be noted, however, that the revocable power that comes with the trust may involve taxation. Usually, a trust is considered a part of the decedent’s estate, and therefore, an estate tax applies.  One cannot escape liability via a trust because the assets are still subject to debts upon death.  On the upside, the trust may not need to go through probate, which could save months of time and attorneys' fees. 

The revocable living trust is contrary to the irrevocable living trust, in that the latter cannot be rescinded or altered during one's lifetime.  It does, however, avoid the tax consequences of a revocable trust.  An attorney can explain the intricacies of other protections an irrevocable living trust provides. 

Anyone who wants to keep certain information or assets private, will likely want to create a living trust.  A trust is not normally made public, whereas a will is put into the public record once it passes through probate.   Consulting with an attorney can help determine the best methods to ensure protection of assets in individual cases.   


Monday, November 21, 2016

Cycling Risks & Injuries

Each year, thousands of Americans take to the roads on bicycles. This mode of transportation is touted as being more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly than motor vehicles but when it comes to safety, cycling can come with a much greater risk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 39,000 individuals were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2012. That same year, 724 cyclists lost their lives following accidents on the roads.

In addition to the dangers of moving vehicles, cyclists often suffer injury from being “doored”; this occurs when a driver, or passenger, of a stopped vehicle, suddenly opens the door into a cyclist’s path of travel. Injury can also occur from street defects, such as large pot holes or uneven manhole covers that can cause the cyclist to lose control. If you’ve suffered an injury while riding your bike, it’s important that you consult a personal injury attorney who has experience representing cyclists. Unlike other accidents, cycling accidents have a number of unique considerations; these include:

Insurance Coverage May Be Different for Cycling Accidents
Many attorneys have litigated car accident cases and may assume that the insurance process works the same way for cycling incidents, but this is rarely the case. In fact, many states have unique rules regarding the minimum coverage and payouts when a cyclist collides with a motor vehicle, even when the driver of the vehicle isn’t found to have been negligent.

The Laws of the Road Differ for Cyclists
In determining fault, your attorney must understand the roles and duties of all parties involved. When it comes to cycling accidents, few are intimately familiar with the laws that apply to cyclists but such knowledge is imperative for case success.

The Injuries Are Different
Injuries sustained when riding a bike are vastly different from those sustained when driving, or riding in, a car.An attorney who has represented injured cyclists will likely have a much better idea of how much money will be required for immediate and long-term treatment.

As experienced personal injury attorneys, our firm can help you through the complex litigation process following  a cycling injury and help you receive the compensation you need to recover, and get back on that bike as soon as possible.

 


Monday, November 7, 2016

Disinheritance

Inheritance laws involve legal rights to property after a death and such laws differ from state-to-state.   Heirs usually consist of close family members and exclude estranged relatives.  Depending on the wording of a will, an individual can be intentionally, or even unintentionally, disinherited.

In most cases, spouses may not be legally disinherited.  Certain contracts, however, allow for a legitimate disinheritance, such as prenuptial agreements or postnuptial agreements.  These contracts are typically valid methods of disinheritance because the presumed-to-be inheriting spouse has agreed to the arrangement by signing the document.  

If there is no prenuptial arrangement, then the state’s elective share statute or “equitable distribution” laws protect the surviving spouse.  Pursuant to the elective share statute, he or she may collect a certain percentage of the estate. 

In states that follow “community property” or “common law” rules, however, the outcome may be different.   An attorney should be consulted for clarification of the differences in the law.  Divorces affect spousal inheritance rights.  Post-divorce, it is prudent to consult an attorney to draft a fresh will, in order to prevent confusion and unintentional dissemination of assets.

If the will is unambiguous, it is usually possible for a child to be disinherited.   It should be noted, however, that it is highly likely that close relatives will challenge or contest a will in which they have been disinherited.  Fighting such a lawsuit may put a great financial strain on the estate's assets.  Depending on how time-consuming and expensive it is to defend the will, less money may be available for distribution to the intended beneficiaries. 

There are ways to protect estate assets from such problems, for example through trusts.  It is essential for an individual to receive the counsel of a licensed lawyer in order to effectively protect his or her estate as inexpensively as possible.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Where Can You Bring a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Accidents happen and we do not have any control over their circumstances, including the location where they occur.  You might be injured while passing through or spending significant time in a state other than the one you live in.  If you are, you might become worried that it will be difficult to recover for your injuries or that you may be unable to recover at all.  This is not the case, as you can sue to recover for personal injuries in a variety of states, depending upon the circumstances of your case.

In order for a court to hear a particular case, it must have jurisdiction.  There are two types of jurisdiction and both are required.  Subject matter jurisdiction relates to the type of case being brought.  For example, a family court can only hear certain cases that relate to domestic relations.  The subject matter jurisdiction of a court is decided by statute.  Personal jurisdiction is the courts ability to decide a case on behalf of a particular party.  Usually, personal jurisdiction rules are examined in relation to a defendant.

For the most part, if the defendant that caused your injuries resides in or does business in a particular state, you can bring a lawsuit in that state.  When the defendant does not do business in or reside in the state where you want to bring a lawsuit, the rules become a bit more complex.  A lawsuit can be brought in any state where service of process was affected.  This means that as long as the person was served with the requisite legal paperwork in the state, the lawsuit can be brought there.  Also, simply put, a defendant can be sued in any state where they have a reasonable amount of contacts.  This is decided on a case by case basis, but, the general theory is that if a defendant could have reasonably known that they may be sued in a particular state, the suit can be brought there. 

Many personal injury actions result from automobile accidents of some kind.  Each state has a statute granting it jurisdiction to decide suits stemming from automobile accidents that occur on their roads.  When you drive in a particular state, you are consenting to be subject to a lawsuit there should you be involved in an accident.  These motorist statutes are often utilized by personal injury attorneys.

The rules relating to where a lawsuit can be brought can be complicated and difficult to understand.  If you were injured and are concerned about where to bring a lawsuit, contact us for a case evaluation today.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Preventing Will Contests

So, you have a will, but is it valid?  A will can be contested for a multitude of reasons after it is presented to a probate court.  It is in your best interest to have an attorney draft the will to prevent any ambiguity in the provisions of the document that others could dispute later. 

A will may be targeted on grounds of fraud, mental incapacity, validity, duress, or undue influence.  These objections can draw out the probate process and make it very time consuming and expensive.  More importantly, an attorney can help ensure that your property is put into the right hands, rather than distributed to unfamiliar people or organizations that you did not intend to provide for. 

At the time you executed the will, you must have been mentally competent, or of “sound mind.”  A court will inquire as to whether you had full awareness of what you were doing.   There will also be an inquiry into your understanding and knowledge of the assets in your name.  If, at the moment you executed the will, you were pressured or influenced by another individual to sign the document, it may be invalidated. 

If the document was signed under duress or undue influence, the provisions are likely to be against your intentions or requests.  Moreover, if you are trying to nullify a will on your own behalf, you are likely to need an attorney because it is very difficult and complicated to demonstrate the existence of duress, fraud, or undue influence.   If drafting a new will, counsel can ensure that your document abides by all of the validity requirements, so the will’s provisions can successfully carry out your intentions after your death.

For example, the will creator or “testator,” is usually required to sign the document before several witnesses who are over the age of eighteen, during a certain period of time.  A will or a certain bequest to a person could be deemed void if the beneficiary was also a witness.   In your state, you may be able to execute a “self-proving affidavit,” which may do away with some of the requirements in order to establish a valid will.  The testator should also designate a person to execute the document.  Consult your attorney to ensure that your will comports with your state’s particular laws and is sustainable against any future contests.  

 


Monday, October 10, 2016

Strict Product Liability

If an individual is harmed by a purchased device or product, damages may be recovered under strict product liability. The plaintiff, however, must be able to prove several things in order to prevail in suit against a distributor, manufacturer, or retailer. Generally, the product must have been “in an unreasonably dangerous condition” at the time of sale and intended to reach the consumer without any alteration.  Moreover, the injury suffered must be a direct result of the flawed product itself. 

Defects are not all created equal.  A plaintiff may bring a cause of action for either a manufacturing or design defect.  Generally speaking, in cases involving a  “manufacturing defect” only some products in the line of distribution will have been affected. The defect, for example, may have resulted from a malfunction in factory production. A design defect, on the other hand, which is integral to the product's structure, usually affects the entire line of the inventory, making each device dangerously defective.

Product liability can also be proven if a manufacturer does not provide adequate warning regarding a product's use. If the risk posed to the consumer is not patently obvious, the manufacturer is required to provide an understandable notice of warning to the customer. For an injured individual to win such a case, his or her injury must have resulted from the lack of warning or direction that could have prevented the injury sustained. 

If a plaintiff's injury results from that person's misuse of the product or his or her own negligence, that individual cannot prevail under the theory that the design or manufacture of the product was defective.

If an individual has been injured by a defective product, or because there was no evident warning of some dangerous aspect of the product's assemblage or use, a case of product liability may be brought. When considering whether to file a product liability lawsuit, an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted to assess whether the injured party has a viable case.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Testamentary Substitutes

In states that have “elective share statutes,” a surviving spouse is legally entitled to a certain percentage of the deceased's estate, even if that spouse has attempted to disinherit or to provide a lesser bequest, or gift, under the will.  In “separate property” states, an elective share statute is likely to be in effect.  If the estate in question is valued at $50,000 or less, the elective share is likely to be the actual amount of the net estate.  

“Testamentary substitutes” are removed from particular assets that would otherwise pass to the surviving spouse.  Assets passing by will or through intestacy could cause a reduction in the elective share amount as well.  Totten trusts, such as Payable-On-Death Bank Accounts (PODs), Retirement or joint bank accounts, gifts causa mortis ("gifts made by the decedent in contemplation of death,”) U.S. savings bonds, jointly held property, and gifts or transfers that were made approximately one year prior to death, are some examples of testamentary substitutes. 

If a gift was made about one year prior to death, yet involves medical or educational expenses, then the gift may not qualify as a true testamentary substitute.  With regard to PODs, the spouse, offspring, or grandchildren will be named as beneficiaries.  The funds of a POD are only distributed upon the decedent’s death.   Testamentary Trusts are listed in the will until the designated property passes to the trust upon the testator’s death.  

Generally, a gift causa mortis is only active upon the decedent’s expected death and is typically revocable.  Moreover, certain elements must exist to create a valid gift causa mortis.  These include an intent to create “an immediate transfer of ownership,” valid delivery, acceptance of the gift by the donee, and the donor’s “anticipation of imminent death.”  There are also certain circumstances by which gifts causa mortis are not valid.  For example, if the donee passes away before the donor, it is unlikely that a property interest was transferred.  Gifts causa mortis are also taxed as if the testator had listed the gifts in his or her will. 

In such cases, testamentary substitutes are generally put back into the net estate total to determine the elective share amount that the surviving spouse will collect.  The aforementioned may vary if property is held jointly, as joint tenants or otherwise, because the spouse may have a right of survivorship in the property.  Estate planning attorneys are aware of all the ins and outs of testamentary substitutes and how they may affect the distribution of your assets.  It is useful, if not essential, to consult with a knowledgeable attorney when making arrangements regarding testamentary substitutes.


Monday, September 19, 2016

What is the difference between contributory negligence and comparative negligence?

Contributory negligence and comparative negligence are two different systems that courts use to determine whether or not a plaintiff can collect for his or her injuries through a lawsuit. When an injury occurs, the cause of the injury is often the result of the actions of multiple people, including the individual who was injured. If the plaintiff is responsible for a part of his or her own injuries, it can limit how much he or she may collect, or preclude the plaintiff from collecting anything at all.

In a jurisdiction that has adopted a pure contributory negligence system, a Plaintiff is not allowed to collect if he or she is even 1% at fault for the accident. For example, if a pedestrian is crossing the street and is hit by a speeding car, the pedestrian will not win a lawsuit for the injuries suffered if he or she failed to look both ways before crossing the street, or if he or she did not cross in a designated crosswalk. Some jurisdictions raise the threshold for acceptable fault on the part of the plaintiff.

Comparative negligence provides that the total amount he or she might receive in compensation for his or her injuries will be reduced by the percentage for which that person is responsible for his or her own injuries. Under this framework, a person who is 90% at fault in a car accident can still sue for any injuries he or she suffered, but can only recover 10% of those injuries.

Many states in the US utilize a hybrid between these two systems. Under a hybrid system, if a person is responsible for more than half of his or her own injuries, he or she will not be awarded any damages at all. That person’s total award can still be reduced by the percentage a jury attributes to the plaintiff’s own actions. Some states use different systems for different types of injuries. For example, in Indiana, medical malpractice claims are subject to analysis under contributory negligence, but car accidents use comparative negligence. This confusing structure makes it all the more important to ensure that a person hires a competent attorney to help collect on damages.


Monday, September 12, 2016

What are the powers and responsibilities of an executor?

An executor is responsible for the administration of an estate. The executor’s signature carries the same weight of the person whose estate is being administered. He or she must pay the deceased’s debts and then distribute the remaining assets of the estate. If any of the assets of the estate earn money, an executor must manage those assets responsibly. The process of doing so can be intimidating for an individual who has never done so before.

After a person passes away, the executor must locate the will and file it with the local probate office. Copies of the death certificate should be obtained and sent to banks, creditors, and relevant government agencies like social security. He or she should set up a new bank account in the name of the estate. All income received for the deceased, such as remaining paychecks, rents from investment properties, and the collection of outstanding loans receivable, should go into this separate bank account. Bills that need to be paid, like mortgage payments or tax bills, can be paid from this account. Assets should be maintained for the benefit of the estate’s heirs. An executor is under no obligation to contribute to an estate’s assets to pay the estate’s expenses.

An inventory of assets should be compiled and maintained by the executor at all times. An accounting of the estate’s assets, debts, income, and expenses should also be available upon request. If probate is not necessary to distribute the assets of an estate, the executor can elect not to enter probate. Assets may need to be sold in order to be distributed to the heirs. Only the executor can transfer title on behalf of an estate. If an estate becomes insolvent, the executor must declare bankruptcy on behalf of the estate. After debts are paid and assets are distributed, an executor must dispose of any property remaining. He or she may be required to hire an attorney and appear in court on behalf of the estate if the will is challenged. For all of this trouble, an executor is permitted to take a fee from the estate’s assets. However, because the executor of an estate is usually a close family member, it is not uncommon for the executor to waive this fee. If any of these responsibilities are overwhelming for an executor, he or she may elect not to accept the position, or, if he or she has already accepted, may resign at any time.


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Lawrence M. Gordon, Attorney at Law, P.C. has offices in Garden City, NY and assists clients throughout Long Island, including: the north shore of Long Island, The Town Of Oyster Bay, The Town Of North Hempstead, The Town Of Hempstead, The Town Of Huntington, Nassau & Suffolk Counties & throughout the Five Boroughs of The City Of New York.



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