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Garden City, NY Estate Planning & Complex Litigation Blog

Monday, January 5, 2015

Leaving a Timeshare to a Loved One

Many of us have been lucky enough to acquire timeshares for the purposes of vacationing on our time off.  Some of us would like to leave these assets to our loved ones.  If you have a time share, you might be able to leave it to your heirs in a number of different ways. 

One way of leaving your timeshare to a beneficiary after your death is to modify your will or revocable trust.  The modification should include a specific section in the document that describes the time share and makes a specific bequest to the designated heir or heirs. After your death, the executor or trustee will be the one that handles the documents needed to transfer title to your heir. If the time share is outside your state of residence and is an actual real estate interest, meaning that you have a deed giving you title to a certain number of weeks, a probate in the state where the time share is located, called ancillary probate, may be necessary. Whether ancillary probate is needed will depend upon the value of the time share and the state law.

Another way you could accomplish this goal is to execute what is called a "transfer on death" deed. However, not all states have legislation that permits this so it is imperative that you check state law or consult with an attorney in the state where the time share is located. A transfer on death deed is basically like a beneficiary designation for a piece of real estate. Your beneficiary would submit a survivorship affidavit after your death to prove that you have died. Once this document is recorded the beneficiary would become the title owner.

It is also important to investigate what documents the time share company requires in order to leave your interest to a third party. They may require that additional forms be completed so that they can bill the beneficiary for the annual maintenance fees or other charges once you have died.

If you want to do your best to ensure that your loved ones inherit your time share, you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney today. 

 


Monday, December 22, 2014

The Difference between Defamation, Libel and Slander

If you have worked hard to build and maintain a good reputation, either personally or in a business context, you likely understand the affects that damage to this reputation can have.  If someone does engage in conduct that is damaging to your reputation, tort law provides an avenue for you to take action: a lawsuit for defamation.

Defamation can arise in various forms and be claimed by an individual, business or other entity.  While defamation is the term encompassing all types of statements that cause injury to one’s reputation, you can be defamed in a number of ways. Libel is defamation that occurs in a written format.  For example, statements written in an article or book that are damaging to one’s reputation constitute libel.  With the ever expanding use of the internet, written statements in website content, social media and even chats are considered libelous if they are likely to cause injury.  Slander is defamation done orally.  It is important not to underestimate the power of the spoken word when it comes to reputation and anyone injured by this type of speech may have an action.

Although defamation can be committed in a few different ways, the elements of each action are usually the same.  In order to have a successful claim for defamation, libel or slander, it must be proven that a false statement was made.  It must also be proven that the maker of the statement had some level of intent, at the very least negligence.  This means that a statement made either with intent to cause injury, knowledge of the injury that could result or without the appropriate amount of care, can result in a claim for defamation.  The statement must also have been published in some way to at least one other person and there must be proof of damages.  You will likely not be able to determine if all of these elements are satisfied and it is therefore important to consult with an attorney knowledgeable in the field to find out whether you have a claim.  Contact us today for a consultation.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Selecting An Executor Post Mortem

The death of a loved one is a difficult experience no matter the circumstances.  It can be especially difficult when a person dies without a will.  If a person dies without a will and there are assets that need to be distributed, the estate will be subject to the process of administration instead of probate proceedings.

In this case, the decedent’s heirs can select someone to manage the estate, called an administrator instead of executor.  State law will provide who has priority to be appointed as the administrator. Most states’ laws provide that a spouse will have priority and in the event that there is no spouse, the adult children are next in line to serve. However, those that have priority can decline to serve, and the heirs can sign appropriate affidavits or other pleadings to be filed with the court that nominate someone else as the administrator. Once the judge appoints the nominated person they will then have the authority to act and begin estate administration.

In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to change the initially appointed administrator during the administration process. Whether this is advisable depends on many factors. First, the initial administrator will have started the process and will be familiar with what remains to be done. The new administrator will likely be behind in many aspects of the case and may have to review what the prior administrator did. This can cause expenses and delays. Also, it is possible that the attorney representing the initial administrator may not be able to ethically represent the new one, again causing increased expenses and delays. However, if the first administrator is not doing his/her job, the heirs can petition to remove the individual and appoint a new one.

If you are currently involved in a situation where an estate needs to be administered, it is recommended that you speak with an estate planning attorney in your state.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Do I Really Need Advance Directives for Health Care?

Many people are confused by advance directives. They are unsure what type of directives are out there, and whether they even need directives at all, especially if they are young. There are several types of advance directives. One is a living will, which communicates what type of life support and medical treatments, such as ventilators or a feeding tube, you wish to receive. Another type is called a health care power of attorney. In a health care power of attorney, you give someone the power to make health care decisions for you in the event are unable to do so for yourself. A third type of advance directive for health care is a do not resuscitate order. A DNR order is a request that you not receive CPR if your heart stops beating or you stop breathing. Depending on the laws in your state, the health care form you execute could include all three types of health care directives, or you may do each individually.

If you are 18 or over, it’s time to establish your health care directives. Although no one thinks they will be in a medical situation requiring a directive at such a young age, it happens every day in the United States. People of all ages are involved in tragic accidents that couldn’t be foreseen and could result in life support being used. If you plan in advance, you can make sure you receive the type of medical care you wish, and you can avoid a lot of heartache to your family, who may be forced to guess what you would want done.

Many people do not want to do health care directives because they may believe some of the common misperceptions that exist about them. People are often frightened to name someone to make health care decisions for them, because they fear they will give up the right to make decisions for themselves. However, an individual always has the right, if he or she is competent, to revoke the directive or make his or her own decisions.  Some also fear they will not be treated if they have a health care directive. This is also a common myth – the directive simply informs caregivers of the person you designate to make health care decisions and the type of treatment you’d like to receive in various situations.  Planning ahead can ensure that your treatment preferences are carried out while providing some peace of mind to your loved ones who are in a position to direct them.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Injured While On Medicare: What Happens Now?

When you are injured in an accident due to the negligent, reckless or willful conduct of another, you may be entitled to receive a settlement.  Often times, these settlements are paid out by insurance companies.  Unfortunately, if you are a Medicare beneficiary, you may have to forfeit some or all of the settlement you receive.

Medicare is federally provided health insurance.  Those that are 65 years or older and some younger people with qualifying conditions have the option to be covered by this type of insurance.  If you are injured in an accident, Medicare may cover some of the costs of your medical treatment.  But, pursuant to the Medicare Secondary Payer laws, Medicare does not have to pay for medical expenses if an enrollee is receiving a settlement or other award from an insurance company as a result of their injuries.   Medicare can ask to be reimbursed for the money it paid out for medical expenses.

Generally, if you are a Medicaid enrollee, are injured in an accident and make a claim against a defendant that has liability insurance, you must report the case to Medicare.  Once a case is reported to Medicare and they determine that they may be able to recover any of the money they laid out for medical bills, they will send you a Rights and Responsibilities letter outlining the process.  You will then usually receive a Conditional Payment Letter within approximately two months.   This letter will detail all of the claims they paid and expect to be reimbursed for once you receive a settlement.  It is important to note that the amount listed on the letter is usually not the final amount.  These letters are updated and reissued every 90 days and all of the claims on the letter may not be related to the accident.  Therefore, you must review the claims to determine which need to be deleted.  Once you do this, you can contact Medicare using the instructions included in the letter to have the amount updated.  Once you receive a settlement, you must, again, let Medicare know.  They will then issue a Demand Letter with a final amount due and the date by which payment must be submitted.

If you were injured while receiving Medicare benefits and have filed a lawsuit, you might find yourself faced with a Conditional Payment Letter.  Be sure to show this letter to your attorney as soon as possible.

 


Monday, November 17, 2014

Role of the Successor Trustee

When creating a trust, it is common practice that the person doing the estate planning will name themselves as trustee and will appoint a successor trustee to handle matters once they pass on.  If you have been named successor trustee for a person that has died, it is important that you hire a wills, trusts and estates attorney to assist you in carrying out your duties. Although the attorney that originally created the estate plan would most likely be more familiar with the situation, you are not legally required to hire that same attorney. You can hire any attorney that you please in order to determine what your obligations are.

 If the decedent had a will it is common that the successor trustee is also named as the executor.  Although the role of executor is similar to that of trustee, there are technical differences. If there was a will, you should consult with an attorney to determine if a court probate process will be required to administer the estate. If all assets were titled in the trust prior to the person’s death, or passed by beneficiary designation, such as in the case of life insurance and retirement plan assets (such as 401ks, IRAs, etc.), then a court probate may not be needed. However, if there were accounts or real estate in the person’s name alone that were not covered by the trust, a court probate may be necessary.

During the probate process, all of the deceased person’s assets must be collected and accounted for. This includes all bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, investment accounts, retirement assets, life insurance, cars, personal belongings and real estate. All of these assets should be valued and listed on one or more inventories. Depending upon the value of the assets, an estate tax return may be needed. You should be aware of any final expenses, the person’s final income tax returns, and any creditors. Although this process is lengthy, once all of the appropriate steps are taken, the assets will be distributed and the estate will come to a close. 

If you have been named a successor trustee, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you through this process and make sure you carry out your legal duties as required.  Contact us for a consultation today.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Can You Sue if You Signed A Liability Waiver?

You might be asked to sign a liability waiver before engaging in a recreational activity.  For some endeavors that seem naturally dangerous, this will come as no surprise.  But, in day to day life, you might come in to contact with liability waivers on a more frequent basis than you expect.  You might be asked to sign a liability waiver when engaging in certain sports, such as skiing, watching certain live sporting events and even when signing up for a gym membership.  While signing the waiver is often a prerequisite to participation, you should know that these agreements are not always enforced from a legal standpoint.   Therefore, if you or your loved one is injured after signing one you still have a chance of recovering for your injuries. 

 A liability waiver is an agreement between two parties, wherein one party agrees to release another party from responsibility should the first party suffer some injury at the second party’s fault.  In the context of everyday recreational activities, the participating party is assuming the risk of injury from the hosting party and in some cases, giving up their right to sue altogether.  One type of contract that might qualify as a liability waiver is a contract of adhesion.  A contract of adhesion is a boilerplate form that is presented to a party who has no opportunity to negotiate the terms.  An example of this type of agreement is a preprinted waiver on the back of a receipt.

Although these agreements are very common, they can be invalidated based on certain factors.  Each state has a different take on liability waivers, and therefore the law varies greatly across the country.  Some state courts strictly enforce these agreements while others seem to disfavor them.  Most courts look at a combination of factors including how the document was drafted and the circumstances surrounding its signing.  Courts will inquire as to the nature of the document.  They favor documents that are clear and unambiguous and that include terms that a reasonable person would understand.  They also look at whether the waiver was obvious or evident.  Was the waiver presented to the party or was it hidden on the back of a ticket stub?  Courts favor an obvious approach.  As far as the circumstances surrounding the signing of the agreement, the courts will try to discover whether it was entered into voluntarily.  If someone was forced to enter into the agreement, it will likely not be upheld.  Lastly, any agreement that violates public policy in some way will usually be invalidated by a court. 

If you signed a liability waiver, but were subsequently injured, and want to know if you have a chance to recover in a personal injury action, contact us today for a case evaluation today. 

 


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Role of Distracted Driving in Personal Injury Cases

Distracted driving has emerged as a disturbing trend that poses a serious threat not only to preoccupied drivers, but to other motorists on the roadways. Accidents caused by this unsafe practice have seen a major uptick in recent years due to the widespread use of smart phones to text and post to social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, while driving. Although drivers of all ages may be guilty of driving while distracted, studies have found that teenage drivers are especially tempted to use their phone to snap photos or text from the driver's seat.

Personal injury lawsuits on the basis of distracted driving are becoming more prevalent. A wrongful-death suit against taxi-alternative company Uber cites distracted driving as the cause of a collision that killed a 6-year-old girl and injured her mother and brother while they were crossing the street on New Year's Eve in California. Allegedly, the Uber driver was logged into the company's smart phone app, waiting to receive and accept a ride request, when his SUV collided with the girl and her family. Although this case doesn't involve a teenage driver, it demonstrates how (alleged) smart phone use while driving can have horrifying consequences.

More than 3,300 fatalities occur each year as a result of distracted driving, according to the Department of Transportation and Distraction.gov, the official US website dedicated to distracted driving. Drivers are twice as likely to crash if they're texting while driving than if they were paying attention.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers, with cell phone use being reported in 18 percent of all distraction-related fatalities in America. These scary statistics have led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to create an campaign against distracted driving aimed at young adults.

If you have teenaged children or you just happen to be up on current trends, you'll know that many young people use their cell phones to take "selfies", a nickname for self-portraits. It's come to the attention of law enforcement and safety advocates that teens are taking selfies and posting to social media while behind the wheel, some of them even use the hashtag #Ihopeidontcrash with their photos. Expressing that fear, even though it's disguised with a supposedly amusing hashtag, shows that these young drivers have an inkling as to how dangerous this practice could be.

On average, texting takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. Distraction.gov says that at 55 mph, 4.6 seconds with your eyes on your cell phone is like driving an entire football field blindfolded.

Distracted driving falls into three main categories:

  • manual: taking your hands off of the wheel
  • visual: taking your eyes on the road
  • or cognitive: not being mentally present while driving.

Distracted driving laws vary by state, but many have a law in place that bans drivers from using handheld phones. In addition, most states ban bus drivers and beginner drivers from all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free), and enforce a ban on texting for all drivers.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Personal Injury Cases & Minors

When an adult is injured, he or she has the legal right to bring a lawsuit or settle with the at-fault party for compensation. A child, on the other hand, does not have those same rights prior to his or her 18th birthday. When a child is injured, it is the responsibility of the parents, or legal guardian, to advocate for the child and ensure his or her best interests are protected. While the laws vary greatly state to state, there are generally some unique considerations which come into play when a minor is the plaintiff in a personal injury proceeding, these include:

The Statute of Limitations May Differ
All states impose a time limit which requires that the injured party file suit within a given time frame from the date of the accident. In many states, the statute of limitations for an injured child will be different from that of an adult and the time period may not begin until the child turns 18 (allowing him or her to bring suit on their own).

A Guardian Ad Litem May be Appointed
Since children do not have the capacity to protect their interests in legal proceedings, some states require the appointment of a guardian ad litem. This individual must honestly represent the child’s best interests. In many states, the court will choose the Guardian Ad Litem; it is often a parent or close relative of the child.

The Parents May Also Be Able to Collect
While the compensation for injury will belong solely to the child, the parents of the child are legally responsible for medical bills and they may be able to also bring a claim against the at-fault party for compensation for these associated expenses. When this does occur, the parents’ claim is often tried with the child’s although two separate verdicts are issued.

The Standards of Care May Be Different for a Child
In lawsuits regarding negligence, the court will seek to establish whether all parties acted with a certain standard of care. This is even true of the injured party as the defendant may claim that the negligence of the plaintiff contributed to the injury. In the case of a child, he or she will likely be held to a different standard of care based on what is reasonable for a child of that age, intelligence and maturity. In some states, a child under a certain age is incapable of being negligent so a claim of contributory negligence would not be valid.

Court Approval May Be Required
Most settlements for a child’s personal injury will require court approval. Before approval, the court will generally demand that all documentation of the case along with a detailed accounting of the attorney's fee and case expenses be submitted for the judge’s review. The judge will then approve the settlement, if it is appropriate and in the best interest of the child. If the settlement is approved, the money must be deposited into a designated bank account approved by the court. The money cannot be withdrawn without order of court until the 18th birthday of the injured child. It's important to note that the parents are not entitled to this money.

Since children are seen as vulnerable members of our society, these extra legal safeguards are intended to provide additional protection. If your child has been injured, it’s imperative that you contact a seasoned personal injury attorney who can help you to better understand local laws and how they apply to your child’s case, and make sure that your child’s best interests are protected now and in the future.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Testamentary vs Inter Vivos Trusts

The world of estate planning can be complex. If you have just started your research or are in the process of setting up your estate plan, you’ve likely encountered discussions of wills and trusts. While most people have a very basic understanding of a last will and testament, trusts are often foreign concepts. Two of the most common types of trusts used in estate planning are testamentary trusts and inter vivos trusts.

A testamentary trust refers to a trust that is established after your death from instructions set forth in your will. Because a will only has legal effect upon your death, such a trust has no existence until that time. In other words, at your death your will provides that the trusts be created for your loved ones whether that be a spouse, a child, a grandchild or someone else.

An inter vivos trust, also known as a revocable living trust, is created by you while you are living. It also may provide for ongoing trusts for your loved ones upon your death. One benefit of a revocable trust, versus simply using a will, is that the revocable trust plan may allow your estate to avoid a court-administered probate process upon your death. However, to take advantage this benefit you must "fund" your revocable trust with your assets while you are still living. To do so you would need to retitle most assets such as real estate, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, CDs, and other assets into the name of the trust.

Since one size doesn’t fit all in estate planning, you should contact a qualified estate planning attorney who can assess your goals and family situation, and work with you to devise a personalized strategy that helps to protect your loved ones, wealth and legacy.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Negative Online Reviews - Do they Constitute Business Defamation?

We are living in the digital age and consumers use the internet to make a variety of decisions, including what products to buy and what professionals to hire. During their research,  many savvy consumers go online to look at the reviews the business has received on local business directories like Yelp or Google+.  These online reviews can have a profound effect on the success of your business so it is important to understand your rights should your business receive a negative one. 

In the case that your business has received a negative online review, you may have recourse under state or Federal defamation laws.  However, before pursuing that route, you should consider using any dispute or review process provided by the review site.  Defamation is generally defined as the act of intentionally publishing a false statement that has the ability to negatively effect another’s reputation.  Defamation laws protect individuals and businesses alike.  Publication is the communication of the defamatory statement to another person and the act of posting a review to a website usually qualifies.  Whether a statement has a negative effect on another’s reputation is judged using a reasonable person standard and will be looked at on a case by case basis.  In order for the statement to actionable, it does not have to be intentionally defamatory; it just has to be intentionally published.  Defamatory statements must be false and cannot be opinions.  Whether your situation meets the necessary threshold for defamation may be difficult to ascertain, so it is important to consult with a qualified attorney before pursuing a claim for business defamation.

If you believe that your business has received an online review that contains false information and is damaging to your business reputation, you might have a claim for defamation.  Recent civil cases for this type of wrong have resulted in large verdicts for the businesses that were injured.  While you most likely cannot pursue an action against the hosting website, as they are usually exempt under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you might be able to recover from the individual that made the statement.  All litigation should be considered using a cost-benefit analysis and business defamation cases resulting from online reviews are not any different.  


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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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