wills and estate planning

Wills: Five reasons you need a will

 

Do you think that wills are only for the wealthy? Or do you believe that your trust, jointly owned property, or insurance with named beneficiaries takes care of everything? Think again. Wills are necessary for everyone. Here are five reasons why.

1. You decide who gets your prized bottle cap collection…

…and every other item that may have value and meaning for others. You also decide who gets your baseball card collection and the brooch that has been handed down in your family for generations. None of your possessions may have a high financial value. On the other hand, they may hold a huge emotional value. It allows you to send your love from beyond the grave by carefully considering the meaning that each has for you and for your intended recipient.

2. Save disagreements among your loved ones.

The aftermath of a death is a very emotional time. People who are grieving often cast their feelings on to the objects the deceased owned. Making a will is one of the most loving things you can do for those you will leave behind.

3. Ensure that your minor children feel more secure.

You want the new guardians for your children to be prepared to care for them immediately. A failure to make your decision clear and legally known can lead to confusion among the family. It will surely add to your children’s emotional burden. While naming a guardian cannot guarantee that there will be no challenges, it is a powerful tool for ensuring your children’s happiness. One step that will help, beyond naming guardians in the will, is letting your family and close friends know who you have named.

4. Name someone to handle the inherited finances for someone who needs help in that area.

Many people try to alleviate the need for a will by naming beneficiaries for insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other financial instruments. Yet, if any of your named beneficiaries need help with handling the inheritance, a will can make a huge difference. It can mean the difference between a comfortable future and a wasted inheritance.

5.  Protect your estate from theft by naming an executor.

Every year identity thieves steal the identities of more than 2.5 million deceased persons. They open credit card accounts, obtain loans and services. Without the authority of a will, thieves may steal your identity and deplete your estate before your beneficiaries can access your accounts.

Three of our attorneys are happy to help you with your will and estate plan. Feel free to contact them today.

Norman Short

Robert Garrison

Sylvia Seybold

Distracted Driving Law: Concentrate or Pay

Distracted driving law

Just drive! Or pay the fines and then the increased insurance premiums. Sunday the new distracted driving law and a major tightening of the rules concerning cell phones take effect in Washington state. Cell phones must be hands-free or not used. Videos, photos, and texts are out. In sum, don’t do anything else but drive. The use of your phone will cost you $136 for the first violation and $234 for additional violations. Other distractions carry a $99 fine.

It is legal to make a 911 call and to use a cb.

Drive hands-free or phone-free

The only legal use of phones is in hands-free mode, activated by a single touch. Otherwise, move out of the flow of traffic. It is no long legal to check your messages at the stop light. Watching video even with a hands-free device is prohibited. An officer may stop you even if you are otherwise driving legally. To be safe be sure to set up your GPS and music before you pull away from the curb.

Washington State will now report cell phone violations to your insurance company. So, before you take that call, consider that you may need to add an increase in your insurance premium to your budget.

Distracted Driving Law: Other distractions cost you $99.

Grooming activities, smoking, and eating may cost you a $99 ticket. Officers must have other reasons to pull you over, and the state does not report these tickets to your insurance company.

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office has already begun ticketing for violations of the updated law. On the other hand, the Washington State Patrol has established a grace period. They will issue only warnings for six months from the enforcement date of July 23, 2017. Check out this handy card. 

Two of our attorneys routinely help with traffic violations, including DUIs.

Digital estate planning

What are your electronics, blog, and online photos worth?
digital estate planning

You may have worked with an estate planning attorney to carefully plan your family’s financial future. But did you include your digital assets in that plan. The average adult believes their electronics, socially shared content and blog are worth about $50,000. For many of us the most valuable asset is irreplaceable. Our photos and memories that we share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Other intellectual property may have a market value, a blog with a good following, for instance. Have you made plans for what happens to those when you die?

You probably need to redefine the role of your executor because standard wills and trusts do not address digital accounts.  The laborious process that Facebook requires for family members to get access to the account of a deceased loved one adds significant stress to an already overwhelming experience. Because most social accounts restrict access to the account holder and exclude even an executor without explicit written authorization, it is wise to amend your clause on the executor in your will or estate plan to grant permission.

Digital estate planning for financial information

Do you access your bank and investment accounts online? In addition, your insurance and other key documents may only exist in digital form. Your executor needs easy access to this information to settle your estate and close down accounts. We can’t overemphasize the importance of quickly accessing accounts. The chances of identity theft increase upon death.

Updating your digital estate plan

Do you already have an estate plan drawn up by an experienced estate planning attorney? Then, it will just take a quick meeting with an attorney knowledgeable with digital estate planning to eliminate social media problems for your heirs. At GSJones Law Group, we have three experienced estate planning attorneys. They can quickly add digital estate planning to your existing estate plan. And, if you have not gotten around to estate planning, there is no time like the present.

Norman Short

Bob Garrison

Sylvia Seybold

 

 

Immigration Travel Ban Update

immigration travel ban

After Supreme Court ruling travel for people with relationships in U.S. allowed.

While the Supreme Court lifted the hold on some aspects of the immigration travel ban, it ordered the administration to allow entry to some that the Executive Order banned. Those who already have a valid visa and to anyone who has a “bona fide relationship” with a person or organization inside the United States must be allowed to enter, SCOTUS said.  SCOTUS did not closely define those relationships, naming only relatives and business/academic relationships. The administration subsequently defined family relationships, excluding grandparents and including fiancees.  Just hours after the Trump administration’s travel order went into effect, the state of Hawaii went to federal court to challenge it, saying the order barred too many people.The state of Hawaii has filed another

The six countries affected are:

  • Iraq
  • Iran
  • Libya
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

Parts of the travel ban remain in effect.

The Court ruled that the administration could go ahead with banning other people from the six named countries entering the U.S. for  90 days. Further, the court allowed the administration to bar the entry of refugees from any country for a period of 120 days with significant exceptions. Again, the administration must allow entry to those with a bona fide relationship with a U.S. entity or person or with existing visas. SCOTUS did not specify whether or not a relationship includes working with a U.S. refugee settlement organization.

This is not the final ruling. Expect another appeal based on the lack of specific guidance about refugee agency clients. In addition, the court only ruled on the lower courts’ stays against the administration. SCOTUS will take up the Travel Ban as a whole in the next session which begins in October. The ruling does not control the level of scrutiny that travelers arriving from traveling in those six countries will receive.

Both the 4th and 9th U.S. Circuit Courts stayed the implementation of the Travel Ban, pending full trials. The administration filed an emergency appeal from those stays to the SCOTUS. The high court ruled on the appeal immediately, just as their session ended.

Immigration Law attorney, Michele Taylor, is happy to talk with people about visa issues, as well as other immigration matters.

IRS says: Beware phone scam

New IRS phone scam threatens immediate arrest

IRS phone scam

art by Anecdoteak

by Norman Short, Partner
A new and vicious phone scam has reached the Puget Sound area in which the caller poses as an IRS (Internal Revenue Service) agent and dramatically threatens immediate arrest. I’ve received a report of a phone call made to one of our clients. The phony agent used a dramatic, threatening voice. He said that she owed back taxes and fees. If she didn’t pay that day with a prepaid card, she would be arrested at once. The threatening voice then recited her address and gave her a number to call to pay.

Needless to say, she was terrified. Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to check it out with the IRS.

IRS agents will not contact you by phone

There are very rare exceptions to this rule. If you do get a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, tell them you will call the IRS. Then, ask for identification, including badge number. No legitimate agent will object to your checking out his or her validity. Call the IRS verification number: 800-366-4484. These scams come and go and cost their victims millions financially, as well as emotional pain. The IRS just issued a warning a few days ago. So, be prepared and prepare others in your household to respond calmly to this vicious phone scam.

In fact, the IRS states:

The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

You may want to check out the IRS resource page on scams for more information. If you have been a victim of one of these scams, use this U. S. Treasury report form.

Norman Short, a Partner at GSJones Law Group, focuses on financial law. He earned an advanced law degree (LL.M) in tax law in 1992 and was admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court in 1995. He helps people with tax issues, business formation, and estate planning law.

Ginger Johnson speaks on saving medical records costs

Saving clients thousands on medical records

It used to cost thousands of dollars for lawyers to obtain medical records for clients. Then the HITECH Act mandated electronic health record use and set new rates. HITECH also speeds up processing of claims and lawsuits. The savings are enormous. It is also difficult to use. Too often medical providers apply the rates that Washington State allows, rather than the rates set by federal rules. Records that may cost several thousand dollars under state law, only cost a few dollars using the federal rules.

Ginger Johnson leads statewide training

GSJones paralegal Ginger Johnson has become an expert in obtaining these records. Recently she shared this knowledge as the featured speaker in a regular legal training series offered by the EAGLE Program of the Washington State Association for Justice.  Her presentation and Q&A was very well received. Several of the many paralegals in attendance wrote to praise the training.

Congratulations, Ginger!

Travel Information for Immigrants

Immigration Law

We advise all immigrants who are not U.S. citizens to refrain from travel outside the United States until the matter of the Travel Ban is settled, regardless of your country of origin. Even for people who have lawful permanent residency, there is an element of risk in returning to the U.S. The Executive Order requires overhauling the rules and procedures for vetting. Thus, the conditions for re-entry may change for every non-citizen over time. We are following the changes and will update our website immigration page as they change. Currently, the Travel Ban is on hold and people with Visas and permanent status are being allow entry. The administration has not announced if they will appeal the stay or hold on their ban. In the meantime, Judge Rickart in Seattle is proceeding with deciding whether or not the Travel Ban is constitutional.

Updates

2/15/17 – There are now at least three lawsuits in federal courts around the country and discovery will begin soon in two of those courts. The administration is giving stronger indications that it will rewrite the Travel Ban to make it more acceptable. There are indications that should they issue a new Travel Ban it will be challenged in federal court also. Should that happen, there is no agreement as to whether federal judges would halt the enforcement of the new order temporarily.

happiness and lawyers

Happiness and lawyers


We don’t usually associate happiness and lawyers. Yet consider: What does it take to make us happy? Many psychologists tell us that choice and control over our environment have a lot to do with our happiness. When we feel stuck in situations, we are unhappy. Many times we have choices that we refuse to see or refuse to use because we are afraid to act on them.

Sometimes visiting a lawyer can help us clarify our choices. Then we can take take on our roadblocks to happiness with an experienced guide beside us. In other words, we can make ourselves happier.

Give me some examples of happiness and lawyers

You may have a great idea for a business but have been holding back, because you don’t know what kind of business type is best. Now is a good to time set up an appointment with a business attorney.

Do your custody arrangements no longer work for your family? You’re tired of trying to work things out with your ex, right. Explaining things to your family law attorney and putting his or her experience to work for you may increase your family happiness.

Maybe making sure your family is taken care of if you should die is nagging at you. Getting a will or estate plan will end that nagging.

Did you receive an injury and believe that the other person was at fault? Schedule a session with a lawyer who can give you an honest assessment.

Are constant phone calls from debt collectors driving your crazy? Explore your options with an attorney who deals with consumer law.

Resolve that in 2017, you will take control of your life and be happy.

holiday child custody tips

Holiday child custody tips

by David Jones, Family Law Attorney and Partner, GSJones Law Group, P.S.


For divorced and separated parents Christmas time can be very difficult, especially the children. Holiday child custody issues add to the holiday craziness.

The holiday season can be crazy anyway, but when you add in the emotion of the parents wanting to spend quality time with their children, it can be overwhelming. The parents must remember it is also a very emotional time for the children. It can be all the more significant for young children of recently-separated parents.

First year after separation: Decrease children’s anxiety.

If it is the first Christmas since the separation and the children are, say 12 or under, know that the children will be unsure what will happen during the holidays. Thus, they will be filled with anxiety about the holidays. In some cases, they may even be blaming themselves for the break-up. Especially at this time of year, traditionally full of joy and family, the child may feel guilty about the separation of the family.

Guidelines

There are as many holiday scenarios as there are families. Here are some general guidelines. The younger the child and the more recent the break, the more important these guidelines become.

  1. Shield children from details of divorce.
  2. Don’t involve children in custody discussions.
  3. Don’t ask children what they want.
  4. Put the children’s best interests above your own.
  5. Try to divide time equitably with your ex, given the situation
  6. If disagreements arise about child custody that remain unresolved, make accommodations necessary with your ex and consult your custody attorney in the new year about resolving the matter for the future.

Note for parents that don’t celebrate Christmas

The specific examples in this guide focus on families that celebrate Christmas. All families will find that the general guidelines outlined above will be helpful. Families with more than one faith tradition may find it more difficult to iron out the difficulties on the fly. It is especially important in multi faith environments to work out details in advance.

Shield children from details of the divorce and negotiations over custody

In all cases, parents should not discuss the divorce action with their children. That guideline in more important during the holidays. The best the parents can do is work together to put the children first and schedule time with both parents to spend with the children without involving the children in the discussions or asking them what they want to do.

Equitable arrangements

If there are no reasons to restrict anyone’s visits during the holiday season, it is best to equalize the time each parent is spending with the children. Of course for young children. the golden time is Christmas morning. This time should be alternated on an odd/even basis with the children.

In parenting plans, when there are no reasons to restrict parents and where they live close to one another, I advocate dividing the winter break for school age children. I encourage my clients to propose that one parent gets the first half of winter break starting the day school lets out. Set the transfer time for Christmas Day at around 2:00 pm.

The other parent returns the day before the children go back to school, if they are the non-custodial parent. This plan has the advantage of each parent having part of Christmas with one getting the golden time in the morning and the other getting the children for Christmas Dinner.

While one parent will get both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, the offset is that the other parent gets the longer period of time before school starts. Each year the parents alternate having the child first. I also advise that the parent who is not getting Christmas Eve and Christmas morning gets Thanksgiving for that year from Wednesday to Sunday.

Tweaks for holiday child custody issues

Family traditions may require changes to this simple plan. Maybe one parent’s family celebrates Christmas with a get together every Christmas Eve or Christmas Eve service is important. The parent with the Christmas Eve tradition may keep the children until late on the 24th with the other parent keeping the children for all of Christmas Day.

The parents without the children on Christmas morning may also decide to do gift exchange on the 26th.

The parents can also count out the days on winter break and make the exchange on the middle day at a certain time.

Solving distance problems

For short distances, say Kitsap County to Spokane, I still encourage my clients to split winter break on an odd/even basis. If the distance is Kitsap County to Philadelphia, for instance, it may be best to alternate winter break annually, rather split the break in two.

The type of long distance plan you choose will depend on age and emotional make up of children.

The judges will agree to any of the above schedules, if the parents agree to it.

Don’t involve children in planning

I always encourage my clients to work out the schedule on their own without input or discussions with the children. This can be done in person, if the parents can still communicate. If in-person communication causes yelling matches, use email. If  communication is even more difficult, use Our Family Wizard.  The program provides a tool for parents who cannot get along to communicate with each other calmly and effectively. It also provides other services such as shared medical records.

Have a wonderful holiday full of joy. Act in the spirit of the season, if disagreements arise. And consult your custody attorney in January to prevent the problems next holiday.

4 ways to break a lease

lease“Can I break my lease?” was the first question posed by a Facebook friend. We created an opportunity for people to suggest topics they would like more information about. If you need to get out of your lease, Washington State law has four loopholes for renters with leases. If none of these fit your situation, look for a way to minimize your financial loss at the end of this post.

The options are pretty stringent.

You may break your lease:

  1. If you enter active uniformed federal service after you sign the lease. This federal law protects you if you enter the Armed Forces, commissioned corps of NOAA, or of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard. It also applies if you are in service and receive orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit for a period of not less than 90 days.
  2. If your house or apartment is unlivable. The law covers such major problems as a lack of water or heat in the winter. Using this remedy is cumbersome and time consuming. As a result, avoid going through the whole process, if possible. Consider consulting an attorney or a free legal clinic.
  3. If you are a victim of domestic violence or stalking. You must report the crime. But once you do, the process is much easier than other options and the crime victims unit of the police department or prosecutor’s office will help you.
  4. If your landlord harasses you or violates your privacy. Strict laws govern when and how your landlord may enter your dwelling. They must give two days notice, unless showing the dwelling to potential renters.  In that case, they must give one day notice. Fair housing law prohibits sexual harassment by your landlord. Be sure to make notes of dates and what is said and done. Then report them to the Washington State Human Rights Commission.  Physical or threatening sexual harassment should be reported to the police.

Landlords must re-rent

Most of the ways to break a lease involve a lot of time and trouble. And there are plenty of great reasons that may make moving a good plan that aren’t covered by the laws. You may change jobs or get a raise and find your dream house. You may get married or or add to your family. The easiest way out is to get your place rented to someone else. You remain on the hook for the rent until the time your place is re-rented or the lease ends.

Your landlord must make reasonable effort to re-rent your place. That’s the law. Once that happens, your lease obligation ends. Give your landlord a hand for even faster relief. Post the availability of your place on facebook and other social media. Spread the word at work, school and church.

Helpful references