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Robby Hughes

Mediation Success

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We are pleased to announce another successful mediation effort.  We helped a family struggling over the appropriate care for their aging Mother.  It is not unusual for siblings to have differing views on the best way to assist their aging parents when the day comes that some level of help is needed.  Usually, the matter falls into the hands of the local probate court if the family can’t resolve the matter.

 

At Robert W. Hughes & Associates, P.C., we can assist you by helping mediate resolutions to the problems that arise in coordinating and implementing care for your parents.  If mediation is impossible, we represent people in probate court attempting to obtain guardianships or conservatorships over their parents.  Call us at Robert W. Hughes & Associates, P.C. for assistance.

Equifax Security Breach – Protect Yourself

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What should you do to protect yourself because of the Equifax security breach? Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus in America, experienced a security breach effecting millions of credit files. More than half of all adult Americans had some private information stolen.  Since the breach, Equifax has published an online submission that allows you to see if your personal information was compromised.  You can visit: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/ to see if you may have been impacted by the breach.

We recommend that you immediately contact all three major credit agencies (Equifax, Transunion and Experian) and even the smaller agency, Innovis, and put a credit freeze on your accounts.  This is a drastic measure and will stop you from obtaining credit until you “thaw” your credit.  It is a bit time-consuming and may cost you up to $3 to freeze your account.  Equifax however, has currently waived all fees associated with a credit freeze.  Freezing your credit will prevent credit cards from being opened and loans from being obtained in your name without your consent.  Freezing your credit will not affect your credit score.

You should consider changing your login information for your various financial accounts and on-line bill pay systems.  This is something that you should change regularly, but given the information theft at Equifax, passwords need to be changed.

Please contact Robert W. Hughes and Associates, P.C. if you have any credit reporting issues.

 

Do you need a will?

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You Need a Will If You Have a Special Needs Child

 

In this series of blogs, we address the issues existing that would necessitate you having a Will. In our last blog, we discussed using a Will as a means of nominating a person who will become the Guardian for your children if you pass away.  Now, we want to discuss with you the ramifications of having no Will or a Will without a Special Needs Trust, yet having an heir who receives needs-based government support.

 

If you have a child who is handicapped and is receiving Medicaid from the federal government, it is needs- based support.  In situations like this, you must consider how you leave assets to this person because you may well disqualify the child from Medicaid or from receiving future government benefits.  To insure your child receives the full benefit of the property you wish to leave for him, yet not destroy their qualification to receive government benefits, you must leave property to that child in a Special Needs Trust.

 

This is a very specialized Trust that is designed to bypass government aid qualification rules, and allows you to provide for your beneficiary after your death.  A Special Needs Trust does not just come into existence; the easiest way to create a Special Needs Trust is by including it in your Last Will and Testament. Therefore, if you die without a Will or a Will without a Special Needs Trust, you greatly expose your child to becoming disqualified from receiving government aid.

 

Please call Robert W. Hughes & Associates for help in setting up your Will to include a Special Needs Trust.

 

August is National Make-A-Will-Month

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August is National Make-a-Will Month.  Now, I’m not sure who comes up with these various national celebrations each month, but because it’s Make-a-Will month I feel compelled to discuss with you the often-overlooked advantage of having a Will.

 

If you have minor children, a Will is the only means you have available by which you can place someone in charge of your children after you have passed away.  There are many ways to distribute assets without a Will.  You can have jointly owned financial accounts.  You can have beneficiary designations. You can have a joint owner listed on vehicles and real property.  However, to place a particular person(s) in charge of your children should you die, you must have a valid Will.

 

Therefore, if you have minor children, there is no better reason to have a Will. Do it so the person you want watching your children is empowered to do so.  Said differently, this will ensure that the person you don’t want to raise your children doesn’t raise them.  Can you imagine anything worse than your children being raised by someone you don’t want to do so?!

 

In your Will, you can name a Testamentary Guardian.  This is the title of the person you nominate to care for your children.  That person’s home becomes the home for your children and this person becomes the caregiver for your children.  Generally it is a good idea to leave assets so this person will have financial resources to care for your children in the manner you want them cared for.  Regardless of the monetary issues, the Testamentary Guardian will become the guardian for your minor children.

 

This is not to say that the person you nominate will in all cases become the new guardian of your children, as challenges can be brought against the person you name.  However, the Probate Court must be convinced that the person you named is unfit to raise your children (as you might expect this is a high standard).  Therefore, unless the person you’ve named is in jail, is habitually on drugs, cannot maintain a place of residence, or other such disqualifying factor, you can generally rest assured that your choice will not be denied.

 

If you die without a Will, any family members and friends can petition the court to become your children’s guardian.  Since the court views your attitude as indifferent (you didn’t create a Will), the court is not interested in whatever your oral pronouncements may have been during life (every person who will testify at these hearings will swear she heard you say you wanted “so and so” to raise your children if you died).  Each person who wishes to have custody of your children will have to put up a fight and demonstrate to the court why they are the best choice for raising your child. THE COURT DECIDES WHO GETS CUSTODY OF YOUR CHILDREN.

 

If you couldn’t think of a good reason to do a Will, you have one now.  Call Robert W.  Hughes & Associates and let us assist you in preparing a Will and the accompanying documents needed for a complete estate plan.

What can you do if an executor or ADMINISTRATOR is not performing his or her job?

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What can you do if an Executor or Administrator (Personal Representative) is not performing his job? Executors for an estate are nominated in the Will to handle all estate matters. The Executor must be approved by the Probate Court as part of probating the Will. Administrators are appointed to handle an estate when a person dies without a Will (intestate). Wills may give an Executor enormous latitude and discretion in how he handles the Will, while Administrators usually have far less discretion on how an estate is handled. All Personal Representatives must comply with Georgia Probate laws. As a general rule, Personal Representatives are supposed to conclude their duties in about 6 months.  However, there are exceptions.

 

If you are the heir or beneficiary of an estate and feel that the Personal Representative is not performing his job, you have a few options. The primary remedy you have is to bring the Personal Representative before the Court by filing a Petition for Settlement of Accounts. This can be filed no sooner than six months after the Personal Representative obtains his Letters. Once you file that petition, the Court will command the Personal Representative to provide you with the full accounting of his work as a Personal Representative and further will command the Personal Representative to conclude the estate quickly. If the Personal Representative cannot provide an accounting, or will not distribute the estate quickly, the court may remove the Personal Representative and appoint another person to handle the estate.

 

We just concluded a matter in Probate Court where the Personal Representative had been in charge of an estate for almost a year,  but failed to perform any duties. The home of the deceased deteriorated in that time because it sat vacant. The bank account had not been closed, nor had the estate bills been paid. The Court removed the Personal Representative and appointed our Client to conclude the work.

 

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, contact Hughes and Associates at 770-469-8887 for assistance.

What should I do if my employer demands I sign a non-competition agreement?

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Georgia is a right-to-work state. That means you may go to work for a new employer at any time and without notice to an existing employer. Likewise, an employer may terminate you at any time and with no reason and with no severance pay.

If you are employed and your employer approaches you about signing a non-competition agreement, you generally have very few options. If you refuse to sign the agreement, the employer can terminate you. This is not discriminatory or illegal. The non-competition agreement can be negotiated with your employer often. These agreements typically keep you from competing against your employer by restricting who you can go to work for or which customers of the current employer you can deal with after you leave your current employment. This is accomplished by one of two methods.

First, the non-competition agreement may say you cannot deal with any people with whom you dealt while employed by your current employer if you begin working for a competitor when leaving your current employment. Sometimes, the agreements attempt to restrict you from calling on people within a geographic radius of your current employer even if you never dealt with those people in your current job. Next, the agreement will attempt to place a time period on you such as one or two years after you leave your job. Finally, the agreement attempts to place a limit on the scope of your conduct after you leave your current employer. By this, I mean you are restricted from doing for the next employer what you do for your current employer. For example, consider that you are an outside sales person for ABC Company. ABC Company may restrict you from going to work with a competitor, AJAX Supply Company as an outside sales person. However, you might go to work as an in-house or an inside sales position or as a manager or some other position not outside sales.

Therefore, the things you should be looking for at a non-competition agreement are the length of time that you cannot compete with your former employer, the things you cannot do if you go to work for a competitor of your current employer and the people with whom you cannot have contact if you go to work with a competitor of your current employer. These three items can be negotiated usually. If you are planning to remain at your current employer, these contracts have little influence over your day-to-day activities. As a matter of fact, your employee may see you as a more loyal employee if you sign one of these agreements. Of course, you have given up valuable rights if you sign such an agreement, and you should try to negotiate for additional compensation or benefits.

 

Why You Should Consider Filing for A Year’s Support

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You should complete Ga. Probate Form No. 10.

Georgia probate forms are required when filing petitions with the probate court. Use probate form No. 10. You must be specific in requesting the property that you want the court to award you. You may ask for real estate or personal property. The law requires you to value the property you are seeking. You also must serve the petition on all persons who would be affected by the granting of the petition. This includes all creditors of the estate, beneficiaries under the will and all heirs at law. The standard for an award of year’s support, if there is an objection, is that the “award must be reasonably related to the amount needed by the surviving spouse for a period of 12 months after the decedent’s death to maintain the standard of living enjoyed prior to the death. Such award is not intended to compensate the surviving spouse for the death, support the spouse for many years to come, or provide a method for distributing the estate.” Courts view the petitions stringently.

You are limited in the amount you can seek in a petition for year’s support.

“As we have found, a claim for year’s support is not analogous to a tort claim where general damages can be awarded based on the enlightened consciences of impartial jurors. Nor is it a claim for loss of consortium where damages are not capable of exact pecuniary measure and are left to the enlightened conscience of impartial jurors.” Taylor v. Taylor, 288 Ga.App. 334, 337, 654 S.E.2d 146, 149 (2007). The court will grant a petition for year’s support as filed if there are no objections filed to the petition. The success of the filing requires that any person who files an objection be dealt with appropriately. Many times, there will not be any objections filed by creditors. If a creditor files an objection, you should contact that creditor and resolve that creditor’s claim. Your goal is to convince the creditor to withdraw its claim. If an heir or beneficiary files an objection to the petition, you should attempt to resolve the issue with the objector.

You can save on the ad valorem taxes on your real estate
If you cannot resolve the objection, there will be a hearing where you will be required to present evidence of the amount that is reasonably related to the amount needed by the surviving spouse for a period of 12 months after the decedent’s death to maintain the standard of living enjoyed prior to the death. The courts have held that the trier of fact must “take into consideration the following: (1) the support available to the person, for whom the property or money is to be set apart, from sources other than year’s support, including but not limited to the principal of any separate estate and the income and
earning capacity of that person; and (2) such other relevant criteria as the court deems equitable and proper. Holland v. Holland, 267 Ga.App. 251, 254, 599 S.E.2d 242, 245 (2004). If you have received insurance proceeds or property by way of a joint tenancy, the value of these transfers is included in the above calculation.

You must settle with all creditors and heirs.
There are several purposes in asking for an award of year’s support. The first reason to file a petition for year’s support is that it allows you to take the assets of the estate before the payment of any of the debts of the estate. This includes general creditors, but excludes the final expenses and expenses of administration and the payment of secured creditors, which come before an award of year’s support. The second reason to file a petition for year’s support is that it allows you to claim the real estate free of any ad valorem taxes in the year of the decedent’s death or the following year, whichever you choose. This can be of significant benefit if the property you wish to transfer is located in a county with high ad valorem taxes. Finally, filing a petition for year’s support allows you, and usually your children to ensure that you take full control of all of the assets of the decedent in lieu of provisions to the contrary in the will.

Renunciations are allowed under Georgia law.
This subverts the will of the testator and therefore, requires complete consent by all persons affected by the petition. If the decedent dies owning real estate as a joint tenant with right of survivorship, the survivor can renounce the property she would have taken by operation of law. You can then file for year’s support to obtain the property without the payment of ad valorem taxes during the year of the transfer. IRC § 25.2518(c)(4)(i), states that the surviving joint tenant may disclaim the one-half survivorship interest in real property held in a joint tenancy with right of survivorship within nine months of the date of the first joint tenant to die. O.C.G.A.§ 53-1-20(b), provides that “any person . . . who succeeds to property by contract or by operation of law may renounce the property in whole or in part as provided in this Code

A Jury Victory for Our Client

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We are pleased to announce a jury victory for one of our deserving clients. In this matter, our client was involved in a rear-end collision. While he was stopped at a red light, the person behind him failed to stop in time and ran into the back of his car. Our client has suffered from severe back pains after the collision. After four months of conservative treatment, he was released to return to his normal duties. Prior to retaining our firm, our client had been offered $3,000 to resolve this matter. After we were retained, we took the matter to trial and recovered $12,000 for our client. This was another opportunity for our firm to prove to insurance companies they cannot simply trample on the rights of those injured, due to the negligence of the insured. Please call us if you were involved in a collision and the insurance company is not treating you right.

Is it time for guardianship for your mother or father?

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There comes a time in many of our lives when we believe our parents are unable to care for themselves any longer. If you are in that situation, you should understand what you can do outside of having legal authority over your parents and what you can do if you have a court Order.  This article will hopefully help you understand that.

The first thing that you should do is ensure that your parents have a Durable Power of Attorney for their financial affairs, as well as an Advance Healthcare Directive for their medical affairs. These documents must be completed and signed by the person appointing another to make decisions.  These documents must be signed while that person is legally competent.  It is too late after that person lacks capacity to make decisions for themselves.  Therefore, while your parents are younger and in good health and spirits, sit down with them and urge them to create these two documents.  The person appointed by these two documents, generally speaking, will never need a court Order for any purpose.  As with all rules, there are exceptions to this generalization.  If you have a Durable Power of Attorney for your parents’ financial affairs, most businesses, banks, and institutions will accept this power in lieu of your parents actually participating in whatever business transaction you are conducting.  If you have an Advance Healthcare Directive, medical providers will work with you to assist your parents. Hospitals will accept the Advance Healthcare Directive and allow the appointed person to begin making medical decisions for their parents. However, here we are talking about how to handle the situation if your parents have failed to generate these documents.

A guardianship is a court ordered position where the court has found your parent lacks capacity to make reasonable decisions for themselves. This generally will occur when the person can no longer feed, clothe, bathe, take medications and otherwise generally care for themselves. There is no absolute standard for guardianship. It is left to the discretion of the judge after hearing testimony from interested people, including the person over whom the guardianship is proposed. You should consider seeking a guardianship for your parent whenever they begin making irrational decisions or when the medical providers tell you they can no longer accept your directions for your parent. With the new HIPPA laws, doctors and hospitals are prohibited from sharing a person’s medical records with anyone. Unfortunately, this covers the situation of children taking care of their elder parents. You will probably notice your parents need for a guardianship first as it relates to their financial affairs. They will begin either giving their money away (or hoarding their assets) through irrational decisions. Each is a common characteristic of a person who is losing their capacity to manage their affairs. Guardianship hearings in the Probate Court are very emotional hearings. Rarely does the person over whom the guardianship is proposed want the guardianship imposed on them.

One condition for which a guardianship will not be granted is when a person quits taking his medication.   In some instances, people have been diagnosed with mental illnesses and prescribed medications to control that illness.  So long as that person takes the medication, they are generally, fine, but when the person stops taking this medication, they become irrational or uncontrollable.  The court, generally speaking, cannot impose a guardianship over that person because while on medication, they are perfectly safe to be alone and are capable of caring for themselves.  Furthermore a guardianship does not give the Guardian the power to make the ailing person take medications.  There are no laws on the books that can be used to force a person to take drugs they do not wish to take.  Therefore, you cannot use a guardianship as a means to enforce some type of medicine therapy. The court is taking the individual’s rights away as it relates to that person’s ability to make decisions about living arrangements, doctors, and generally any other normal day-to-day decisions that most of us take for granted. Because of the seriousness of this Order, many safeguards are in place to ensure that the person who’s rights are going to be affected has representation at the trial as well as, in many cases, another person appointed to generally investigate the condition of the person. These trials might take an hour or many days depending upon the issues to be decided and the evidence to be heard. Generally, guardianships are quite expensive.

Included with the general topic of guardianship is also a conservatorship. Conservatorships are simply guardianships over a person’s property, whereas a guardianship is control over the person himself. The two positions are usually asked for in the same decision and evidence as to both positions are heard in the same trial. The standard used to determine whether a Guardian is needed or whether a Conservator is needed is slightly different. Therefore, there are instances where one may be granted, a conservatorship but not a guardianship, or the other way around. In most cases, both positions are either granted or denied. Any adult relative can file for guardianship with the preference being the spouse of the ailing individual and if there is no spouse, then adult children of that parent.  If none of the children are willing to seek guardianship over their parents, then, any other interested person may apply and in some case, even the State will apply to take control over the parents.  This is the last resort and hopefully not one that anyone is subjected to.

If you have need help with the guardianship or conservatorship, feel free to call our office to speak to one of our attorneys.

 

 

IS THE STATE HOLDING PROPERTY THAT BELONGS TO YOU?

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Have you checked to see if your state has property belonging to you? If not, do so at least annually. The State of Georgia, and all states, have an unclaimed property department. Unclaimed property is given to the state for holding when a company or person has property that belongs to another, but cannot locate that person to give her the property.

This often occurs when you own stock in a company, or have a deposit at a bank, and merely forget about it. You move on in life, move to a new address, and the person holding your property can no longer find you. That company is under no obligation to spend its funds searching for you. When this occurs, companies can give your property to the state with the identifying information it has about you.

The State of Georgia holds unclaimed property for 5 years. If, after 5 years, you have not claimed the property, it then belongs to the state (escheats to the state). To find out whether you have any property being held by Georgia or any state where you once lived, go to https://www.unclaimed.org/ . This website is The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administration. Once on the website, you can choose from the 50 states to contact that state directly. You then search using your name in each state where you maintained an address in the past five years. Because many people share your name, you will then be requested to enter additional identifying information so the system can determine whether this property belongs to you or another person with your same name. Once you have confirmed with the state you are the owner of this property, the state will turn the property over to you.

Everyone should check the unclaimed property website annually for any state in which you have lived within the past five years.