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Rob, His Family, and the Tree

Protect your assets - prepare an estate plan

Most people contemplating divorce don’t consider the sad reality that one of the parties may die while going through the process. When this does happen it results in chaos for the survivors. I’ve witnessed this several times during my practice, but one of the most poignant was early in my law career. I represented a young man with three children who rode a motorcycle to work every night. Rob worked the night shift as a machine technician at a local trade school. He was responsible for the necessary cleaning and repair of the machines that were used each day by the teachers and students. During the day, Rob happily packed lunches, took the children to school, and attended school functions.

He was married to a woman who wasn’t very interested in marriage or family. She was home at night while the kids were asleep, but spent that time entertaining various married boyfriends. During the day, she also had a very active social life. When the decision to divorce was made, she agreed that most of the property should be put in trust for the children, and that Rob would have physical custody. She also agreed to accommodate Rob’s work schedule by continuing to care for the children at night while they slept. But before we could finalize the divorce, Rob lost his life in a motorcycle accident on his way to work one night when he was cut off by a drunk driver and hit a tree.

Rob was a great father but he failed to prepare an estate plan. Despite my advice that he prepare an interim estate plan during the divorce process, he chose to wait – he believed that he had plenty of time. He had not taken his wife’s name off of his life insurance. She was the sole beneficiary. He had not taken her off his retirement and pension plan. She was still the joint tenant on the real estate, the vehicles, the bank accounts, free to use and spend everything any way she pleased.

Most of us act like we’re going to live forever, or like we can predict our death. We deny the truth. Statistics show that only half the lawyers who are married and have children also have an estate plan! That’s among a population that should be most informed and knowledgeable about the need. I do not know the statistics for the general public, but I know that most people have not made even the most basic arrangements for the allocation of their estate.

Don’t make the kind of mistake Rob made. His wife, not his children, inherited everything. Nothing was set aside to provide for the children and she probably squandered it all as she continued the self-indulgent lifestyle that ended her marriage. Act now to ensure that your assets are protected and go to the right people. We are here to assist and support you. We can help you set up a plan, or make any changes that need to be made to an existing plan. Please let us know how we can help.

Best wishes,

Ronald M. Supancic, CFLS

Remarriage? Tips for blending families

In a recent article by author, educator and divorce consultant Deborah Moskovitch, we are reminded that real life typically doesn’t follow the same happy-go-lucky storylines we see on television.  Where Mike and Carol Brady were able to enter second marriages and turn their separate families into one big happy bunch, real life is hardly that simple.

Sandy Shuler, a social worker and certified Canadian family educator in Calgary, says:

“Every family is unique in terms of the way it looks and the way it operates. Expecting that there is going to be an instant connection and bonding situation when there are children involved can lead to disappointment and challenges.  Just because the adults are thrilled about the idea of merging does not mean that the children are, so the adults need to go into the situation realistically with their eyes wide open.”

Shuler advises couples to act proactively, tackling issues before blending the family: “Prior to blending, go to a counselor and find out what the likely hot spots are going to be.”

Deborah Moskovitch suggests the following tips for blending families successfully:

Help kids adapt to the new family configuration. Children will belong to two households/families; but they need guidance to adjust to different sets of rules, expectations, and systems.

Bonding takes time. Don’t expect children to love and adore each other or your new partner right away. In some cases, the best thing is to work towards courtesy and respect.  Building caring relationships between children and their new step-parent/family is a process that requires time and patience.

Be open to discussion. Creating opportunities for family discussions, problem-solving and negotiation helps children manage.

Prepare the family for change. Establishing new family patterns, rituals and traditions helps children feel a sense of belonging and shared memories.

Understand the new relationship. Clarifying roles, responsibilities and expectations in the blended family serves as a “road map” with strategies for building relationships and a solid framework for the family unit.

Develop a conflict resolution strategy. Conflict is a part of all families. Combined families have more complex and diverse needs and emotions in dealing with conflict; a solid conflict resolution model helps to address these issues.

Demonstrate your love. Children need reassurance that they are loved and are still a priority to their biological parent, as loyalty issues can arise in blended families.

Discipline your own, and step back for his. The general rule of thumb about discipline is that the biological parent is the one who guides the discipline for their own children when there are step-children living together.  But within one household the rules need to be consistently applied for all children who live there — there should never be two sets of rules.

The bottom line is that what ever you call it—a step family, blended family, combined family—it’s a newly reconfigured family unit. It takes time to bring this new family together, and it takes effort—just remember to resolve conflict, demonstrate love and find the fun.

For more information about Deborah Moskovitch, visit her website at www.thesmartdivorce.com.

The Law Collaborative, bringing peace to the legal process.

Reduce Your Legal Fees

The dissolution of a marriage often comes at a time when a family is going through a financial as well as emotional crisis. Sometimes the emotional crisis can make the financial one worse by increasing the attorney’s fees incurred and costs expended. For example, if a spouse is vindictive or just plain upset, he or she can refuse to negotiate in good faith, or act in such a way as to provoke numerous court appearances or otherwise delay the proceedings. When this happens it is usually beyond our control, and we have to cope the best we can though the mechanisms provided by the court. Frankly, it can be extremely expensive and frustrating.

However, you can help to keep your fees and costs to the minimum for your case by following these simple rules:

1. Remember that talking to me on the phone is expensive. My time and skill in the law are all that I have with which to make a living, and I must charge for the time I spend on the telephone just as I charge for research, document drafting, and court appearances. Therefore, you can save yourself a great deal of money by not always asking to speak directly with me. As a general rule, discuss your needs first with my paralegal, my law clerk, or my accounts manager, or my front desk administrator. If legal advice or intervention is needed immediately, they are trained to recognize it and will bring it to my attention, as soon as possible. Furthermore, if I am in court or working on a research project, or otherwise unavailable at the time, a detailed message through my staff will get my attention a lot faster than simply asking me to call you back. Better yet, my assistant can often handle the problem right then and there. If you wish information on a court date, the status of service or filing of papers, or other similar information, they can help you as well as I can and at much less expense to you. My account manager can answer all of your billing questions, again at less expense to you. Finally, if you merely wish to leave some information such as an address, telephone number or some figures that I have requested, please leave the message with my staff or with the answering service if they are available.

2. Remember that I am trained as an attorney, not a counselor. Certainly, unless I understand the nature of your relationship with your spouse, I cannot represent you as well as I might. For that reason, I will spend some time with you exploring this interaction, especially toward the beginning of the case. From what you tell me, I may be able to point out some of the “games” that are being played and how to avoid being one of the players. A dissolution or other family law matter can be one of the most stressful times of a person’s life, and it is to your best legal interest that you cope with the stresses. If you are not thinking clearly, you may be inclined to make decisions on whether or how to settle the case that will be very expensive in the long run. However, at some particular point, I will have learned what I need to help you legally, and I will be giving you the best advice I can on how to cope with the legal and practical aspects of the case. From that point on, my listening to your non-legal experiences with your spouse, your spouse’s faults and other matters will usually appear on your monthly statement. Generally, this will be the case after the initial consultation or first court hearing.

3. Participate as effectively as you can in your own case. Your time is likely to be less expensive to you than mine, and you will certainly be more familiar with many of the details. Therefore you will probably wish to obtain and organize as much of the information and documents for your case as possible. For example, in a case involving child or spousal support, the required income and expense forms are long and complex and require extensive background information and documentation. Experience shows that if you use your best efforts to complete these forms and provide the information and documents before the appointment at which we will discuss them, you will save up to two hours at that appointment and will be able to most clearly and favorably present your evidence to the court. If my office has to do all the work involved in preparing these forms and organizing the information, your case will become more costly. If there is a delay in preparing and filing such documents, the other side could apply to the court for sanctions in the form of a money judgment against you, use the delay in answering as an excuse to postpone court dates, request that the court prevent you from having your evidence submitted, or invoke other penalties.

4. Organize your questions and concerns so that they may all be discussed at one time rather than on separate occasions. It is generally much less expensive to have one long discussion rather than several shorter ones.

5. Think about settling the case instead of going to trial. Under the best circumstances, a trial’s outcome is uncertain. It is very unusual for husband and wife to recall things in the same way, especially the circumstances and understandings involved in acquiring assets or incurring debts. Because of such factual disputes and because there are numerous unsettled areas in the law, neither I nor anyone else can accurately estimate the odds of any particular outcome, nor can any single result in the case be guaranteed, if trial is necessary. For these reasons, trial is generally not in a client’s best interest if it can be avoided, and it is almost always best to settle the case if we can obtain a reasonably fair agreement. Therefore, as soon as we have enough information to evaluate the issues, I will usually seek your authority to negotiate a settlement.

Despite this, my usual office practice is to file a request for a trial date fairly early in the proceedings. This has the effect of putting an externally imposed time limit on negotiations. Even if the case may not actually be tried on the first assigned trial date (usually because the court schedule is overcrowded), there is an incentive to negotiate and achieve the best settlement for you. We present the position that we are prepared to try the case, unless we receive an acceptable offer. Just because we have filed a request for trial date, you do not need to assume that your case will go to trial or give up on trying to think of constructive settlement possibilities.

6. Particularly if your spouse has an attorney, please do not try to settle any major issues directly with your spouse unless you have discussed your proposals with me first. You have hired me because of my knowledge of the technicalities and practicalities of California Family Law, and if you try to negotiate major issues yourself you may unwittingly waive substantial rights, fail to provide for certain common contingencies, or otherwise damage your case. On the other hand, after discussion I frequently advise clients to attempt to settle who is to receive items of furniture, furnishings, appliances, and other personal and household items directly with your spouses. “Trying the Tupperware” issue usually results in spending more money to divide these items than it costs to replace them.

7. Please call the office if your address or telephone number changes, so that we can reach you. Sometimes it is important that I talk to you within a few hours, and it is most helpful for us to have both a home and a “daytime” number.

8. Please call the office if there are any important changes in the facts or your circumstances. These changes can drastically affect the case, the best strategic approach to it, and our position. I may not be immediately available to talk to you, but I will do my best to return all calls that require a response or have them returned by my staff. If you need to speak to me, I will be happy to accommodate you as soon as possible. I only want you to remember the financial realities; my time is billed at a much higher rate rather than that of my staff. Just as I give attention to your case when I am working on it, I have other cases that also require full attention when I am working on it, I have other cases which also require full attention when I am working on them.

9. In all cases, tell us the truth and provide complete and accurate documents, even if you fell that it is embarrassing or may not be information you want to share. Having to work without full and accurate information almost always leads to performing work over and over again that should have been finished the first time and unpredictable, to say the least, hearing in court.

I don’t want you to have the feeling of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”. On the contrary, there will be times, perhaps many, when you will need to speak to me. I urge you to do so when necessary. Please bear in mind that, in the most literal sense, my time is money and if you always insist on speaking to me you will probably be wasting your money. Again, my assistants and my accounts manager are trained to recognize when your case requires my immediate attention and to assist you at other times. Most legal matters move slowly. Unless a threat of physical violence or other irreversible and immediate harm is present, there are few situations that require immediate action (or in which immediate action is even possible).

Similarly, while you can leave messages with my answering service evenings and weekends, and while I can usually be reached in a real emergency, there is almost no action I can take until normal business hours that you cannot take yourself. You will have copies of existing court orders. With very few exceptions, new or different orders cannot be obtained after court hours. Please try to be patient, organized, and bear in mind which services can be provided best by myself, by my staff, or by someone else.

TLC, Bringing peace to the legal process.

The Advantages of Collaborative Law

January Newsletter

Dear Friends of the Law Collaborative,

It is a New Year and also a good time to review your legal affairs. Here are a few things you should think about for 2010 and beyond.

1) Review your licenses. Which ones will expire in the coming year? Mark on your new calendar the date when the license will expire and place a tickler note several weeks before the expiration date so that you have plenty of time to file for a renewal.

2) Review your life insurance. Life insurance goes directly to the beneficiary named on the policy. It does not go through your will unless you have the policy made payable to yourself. Life insurance is, however, part of your estate when it comes to paying death taxes.

3) Review your liability policies. For most people, their liability policies are their home and auto insurance policies. These policies are important because they will pay for a lawyer to defend you if you are sued.

4) Powers of Attorney: Most lawyers recommend that every adult have a durable power of attorney which will allow someone to act on their behalf if they become incapacitated. These are very dangerous documents because they give the person named total access to your assets. They are very important documents because if you become sick, they provide your family with an easy and inexpensive way of taking care of your affairs.

5) Minor Children: If you have minor children, you need to provide for their care if you get sick, are in an accident or die. Make sure your children and other responsible people in your family know where the children are supposed to go if something happens to you. Each year you should review your choice of guardian. Is that choice still a good choice?

6) Wills and trusts: Wills and trusts, when used properly, are not substitutes for each other. They are different tools used in estate planning. One very good reason to have a will is to name a guardian for your minor children. The courts will generally honor your wishes. You can also create a testamentary trust within your will to manage any money you leave for your minor children. Once your children are grown, you should change your will to reflect the change in your circumstances.

7) Elder law is a specialty. Things that elder law planners have you do are not the same as the things that tax planners will have you do. In tax planning they will tell you that you may make gifts of up to $11,000 per year to as many individuals as you want without tax consequences. That is true. Unfortunately the Medicaid rules are not the same. In many places (the rules vary slightly from state to sate) any sum of money you give away within five years of a nursing home placement will trigger a penalty.

8) Charities:  While you are reviewing your estate plan, think about supporting those charities and organizations that have been important to you. Gifts to charities are deducted from your gross estate.

9) The point is, plan ahead for yourself and your family.

We hope that this short checklist is helpful to you.  It is not all inclusive but covers the most significant points.

Visit Ron and Robert on Divorce on ITunes for additional information.  Please call us if you have any questions.  We are here to serve you.

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Happy New Year,
Ron Supancic and Robert Borsky

The attorneys and staff of The Law Collaborative join with me to wish you all Joy and Peace in the New Year.

* A free phone consultation will provide you with general legal information. Legal information is not the same as legal advice – the application of law to an individuals specific circumstances. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, for specific advice on your situation, I will be pleased to provide legal advice after you accept and sign my retainer agreement.

For more information, please visit our website at: www.ronslaw.com and www.thelawcollaborative.com. Or click here:www.divorcemagazine.com/CA/pro/supancic.shtml

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