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House in Trust with Mortgage

Can I Put My House In A Trust If It Has A Mortgage?

More and more people are becoming ever more concerned with either protecting their assets, maintaining eligibility for Medicaid, or leaving as much as possible to children and future grandkids. As such, more and more people are realizing the remarkable utility of trusts within their estate planning. One’s residence often represents the most significant asset an individual or couple possesses, and for many, financial assistance is needed to purchase it, that is mortgages. A common question presented to Cleveland estate planning attorneys is, can protect my house with a trust if it has a mortgage? As with any legal question, the answer is not black and white. 

  • What is trust? 

To understand how the what, when, and how of funding your trust with a mortgaged house, we must start with the basics, what is a trust? A trust, to put it simply, is a private agreement that allows a third party, a trustee, to manage the assets that are placed inside the trust for the benefit of trust beneficiaries. There are innumerable types of trusts, each with own its respective legal conventions and purposes. A critical aspect of trusts is that the assets housed within them usually aren’t counted as a part of the trust creator’s taxable estate. Thus, when the owner of the trust creates the trust and properly funds it, the assets go from the owner’s taxable estate to the trust. Afterwards, when the owner dies, the assets are not in the owner’s estate and subject to probate, and if the trust is drafted properly, are further ignored for the purposes of Medicaid eligibility. Further, trust assets pass via the beneficiary designations set down when the trust was created. These conveyances via beneficiary designation are much simpler, quicker, and cost-effective then going through probate and can be halted or expedited when circumstantially advantageous depending on the terms of the trust.   

  • When can a mortgage be called?  

The next basic to understand is when can your bank come after your house, i.e. a bank calling on a mortgage. A mortgage being called is when a financial institution/holder of the mortgage demands that the full amount of a mortgage be paid. When this can occur is conditional and which events will trigger are often denoted within the mountain of legal documents that physically make up your mortgage. In the context of funding a trust with a mortgaged house, your “due-on-sale clause” is what your estate planning attorney will be concerned about.    

A “due-on-sale clause” is a contract provision which authorizes a lender (your bank), at its discretion, to collect on the loan, i.e. declare it immediately due and payable if all or any part of the property, or an interest therein, securing the real property loan is sold or transferred without the lender’s prior written consent. This is fair because banks depend on mortgages getting paid off, or at least foreclosed, and the mortgage contract is between you and the bank, not the potential buyers and the bank.  

  • How can a mortgaged house in placed in trust without having the mortgage called?  

Any “due-on-sale clause” facially seems to be a death nail to any thought of funding trust with a mortgaged house, I mean, not many people have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in liquid assets to immediately pay off a house. This is where the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982 comes into play and your estate planning attorney earns his money. The relevant part of the Garn-St. Germain Act in the context is 12 U.S. Code § 1701j–3, subsection d, as follows:  

(d) Exemption of specified transfers or dispositions.  With respect to a real property loan secured by a lien on residential real property containing less than five dwelling units, including a lien on the stock allocated to a dwelling unit in a cooperative housing corporation, or on a residential manufactured home, a lender may not exercise its option pursuant to a due-on-sale clause upon— […] 

(8) a transfer into an inter vivos trust in which the borrower is and remains a beneficiary and which does not relate to a transfer of rights of occupancy in the property; … 

So, to bring everything back down to Earth, this subsection possesses the two “prongs” of the Garn-St. Germain test, occupancy and beneficiary status for the trust makers for the mortgaged house. When there is a mortgage, a trust must be properly drafted to include specified reserved occupancy language in the trust to satisfy the occupancy prong of Garn-St. Germain. Simply, the trust makers, you, must specifically reserve the right to live in the house. Further, in some way, the trust makers, must be a trust beneficiary. The beneficiary status prong usually isn’t an issue with self-settled trusts given their nature, i.e. trusts made with the intent to provide some tangible benefit to the trust makers. An argument can be made that the reservation of occupancy rights inherently makes the settlors beneficiaries, however, more cautious estate planning attorneys further make trust makers income beneficiaries as well.  

Facially, drafting a trust to satisfy the prongs of the Garn-St. Germain test appears straight-forward, however, care must be taken when making your trust. The interplay between the actual language of a trust can have profound effects on taxation, ownership, inheritance, and eligibility for state and federal assistance programs whose admittance guidelines are based on income and asset thresholds.    

Now it is important to note that the issue of a mortgage is an issue apart from Medicaid eligibility, though often the two are interrelated. Addressing both concerns requires the same solution, precise drafting of trust language that is statutorily compliant.  Under the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, placing the home in the MAPT does not trigger the “due on sale clause” contained in most mortgages provided certain steps are taken and legal standards are satisfied. Thus, with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney, you can remain Medicaid eligible and avoid Medicaid Estate Recovery, while still living in your home and paying the mortgage as you always have.  

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Estate Planning Attorney Baron Law

D.I.Y. Estate Planning: Saving a Dollar Now, Lose a Thousand Later

D.I.Y. Estate Planning:  Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Youtube has granted an unprecedented amount of legal information to the public. Online forums, blogs, and television allow people to converse at any time and anywhere about pretty much anything. Nowadays ordinary people can undertake their own legal research, legal drafting, and, if necessary, personal representation.  Just because you can do something, however, doesn’t mean you should. Google searches and online videos are not a substitute for the advice and guidance of an experienced Ohio attorney and many people put themselves in a bad position after they convince themselves that an attorney is simply not necessary.

At the end of the day, do-it-yourself legal services is all about saving money and time. People don’t want to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on legal services and spend the time conversing and meeting with an attorney. Online legal materials, at least the cheap or free ones, are great at providing a false sense of security, that everything is straight-forward, do X and you’ll get Y.

Law firms hear the same problems and fix the same issues from self-representation every day. People who, after a quick google search, start drafting their own wills, LLCs, and contracts. People who put their faith in a disinterested corporation and a handful of document templates. Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer are not law firms and they do not represent you or your interests, they explicitly say so on their websites. They cannot review answers for legal sufficiency or check your information or drafting. An experienced Cleveland estate planning attorney, however, properly retained and with your best interests in mind will accomplish everything you expect, and often more.

Hired attorneys are under legal and professional obligations to do the best job possible. They don’t want to get sued for malpractice, they want you to pay your legal bill, and they want you to refer your friends and family. A particular client is concerned with a tree, while the attorney pays attention to the forest. A proper attorney will draft documents correctly with established legal conventions in mind, legalese isn’t something done for attorneys own benefit, it has a definitive and beneficial purpose. A lot of trouble is caused by D.I.Y. legal drafters and estate planners due to typos or the inclusion of legalese for legalese sake. Further, a knowledge of federal, state, and local law along with local procedure and jurisdictional customs is necessary to obtain a proper outcome with minimal cost and stress. At the end of the day, the legal system is made up of people, knowing who to talk to and when is a large reason why attorneys are retained.

We live in a brave new world, never before has so much legal information been so readily accessible to so many. In the same vein, never before has our lives been so complex and estate planning matches this. Attorneys do more than drafting and research, they advise you on the best ways to protect your family and assets in light of an ever-changing legal landscape and your own personal life and dreams. Often do-it-yourself legal services are simply not worth the risk and lull you into a false sense of security. Ultimately, you need your estate planning documents to do what you expect them to. As such, call of local Ohio estate planning attorney and make sure yours are done right.

What is the Difference Between a Trust and a Will in Estate Planning?

What is a Will?

A will is a basic document outlining your wishes for your estate. It identifies an executor of your estate and provides the opportunity to divide your assets among your beneficiaries. This tool allows you to control the future care for any minor children and division of your assets. Without a will, the laws of your state will determine how your assets are divided. Therefore, a will is the minimum estate plan you need to care for your family and your assets. However, the purpose of a will is to guide the probate court to act in accordance with your desired plan.

What are the limitations with a will?

Probate

A will does not avoid probate court, and the average time to administer a will through probate is 18 months, while the minimum is six months. The length of this process can place a burden on the family left behind, and it allows creditors to make claims on any debts you owe.

Cost

Probate requires a number of fees–on average 5-7% of the value of the estate.

Public Transaction

Anything that goes through probate is public information. This means that both your assets and the way you choose to divide them become public, able to be found online in detail.

What is a Trust?

A trust is another form of estate planning that allows you to divide your assets as you desire. While this is similar to a will, a trust allows greater control and bypasses the limitations of a will as seen above.

A trust avoids probate, thus freeing your assets and your family from the court system. As such, probate fees are also avoided, and your personal information (assets and beneficiaries) is kept private.

What are other benefits of a trust?

Taxes

Saving on taxes is one benefit of a trust. However, given current tax laws, this is not an advantage unless your estate’s value is over 10 million dollars. Note, though, that this exemption is subject to change, and tax benefits may become more valuable.

Asset Protection

This is the biggest reason people use trusts over wills. Trusts allow for greater protection of the estate in case of something unexpected such as a beneficiary who develops a credit issue, or the possibility of a divorce.


If you are realizing that estate planning is more important and less simple than you thought, Baron Law will walk you through every step to ensure that your family and your assets are protected. To learn more about the difference between a will and a trust, or to begin planning for your future, contact the estate planning attorneys at Baron Law today.

Six Month Creditor Claim Blog Photo

Six-Month Creditor Claim Period

Payment of the decedent’s debts is one of the basic responsibilities of an estate fiduciary. Ohio law specifically provides that the fiduciary of an estate shall proceed with diligence to pay the debts of the decedent. The critical questions remain, however, of who to pay and when to pay them. Unless a fiduciary is confident that the estate will have more than enough assets to pay all of the debts of the decedent, it may actually be better not to pay any debts received until the expiration of the creditor’s claim period. Under Ohio law, legitimate creditors have six months to present their claims. When such period expires, only the majority of legitimate debts claims against the estate will remain because if specified claims are not brought timely, they are foreclosed as a matter of law. At this time it can be determined whether or not there are sufficient probate assets with which to pay the debts or if the estate is insolvent. Most people, however, are ignorant of this little wrinkle of Ohio probate law. As such, when a loved one or friend passes, always contact an experienced Ohio probate attorney.

All too often a gung-ho fiduciary starts paying estate debts without a comprehensive accounting of estate assets or complete list of debts and obligations. This results in payment of debts which may have fallen off after the creditor’s claim period or, more seriously, if Ohio statutes are not fully complied during estate administration or assets are prematurely distributed, potential personal liability for a fiduciary. This means that if a surviving spouse, heir, beneficiary, or legitimate creditor should have gotten something from the estate that a fiduciary mistakenly gave away, the fiduciary must personally pay them their share, whatever the amount or value of the asset. This looming threat of personal liability is a significant reason why must appointed fiduciaries seek the counsel of experienced Cleveland estate planning and probate attorneys.

It cannot be understated the significant windfall potential for an estate if the six-month creditor’s claim period is waited out. The difficulty, however, is convincing friends, heirs, and devisees to be patient. Easier said than done. Now, after the debts of the estate are settled and verified and the time has come to pay them, unless the decedent’s will provides otherwise and/or in the absence of sufficient cash or other liquid assets to satisfy the debts, payment is made from the proceeds of the sale of: 1) tangible personal property which has not been specifically devised, then 2) specifically devised tangible personal property, then 3) non-specifically devised real property, and finally 4) specifically devised real property.

Good Ohio legal counselors always advise their client to be wary. A common point, but often overlooked one, of avoiding probate via beneficiary designations or trust usage is privacy. If everything passes via will, anyone anywhere can look up the estate online and see what is going on. A little information in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage. For example, a recent client came into a piece of property of the east side of Cleveland. Naturally, the previous owner failed to property taxes for many years. Lo a behold a nice company called the client and offered to negotiate, settle, then pay off the back taxes, for a nominal fee of course. Client, being uninformed, agreed on the spot and gave out his credit card information. The estate had been closed for quite some time, way past the six month creditor claim period, and now the client has new problems to deal with. All this could have been avoided with a quick 30-second phone call with their Cleveland estate planning attorney, don’t make the same mistake they did.

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Special Needs Self Settled Trusts

The Three Flavors of Special Needs Trusts: #3 Self-Settled Trusts

The federal “Special Needs Trust Fairness Act,” enacted in December of 2016, changed the law to allow individuals with special needs to create their own special needs trust. Ohio law, in response, has changed to coincide with this recent change. Currently, a mentally or physically disabled person may create a self-settled trust to hold their own assets and avoid them being counted for Medicaid or other public assistance program eligibility. Usually the need arises to make this type of trust when a person with special needs receives a legal settlement or inheritance while already eligible and receiving government assistance.

In a nutshell, “self-settled” special needs trusts are simply trusts established by the disabled beneficiary with the beneficiary’s own money and assets.  The devil, however, is in the details. Self-settled special needs trusts are, by regulatory requirements, only available to those persons who are 1) disabled and 2) are under 65 years of age. Further, the trust must be appropriately drafted to include language that mandates that the cost of Medicaid services actually paid on the individual’s behalf will be paid back to Ohio at the individual’s death. Thus, in an indirect way, the Department of Medicaid and other government program will get their money and be reimbursed, at the point of death, but the individual reliant on government assistance can still maintain eligibility. Therefore, both parties win. Note, however, the use and drafting of self-settled special needs trusts is nuanced. For example, with these trusts once a beneficiary reaches 65, the trust can no longer be funded with new assets or money. Yes, what is already in the trust will remain protected, but flexibility and control is lesser than with other types of special needs trusts. As such, always consult an experienced Cleveland area estate planning attorney when deciding which type of special needs trusts is appropriate for you and your family.

A self-settled special needs trusts are often referred to as a “Medicaid payback trust.” Both names refer to the same type of trust, however, the later name focuses on the primary characteristic, and requirement, of a self-settled special needs trust, in that any Medicaid resources or services received by the beneficiary will be paid back from the assets housed within the trust. A partial corollary is a Miller trust. A Miller trust houses income for those receiving nursing home care that would otherwise put them over the income thresholds for the Medicaid income cap. The income is kept in trust and used to pay for care, but relevant here, names the State of Ohio as a beneficiary under the trust. Thus, the State of Ohio can recover the total amount of Medicaid payments made to an individual after death.

Self-settled special needs trusts are different from Miller trusts in that they allow for a much greater breath of resources allowed to be placed in trust and does not set the State of Ohio as a direct beneficiary under the trust. Naming a person or entity as a trust beneficiary grants them certain rights and privileges which, in certain circumstances, can lead to headaches and issues for the special needs person and their families.

Often self-settled special needs trusts are estate planning instruments of last resort. Usually within the context of an unexpected windfall going to a person with special needs. Going the self-settled route also places administrative labor and costs of the trust on the special needs person. Further the requirements of specific drafting to be legally operative under Ohio law is usually something laypersons are ill-equipped to do themselves. As such, always consult an experienced Cleveland area estate planning attorney when deciding which type of special needs trust is good for you and your family. The stakes are too high to do things ill-informed.

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Special Needs Trust #2 photo

The Three Flavors of Special Needs Trusts: #2 Pooled Trusts

Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers information for you to reflect upon while you are setting out looking for an estate planning attorney to help protect as much of your assets as you can. For more comprehensive information contact Baron Law Cleveland to draft your comprehensive estate plan to endeavor to keep more of your assets for your heirs and not hand them over to the government by way of taxes.

In order for those with special needs to qualify for government assistance programs such as Social Security Income and Medicaid, they must meet health, income, and asset thresholds. In other words, at least on paper, potential recipients must be quite poor to receive benefits. As such, just like to initially receive benefits, if special needs person is already receiving these benefits they must maintain the established thresholds of assets and income, or lack thereof. So, an inheritance, receiving an accident or medical malpractice settlement, or merely amassing too much money in an account can kick these people off of much needed benefits due to violating the standards set down by managing government entities and departments. In the hopes of preventing this outcome proactively, many people turn to special needs trusts.

Special Needs Trusts: Revisited

A special needs trust allows a disabled person to, theoretically, shelter an unlimited amount of assets for their needs without being disqualified from government benefits.  As hinted to above, this is because the assets held in a special needs trust properly drafted by experienced Cleveland attorneys are not counted as individual resources for purposes of qualifying for benefits.  On paper, at least in the eyes of the government and taxman, the beneficiaries of special needs trusts meet their asset and income thresholds. As a consequence, those special needs persons lucky enough to have a special needs trusts have access to more money, which can be spent on comforts, necessities, housing, and much needed medical care. Though we in this country are lucky to have government assistance programs available to us, anyone with a loved one solely dependent on them will tell you it’s certainly not enough. A properly drafted special needs trust will provide extra care and life satisfaction for disabled loved ones regardless of whether supporting family members are around for many years or pass away suddenly.

Pooled Special Needs Trusts

As mentioned in previous blogs, there are many “flavors” of special needs trusts. One such type is a “pooled” special needs trust. The focal point with this trust is maximizing potential gains from money funded into the trust, minimizing administrative costs, and delegating trust management to experienced personnel. In a nutshell, pooled trusts are a method to provide benefits of a special needs trusts without having to do the administrative legwork yourself.

As a rule, pooled trusts are required to be run by non-profit companies or organizations. The company or organization running the pooled trust drafts a master trust agreement that dictates the terms of the trust and the relationship between the trust and all participants.

In almost all cases, the pooled trust is run by a professional administrator. After establishment of the trust, money is transferred into the pooled trust to fund a particular individual’s stake in the trust. This single source of funding is then pooled with other people’s money to make one big pot, hence the name pooled trust. This pot is then controlled and invested, usually by an investment manager, similar to the way a hedge fund or other investment group operates.

The major takeaway is the “pooled” aspect of this particular trust. In theory, because there are many sources of funding brought together and utilized tactically, a pooled trust can make more stable investments and provide additional management services that other types of special needs trust cannot. Again, this increased investment power and potential returns coupled with lowered administrative costs, because it is borne by a large group instead of the individual and also an individual trustee does not need to be vetted and appointed, is also with the added benefit of the special needs beneficiary still being able to receive government benefits.

Unique Issues with Pooled Special Needs Trusts

The most obvious potential issue with pooled trusts is control, or lack thereof for individual participants. With a pooled trust, the trust assets are managed by people selected by the non-profit organization and not by anyone associated with an individual participant. This, in turn, means unassociated individuals and trust terms dictate how investments proceed and when disbursements occur, pretty much in a take it or leave it style. Once money is surrendered and placed into the pooled trust, individual participants how no say over how it is spent or when it will be distributed.  Additionally, it is a little known and little advertised fact that after the special needs beneficiary passes, some or all of their particular trust account will be kept to help with continued funding for the pooled trust. As always read the fine print and be completely sure you know what you’re signing up for.

With pooled trusts you make undertake a pro’s vs. con’s analysis, lack of control versus potential gains that might be indispensable in providing of critical healthcare costs for those with special needs. Consult an experienced Cleveland estate planning attorney who is familiar with drafting and administrating special needs trusts in order to find out potential options and they best course to take. Further, before signing on the dotted line to participate in any pooled trust, have an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney review the master trust agreement. Often these documents are very massive and have many hidden terms that can have profound impacts on your and your loved ones with special needs.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Special Needs Trusts

The Three Flavors of Special Needs Trusts: #1 Third-Party Trusts

Estate Planning law firm Baron Law Cleveland offers the following part 1 of a three part series of explaining the difference trusts available for those who have loved ones with Special Needs.  Dan Baron of Baron Law can advise what is best trust for your situation as the trusts are as individual as your loved one.

According to recent statistics for the National Organization on Disability, nearly 1/5 of all Americans, almost 54 million, have a physical, sensory, or intellectual disability. Every one of those 54 million have parents, siblings, family members, and loved ones who want to ensure they are comfortable and provided for. As with many things with special needs persons, the solution for providing for them isn’t straightforward or simple. This is where special needs trusts often play a pivotal role in providing support and estate planning peace of mind.

Special Needs Trusts: A Primer

Special Needs Trusts, as their name suggests, are trusts. As trusts, they hold the common characteristics and features shared by all trusts. A trust, to put it simply, is a private agreement that allows a third party, a trustee, to manage the assets that are placed inside the trust for the benefit of trust beneficiaries. There are innumerable types of trusts, each with own its respective legal conventions and purposes. A critical aspect of trusts is that the assets housed within them usually aren’t counted as a part of the trust creator’s taxable estate. Thus, when the owner of the trust creates the trust and properly funds it, the assets go from the owner’s taxable estate to the trust. Afterwards, when the owner dies, the assets are not in the owner’s estate and subject to probate.

The distinguishing aspect and purpose of special needs trusts, sometimes referred as supplemental needs trusts, is that resources placed within these trusts can be managed for the benefit of a person with special needs but still allow them to qualify for public benefits like supplemental security income and Medicaid. This allows grantors, those who create the trust, usually in this instance parents of someone with special needs, to provide much need stable and monetary support while still allowing often indispensable social assistance programs for their children, even long after the parents pass. Third-party trusts seek to supplement income from assistance programs not to replace it.

Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

In general, there are three types of special needs trusts: Third-party trusts, self-settled trusts, and pooled trusts. Of focus here is third-party special needs trusts. The name denotes the defining characteristic of this trust, that a third-party set up a trust and funded the trust. This is also its most critical aspect because the funds and/or assets in the trust never belonged to the beneficiary with special needs, the government is not entailed to reimbursement for Medicaid payments made to the beneficiary nor are these assets taken into account when calculatng either initial or continued eligibility for government assistance programs for the special needs person.

These trusts are usually set up as a part of a comprehensive estate plan that initially provides a place to house gifts given by family members during their life to someone with special needs and later to also house inheritance from these same family members when they pass. Third-party special needs trusts are often denoted as beneficiaries on life insurance polices or certain retirements accounts. Further, these trusts can also own real estate or investments in the name of the trust but for the ultimate benefit of the person with special needs.

Advantages of Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

A big advantage of third-party special needs trusts is that, while the grantor is living, funds in the trust usually generate income tax for the grantor, not for the special needs beneficiary. This shift in taxation is dependent on proper drafting which is why experienced counsel is always recommended with special needs trusts. This tax shift avoids the hassle and stress of having to file income tax returns for an otherwise non-taxable special needs beneficiary and also having to explain the income to the Social Security Administration or other interested government entity.

Additionally, because it a trust, ultimately what happens after the special needs beneficiary is controlled by the grantor, you. Thus, the grantor always retains control and upon the special needs beneficiary’s death, the assets in the trust pass according to the grantor’s express wishes, even longer after death, and usually to the grantor’s surviving family member or other charitable institutions. This means the special needs person is always provided for, and far-above those people solely dependent on government assistance, and the money, at the end, will continue to do good for either your family or the world at large.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Hot Powers

“Hot Powers”: What Are They And Should You Give Them?

Who will manage my finances and investments if I am sick or incapacitated? Who will pick what doctor treats me or if a risky but potentially lifesaving procedure should be performed? What if I am put on life sustaining medical support? These are the sorts of questions and issues typically handled by your power of attorney. As they suggest, these are critically important decisions that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Fundamentally, however, these issues can only be handled by your power of attorney if they possess authority, given by you and in writing, to do so. This is why ever since 2012, when Ohio law changed, “hot powers” are a significant topic for you to discuss with your estate planning attorney.

I. Durable Power of Attorney

To understand what hot powers are, you must understand what a power of attorney is. A financial power of attorney, also known as a durable power of attorney, is a legal document that a person can use to appoint someone to act on his or her behalf, i.e. an agency appointment. A power of attorney comes in many forms, but its primary purpose is to grant authority to one or more responsible parties to handle financial or health decisions of a person in the event of illness or other incapacity. Life, and its associated obligations and burdens, tend to continue regardless of one’s physical or mental health. Powers of attorney are protection that ensures affairs are handled and medical wishes are followed even if you are lacking capacity in mind or body.

As stated, powers of attorneys come in many forms. A financial power of attorney, as the name suggests, grants your agent the authority to make financial decisions for you. Managing investments, buying selling land or property, representing you in business negotiations, etc. Healthcare power of attorney works the same way but with healthcare decisions. If you are incapacitated or otherwise can’t decide for yourself, your agent will decide who your doctor is, what treatment you undergo, what medication should be administered, etc.

As always, the terms, powers, and limits for your agents are decided by you in the documents that appoint your agent. If you want to add limits on how long they are appointed, what issues they can or cannot decide, or when exactly their powers manifest, you can do so. Furthermore, you always possess the authority to dismiss them outright or appoint someone new.

Powers of attorney are important to have because surviving spouses or family members will face difficulty and frustration gaining access to things like bank accounts and property that is in your name only. This can be especially damaging within the context of business or professional relations in which the “gears of industry” must keep moving. Alas, if an individual trusted to handle the business if something happens doesn’t possess the authority to so, significant or even fatal business consequences may result. The same goes for medical decisions, often treatment decisions must be made right there and then. Hesitation may mean permanent damage or death to you and if someone doesn’t have express authority to make those decisions, things get confusing, messy, and take a lot longer.

II. “Hot Powers”

So, where do “hot powers” fit in all this. Effective March 22, 2012, Ohio adopted the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, or UPOAA, which was focused on preventing financial elder abuse. Now, powers of attorney must include a statutory language designed to help prevent agents from abusing their power. Put simply, the law now demands power of use more specific drafting and specific denotation “hot powers.”

“Hot powers” grant extraordinary powers to your agent and often these powers can have the effect of altering your estate plan. As such, these powers must be expressly granted per statutory guidelines before they are used by your agent. The most popular of them is the power to gift money or property. “Hot powers” are often used to continue a plan of gifting, sheltering money or property from costs of late life healthcare. Specified gifting “hot powers” can gift anywhere from a limited dollar amount or unlimited, dependent on the scope of the “hot powers” granted and the goals of your estate plan. Further, this power can also be limited to a class of people, such as spouse or children.

Since this new law, third parties such as a financial institution are not required to honor a general power of attorneys. Now, the law asks that a power of attorney include specifically which types of assets and accounts the agent is allowed to control. The spirit of this change is to 1) ensure individuals specifically know and agree to the powers they are giving, and 2) there will no longer be agents running around with “golden tickets” that allow them to do whatever they want to under the sun.

III. Should you give “hot powers”

Like every question in estate planning, whether you should give “hot powers” is circumstantial. The main consideration is who will be given the powers and under what terms. As stated above, “hot powers” are extraordinary powers meaning in the wrong hands they are really screw up your life and a well-crafted estate plan.

Regardless of whether you give these powers or not, it is probably wise to have your Cleveland estate planning attorney look at your powers of attorney if it has been more than five years. The law and your personal circumstances change quite often. Note, a power of attorney created before the 2012 law change will still be valid, however, it may be deficient in expected ways, ways that could hurt you down the line. In sum, the 2012 change means agents are prohibited from performing certain acts unless the power of attorney specifically authorizes them. Because financial power of attorney documents give significant powers to another person, they should be granted only after careful consideration and consultation with experienced legal counsel.

 

Wage Garnishment

Wage Garnishment Guide For Employers

Not everyone pays rent on time, pays child support, or pays back a debt in full. Recently, wage garnishment has become a popular option for individuals or businesses to collect on debts or outstanding obligations.  Wage garnishment is rarely a method of first resort, it is time-consuming and stressful, but often creditors are left with little option. Any human resources officer or treasurer will agree, they are never excited to receive papers from the local court regarding a wage garnishment on an employee. Though instructions almost always accompany orders for wage garnishment, it is smart business to have at least a basic understanding of wage garnishments and your duties as the employer. No business wants a minor annoyance to turn into a significant problem due to carelessness.   

  • What is Wage Garnishment? 

First step, as always, is to define wage garnishment. A wage garnishment occurs when a creditor attempts to petition a court to withdraw money directly from a debtor’s paycheck. There are many different types of garnishment but wage garnishment specifically targets the debtor’s income stream via direct deductions from their paychecks. Money is taken out based on a specific amount decreed by a court and a creditor receives this money bit by bit until the debt is repaid.   

Both Ohio and federal wage garnishment law limit the maximum amount that can be taken from a debtor’s paycheck, usually approximately 25% of the wages to be garnished. Also, depending on the date of filing and date a debt accrued, bankruptcy may release a debtor from their obligation to payback a debt. Further, Ohio law provides debtor exemption limits on money and property that are eligible to be garnished. But for employers whose employees are being pursued for a wage garnishment, there are procedures and rules they must follow when they receive official notice of a court proceeding to collect a debt because, at the end of the day, the employer is sending someone else’s hard-earned money to satisfy a debt this person cannot or does not want to pay.     

  • As an employer, what does wage garnishment entail? 

Initially, you will receive a packet of documents from the court. This is usually multiple copies of the affidavit, order, and notice of garnishment and answer of employer, multiple copies of the notice to the judgment debtor and request for hearing, and, usually, single copies of both the interim and final report and answer of garnishee. An employer has anywhere between five and seven business days from the receipt of the court documents to respond to the court, i.e. mail back the affidavit, order, and notice of garnishment and answer of employer respectively. One copy is returned to the court, one is kept for your records, and one goes to the employee. Instructions on how to respond will be on the paperwork and the party filing for garnishment is responsible in filling in certain important information, like the total amount of the debt and rate of interest. The employee subject to garnishment will also receive two copies of the notice to the judgment debtor and request for hearing forms.  

Employers are ordered to begin withholding wage on the first full pay period after the employer receives the garnishment. The amount of withholding is capped at 25% after all allowable deductions are taken out, but the precise amount to be withheld is on the employer to calculate correctly based upon the information provided in the garnishment documents. The garnishment will continue until the debt is paid in full or until a court order is received telling the business toc cease garnishment. Unfortunately, processing wage garnishments aren’t as simple as sending a check to the court. Particular paperwork and accounting must be filed at statutorily defined times, such as a copy of the Interim Report form within 30 days after the end of each employee pay period and Final Report form after the debt is paid in full. Consult with an experienced Cleveland business attorney if you have any questions about your responsibilities or obligations as an employer.  

  • How long must an employee’s wages be garnished?  

An employer must withhold funds until one of the following occurs: 1) the debt is paid in full, 2) the creditor terminates the garnishment, 3) a court appoints a trustee and halts the garnishment, 4) filing of a bankruptcy proceeding, 5) a garnishment of higher priority is received (however, if the higher priority garnishment does not take the maximum amount that can be withheld, the remainder should be used to satisfy the other garnishment.), 6) another garnishment is received from a different creditor and the old garnishment has been processed for a certain length of time as denoted in the local court rules, see an attorney if this circumstance arises.   

  • What if an employer refuses to process a wage garnishment?  

Processing wage garnishments are a pain for businesses and they are only entitled to deduct $3.00 per garnishment transaction. Naturally, the next question is, why do them at all? Well, the wage garnishment documents are essentially an order from the court and disregarding or ignoring them can open a business up to contempt of court proceedings. Contempt can result in fines, damages for attorney’s fees, and court costs, and, in the end, the contempt business will still be forced to process the wage garnishment. Thus, ignoring and failing to respond or process to wage garnishment is not a viable option, and since employers only have a few days to respond, complete and return mail the forms as soon as received. Every business attorney will say the same thing, you don’t have it like it, just do it.  

Note, simply firing the relevant employee is not an option either, an employer may not discharge an employee solely because of a garnishment by only one creditor within any one year. Even in the case of multiple and habitual wage garnishments, always consult an experienced Ohio business attorney before terminating an employee solely for this cause. 

 

Business Attorney Baron Law

The Difference Between Business As Usual And Bankruptcy. Here Are Two Ohio Laws That All Business Owners Must Know!

Every business and every business owner should be aware if and how the Consumer Sales Protection Act (“CSPA”) and/or the Home Solicitation Sales Act (“HSSA”) effects their business. On the first day of law school, every new law student learns that ignorance of the law is no defense. The same applies to business owners. In the context of CSPA or HSSA violations, being unaware of the law, which in turn leads to noncompliance of the law, can open you up to thousands of dollars in damages, discretionary rescission of expensive contracts, and ruin your hard-earned professional reputation. The CSPA and HSSA are lengthy statutes which cover a multitude of business and scenarios and, as such, require an experienced hand to walk you through all the wrinkles and hurdles. If your personal knowledge of these statutes is lacking, never hesitate to contact an experienced Cleveland business attorney. A little forethought now, can save you a whole lot later.    

  • What is the CSPA and HSSA? 

The Ohio CSPA is located under Chapter 1345 of the Ohio Revised code. In a nutshell, the CSPA prohibits “suppliers” from committing unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with a “consumer transaction.” Naturally who is and is not a “supplier” and what is or is not a “consumer transaction” under the CSPA are pivotal first points of analysis. Further, the CSPA does not stand alone. The CSPA works in conjunction with Ohio’s HSSA. Again, to simplify everything, the CSPA is a list of things considered unfair or deceptive acts or practices and denotes potential avenues for redress of legal grievances for harmed customers. On top of the CSPA, the HSSA also provides an additional list of things considered unfair or deceptive acts or practices and denotes potential avenues for redress of legal grievances for harmed customers but with slightly different triggering circumstances, i.e. the existence of a home solicitation sale, hence the name, and different recovery options for customers.  

  • Why should business owners care about the CSPA and HSSA? 

Many businesses and industries are subject to the laws and requirements of the CSPA and HSSA without even knowing it. Thus, these businesses are running around selling services and completing jobs all the while exposing themselves to massive amounts of potential liability. Remember, ignorance of the law is no defense and all it takes is one persnickety consumer to ruin your whole fiscal year and eat all your profits through litigation.   

In the context of home improvement, residential contractors, HVAC, roofers, electricians, landscapers, concrete work, repairs companies, and other home sale situations, to name only few, if a company has committed an unfair and deceptive trade practice, a consumer often has 1) the right to cancel the agreement, 2) receive a full refund, and 3) depending on the circumstances may not even have to return any materials or pay for any labor already performed.  

The CSPA includes a non-exclusive list of specific acts and practices that are conclusively “unfair and deceptive” and therefore violate Ohio law. The CSPA, via the HSSA, also includes specific “home solicitation sale” remedies, one of which includes a statutory right to a three-day right to cancel period when the contract is signed at the consumer’s residence. Every seller must notify the buyer of his or her right to cancel the sale and provide the buyer with a “Notice of Cancellation” form that the buyer can use to cancel the sale, both the notice and the form to cancel have specific statutory requirements. If the supplier fails to include notice and proper language regarding this 3-day right in the contract or use the proper forms, consumers are entitled to cancel their agreement whenever they wish because the 3-day timer never started. Courts have said in these situations that the right to cancel never expired, even many years after the job was done. Only following the law by delivering proper documents does a supplier start the clock. In turn, this allows homeowners to bring a claim for a refund or to get out of paying money owed on a contract well after the two-year statute of limitations under the CSPA has run out. 

  • Recent changes in the CSPA and HSSA. 

As previously stated, the CSPA and HSSA together represent a list of unfair and deceptive trade practices which often triggers liability for the offending company. Ohio Senate Bill 227, which became effective on April 6, 2017, added a new practice to this list that is conclusively violative, as in if you do it, legally there is no discussion over whether it was “unfair and deceptive” under the CSPA, it just is. This new violation is: 

“[T]he failure of a supplier to obtain or maintain any registration, license, bond, or insurance required by state law or local ordinance for the supplier to engage in the supplier’s trade or profession is an unfair or deceptive act or practice.” 

In short, under current Ohio law, even the most careful and observant supplier can violate the CSPA/HSSA by failing to timely renew any registration, license, bond, or insurance that the supplier is required to maintain under state or local law. As such, ignorance can no longer be the standard operating procedure for services such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing or refrigeration work, and other suppliers of home services. Further, for businesses who use outside contractors or other temporary workers, the risk is even more severe. Now you must be sure not only are you and your employees bonded and licensed, but any contractors have the proper paper work as well, even though technically, they are not your employees. Often courts find the burden is on the business to make due diligence and ensure compliance, responsibility must fall somewhere, and it sure isn’t going to fall on the consumer. 

Furthermore, albeit a more minor change, Senate Bill 227 also updates the Notice of Cancellation requirements under the HSSA to include fax or e-mail options, which the supplier must provide. In turn, the customer/buyer can now cancel the sale by delivering the Notice of Cancellation “in person or manually” or by “facsimile transmission or electronic mail” to the seller. As such, even a minor oversight such as not including fax or e-mail cancellations options on standard forms can open up a world of litigation pain on an unknowing business. 

A law without consequences is a paper tiger. You may ask yourself, who cares if technically my business engages in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Well, for CSPA and HSSA violations, often customers are entitled to triple damages and attorney’s fees, good for them, bad for business owners. No stretch of the imagination to see a couple of CSPA/HSSA lawsuits can kill a profitable business real quick. Notice, under Ohio law it doesn’t matter if failure of compliance was willful or inadvertent, the only thing that matters is did you break the law. This is why it is important to maintain a good and ongoing relationship with a local Cleveland business attorney. Often the legal requirements for local business are buried deep within local ordinances and administrative code. Remember, what you don’t know can hurt you and, just like everything else with a business, it is on owners to stay current, but most especially, compliant with any recent changes in Ohio law.