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COVID-19 and the Continuing Importance of Powers of Attorney

Certainty in this uncertain time is peace of mind many families are finding themselves without. The Covid-19 pandemic is highlighting harsh realities of life all of us were aware of but chose to ignore. One such reality is the importance of comprehensive and up-to-date estate planning. Many parents, grandparents, established business owners, and seasoned professionals are all awaking everyday to the potential of expensive and long-term hospitalization with the chance of persisting and life-changing health consequences. One can’t fight Covid-19 directly, it isn’t a person or thing to combat with force or wit, however, mitigation and foresight are always available. Estate planning will allow you to proactively get your affairs in order and, worst case scenario, if you become infected, allow you to rapidly and intelligently respond in a way that meets you and your families unique needs. Whether you have no estate plan or are looking to update an existing plan, where should you start? Given the current health crisis, taking a look at your powers of attorney, or POAs, is a good place to start.

Power of Attorney

A comprehensive estate plan provides the instructions necessary for estate administration, via a will, while tax relief and flexibility with asset distribution can be accomplished via trusts. Critical issues and decisions during life, however, must be addressed separately. That is where your powers of attorney come into play. 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. As many families are finding out, the bills keep coming due regardless of COVID-19. 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.

In your estate plan you will want both a financial power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney. Both are agency agreements that grant another individual the authority to make decisions, within a certain sphere of decisions whose terms you dictate, on your behalf. 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 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. Regrettably, 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.

If you decide not to draft one or more powers of attorney and you end up incapacitated, then, in certain situations, a court is forced to appoint either a guardian or conservator and the family is effectively cut off from independently managing the relevant affairs of the incapacitated family member. Further, if a court is forced to action, the entire process will take longer, cost more, be public knowledge, and is immensely more complex than it otherwise should be. Having an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney draft the appropriate POAs can avoid a lot of headache and save a lot of money down the line.

Even with the uncertainly pandemics bring, certain estate planning questions always linger. 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? In what situations and for how long will I remain on such support, if I want to be on it at all? These types of issues and questions also must be addressed and accounted for by your estate plan. That is why finding and working with experienced Cleveland estate planning attorneys are so critical. These types of decisions and potential consequences for your life and wellbeing are not things that should be done on the fly or with doctors and stressed out family members demanding a decision. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 cases becoming more and more prevalent with each passing day, the necessity of proper POAs is crystal clear and those without these documents are scrambling to find estate planning attorneys who are open and still taking clients. If your estate planning documents, especially POAs are out of date or incomplete, contact a local estate planning attorney right away. Courthouses and government agencies are closing daily, and you don’t want to find yourself without the stability of critical legal documents during this most unstable time.

COVID-19, for good or ill, has and will continue to change how we live, work, and survive. Fortunately, one aspect of life that has largely gone untouched is estate planning. Estate planning was smart to do before Covid-19 and it still is. Northeast Ohio has felt the touch of this disease like every county in the world has. Cleveland estate planning attorneys are working around the clock to meet the historic demand for quick and immediate estate planning and are currently utilizing more teleconferencing and remote legal services than ever before to make their existing and new clients comfortable and secure. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are all proactive protection measures that the majority of Americans are following, even if they cause financial hardship or social strain. Estate planning also represents a proactive protection measure, however, it seldom causes any financial or social pain, it actually prevents them. As such, it’s strange that 50% of people don’t even have a simple will. Considering the ongoing crisis, make sure you and your family are in the 50% that protects, not the 50% leaving everything to chance.

Disclaimer:

The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

Security Deposit Blog

Security Deposits: A Practical Primer

People often have questions about things that are relevant to their jobs or lives. For landlords, a usual topic of conversation is security deposits. Previously, legal standards and procedures regarding landlords keeping security deposits was covered, but what do these rules mean in ordinary terms? The following are a few good tips for every landlord, a little bit of good advice in the right place often makes all the difference. But if you really want to get on the ball, save the most money, and protect yourself and your business, call an experienced attorney at Baron Law.

Be Upfront with the Tenant, Give them a Move-Out Letter

All good things must come to an end, lease agreement and tenancies are no different. So, in order to save time, stress, and avoid disputes over security deposits, using move-out letters is a good move. Move-out letters are tangible notice to tenants that they are ending the tenancy, good proof of breach for later on, and makes sure all parties are on the same page.

At minimum, your move-out letters should tell the tenant how the property/unit should be left, whether it should be cleaned, etc., explain the procedures and timing for final inspection of the premises, include the itemized deductions from the security deposit, if any, tell the tenant to return keys, provide a forwarding address for the security deposit, and explain the details of how any monies will be returned.

Move-out letters should be standard operating procedure for every landlord. If you are having trouble drafting your own letter or want to ensure every important point is covered, hire an experienced Cleveland attorney to do your drafting.

Itemizing a Security Deposit Withholding/Deduction

A recognized rule in Ohio is that any security deposit withholding or deduction must be itemized. The logic of this requirement is to make landlords give specific reasons to tenants why the security deposit is being withheld so tenants have the necessary information to decide whether or not to chase after the deposit via legal means. (It’s only fair, and the law is all about fairness.)

So, you know to itemize, but how is it done and what does it look like? Again, common sense is a good rule of thumb. If any ordinary person saw your itemized calculation, could they make sense of it? At minimum, take the total amount of the deposit, and in a basic list, give the identity, value, and reason for each deduction. For example, the following was found insufficient by a court:

 

2-Times Mowing Yard                 $    40.00

Wal-Mart                                        $    112.59

Rug Shampooer                            $     29.66

Cleaning Lady                               $      75.00

$   257.25”

Schaedler v. Shinkle, No. CA99-09-025, 2000 WL 1283775 (Ohio App., 12th 2000). A court found this notice and itemization insufficient because it did not explain what the landlord had bought or why it was necessary. Though you must provide half-way decent information, the standards are not rigorous. A landlord may rely on estimates for local adverts if they are used honestly and in good faith.

When all else fails, Small Claims Court

Small claims court is the ever-present threat that makes tenants pay their rent on time. Landlords always have the option to pursue redress via the courts. Often theft, property damages, or amount of back rent, dwarfs the value of a withheld security deposit. Though a method is available, it doesn’t mean it is the best option. Good attorneys always counsel clients to pursue solutions without legal intervention. Expediency and cheapness is good for landlords and a small claims action is anything but.

In a nutshell, a small claims action flows in the following order:

1) legally actionable event,

2) collecting evidence,

3) filing a complaint,

4) serving a complaint,

5) waiting for trial date,

6) conducting a trial,

7) waiting for judgment, and

8) collections

All through out this process there are attorney conversations, communications between tenant and landlord, collection of evidence, and waiting, the ever-present waiting for someone to respond.

There’s a lot of stuff going on and all of it costs time and money. This is where good legal counsel comes in. Best case scenario a stern phone call and demand letter from an attorney scares the other party into paying. If that works, awesome, problem solves. If it doesn’t, a good attorney will tell you the pro’s and con’s of going the lawsuit route. Sometimes, though a landlord feels slighted and hates a breaching tenant, the payoff just isn’t worth the going through the courts. At minimum, a lawsuit will take months, will probably require a landlord’s in court testimony, and to pay an attorney to appear in court and prosecute a case will eat a significant amount of money. Often the sign of a trustworthy attorney is one who tell you not to retain their services.

Disclaimer:

The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

How to Lower Your Property Tax – Fighting Overvalued County Appraisals

 

What: Property Value Appraisal

Ohio operates on a system in which county auditors reappraise every piece of land and every building located in their county every six years. These base appraised values are then multiplied by local tax rates. This value is what is shown on local county auditor’s website and is often used as a base line when determining potential real estate taxes.

This reappraisal occurs in different counties at different times. Naturally, it is just too much for every local government to reappraise everything all at once. So, Ohio uses staggered reappraisal with different groups of counties undergoing reappraisal or updating during different tax years.

The following counties recently have either finished reappraisals or recently undergone updates:

Update Counties

 

Allen Coshocton
Guernsey Sandusky
Vinton  

 

Reappraisal Counties

 

Belmont Brown Crawford Cuyahoga Erie
Fayette Highland Huron Jefferson Lake
Lorain Lucas Morgan Muskingum Ottawa
Portage Stark Warren Williams  

 

Why: Property Reappraisal and Updating can result in a Bigger Tax Hit

Most importantly with reappraisal and updating, is that they can result in increased property values and consequently increased tax liability. Property owners in particular counties subject to reappraisal or update will see new property values reflected in their property tax bills that arrive in the mail either December or January.  This is an often-overlooked tax consequence that many people fail to plan for and can eat up an otherwise expected, and critical, tax refund. As such, many people desire to keep their property values low, at least in regards to taxation, and want to challenge their county auditor’s assessment of their property value. This is where experienced Cleveland legal attorneys come in.

How: Filing a Complaint to Challenge Property Valuation

The period for filing formal challenges to a county auditor appraisal generally begins January 1 and ends March 31 so contact an attorney sooner rather than later if you want to challenge a recent change in your property value. Generally, property owners can only challenge an assessment one time every three years.

How you challenge an improper auditor valuation is with a complaint filed with your local county board of revision where the property under dispute is located. This complaint is sometimes referred to as a “complaint against valuation” and asks 14 boilerplate questions. Questions such as has the property been sold within the last 3 years, have you made any improvements to the property, and your justifications for requesting a change in value.

This form is found on every county auditor’s website as well as the Ohio Department of Taxation’s website. A lot of individuals challenge land valuation so the process, at least in some ways, is streamlined. Note, however, if the property owner challenging valuation is a business, an attorney must almost always sign the complaint.

The most common reasons property values are challenged include declining market values in a depressed area, functionally and/or economically obsolete properties, declining rents in tandem with vacancies, and damage caused by non-human agency, such as fire, flood, earthquakes, or mold. Further, those who recently purchased a property in an arms-length transaction for less than the county auditor’s value, often have a strong case. Note, however, recent Ohio Supreme Court rulings adjusted the evidentiary rules for property owners looking to use a recent arms-length transaction as a basis to challenge the value of real property. The important takeaway from recent legal rulings is that appraisal evidence must be carefully considered before presentment to the board of revision. As such, experienced legal counsel should be retained before filing any tax appeal.

Once the complaint is filed and received by the board of revision, the board sets an evidentiary hearing. The hearing usually lasts between 15 to 30 minutes and takes place in front of a panel of decisions makers, usually the county auditor, county treasurer, and the president of the Board of County Commissioners. At this hearing, an attorney appears on your behalf and presents arguments, evidence, and witness testimony to prove the actual property value. Depending on the value or discrepancy of the value under dispute, other interested parties, such as local school districts, will appear via their own counsel and argue in favor of the higher value.

After the hearing, the board of revision makes its decision of the value of the real property. If you took the proper steps, gathered the right documents, and hired the right attorney, your property value should be changed to reflect the real value and you can avoid any significant tax hit in the near future.

When: When should I challenge?

As with every legal question asked of every attorney, the answer is always going to be, it depends. But as rule of thumb, if it seems like no rational buyer would purchase your property for what the auditor appraised it, calling your local Cleveland business attorney is probably a good move.

Another critical factor in assessing when to challenge is the sufficiency of evidence currently in your possession. This is where good legal counsel comes in. Attorneys are well-versed in hiring qualified appraisers to determine the initial overvaluing of the property, generating presentable reports for the evidentiary hearing, and identifying the relevant purchase transaction documents. If you are asking for a significant change in value, it is highly likely opposing attorneys will come out of the woodwork to counter your appeal. As such, experienced local counsel is often the difference between a waste of time and money and significant tax saving.

Disclaimer:

The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

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.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

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

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.  

 

Estate Planning Attorney

What Is The Difference Between A Living And Testamentary Trust?

Your estate plan consists of many documents and covers a lot of bases. From protecting assets from creditors and litigants to avoiding probate, a comprehensive estate plan protects you while you’re living and provides for loved ones after death. Because estate plans are, by design, comprehensive, a lot of legal jargon is thrown around and often it’s difficult to keep track of all the nuance and detail. Durable powers of attorney, QTIP elections, unlimited martial deduction, and all the many names of the many different types of trusts, to name a few.  

That said, one of the most common questions posed during an initial estate planning consultation is, what is the difference between a living and a testamentary trust? Years ago testamentary trusts were all the rage, a lot of people have them but don’t know how they work or if they are even providing any benefits to the ultimate goals of estate planning. Since trusts represent one of the most utilitarian estate planning tools, in that they have the ability to do many useful and advantageous things in regards to estate planning, understanding the difference between living and testamentary trusts is critical to providing context to any advice given by Ohio estate planning attorneys.  

  • What is trust? 

As always, 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. 

  • What is a living trust? 

A living trust, also called an inter-vivos trust, is simply a trust created when you are alive. They can be either revocable and irrevocable and when someone is talking about a trust, usually it’s a living trust. Living is the umbrella term for a trust and is usually paired with other descriptive terms such as family, asset protection, or revocable or irrevocable to describe the primary purpose of the trust and what it is designed to do. Living trusts must have the same basic composition as other normal trusts, a grantor, trustee, and beneficiary.   

  • What is a testamentary trust? 

A testamentary trust is created in your last will and testament, specifically, it directs your executor of the estate to create it.  Thus, unlike a living trust, a testamentary trust will not take effect until you die.  The terms of the trust are amendable and revocable, in that they can be changed at any time, which makes sense because it doesn’t come into being until after death.  

One of the major distinguishing features of a testamentary trust is the involvement of the local probate court. From the time of the settlor’s death until the expiration of the testamentary trust, the probate court checks up on the trust to make sure it is being managed properly. Court involvement is usually sought in the context of testamentary trusts because these trusts are usually created for beneficiaries who, for some reason, are unable to received and manage trust funds appropriately.  

  • When would you use one over the other?  

At the end of the day, just like every other estate planning decision, it is all circumstantial and highly depend on personal situation and estate planning goals. (Which is why estate planning attorneys ask so many questions when you first meet them.) For the sake of some definitive answer, however, there are some tried and true situations when one is preferable over the other.  

If you are interested in avoiding probate, avoiding excessive court oversight, keeping your estate private, and saving your estate money by simplifying property conveyances and avoiding potential will contests, then a living will is likely a good choice. As mentioned before, since living trusts can be created to meet almost any goal or concern of estate planning, the major deciding factors of use is initial cost and ultimate utility of a trust, i.e. there is no point buying a trust if you have nothing to fund it with.   

Testamentary trusts, on the other hand, are created for young children who may be at risk of receiving improper inheritances or trust distributions, family members with disabilities, or other who may get large amounts of money or assets that enter into the estate upon a testator’s death. Further, these trusts are often highly recommended for parents who are at risk of dying at the same time. 

A testamentary trust can set parameters on your estate and how it will be distributed and/or managed after you pass on.  For example, you might include terms that allow for discretionary distributions of $1,000 a month to be given to your children until the age of 21 in the event both parents pass. This ensure that, even if tragedy strikes, the kids will, at least in some way, be supported by their parents, whether they’re gone or not.  At the end of the day, testamentary trusts, like all trusts, allows estate control even after death. Testamentary trusts are unique, however, in that the allow for greater oversight, via the courts, in what’s going on inside the trust. This can be a double-edged sword, however, in that, depending on how long the court needs to be involved, legal fees and administrative costs could add up making this trust structure unattractive if the trust is designed to last a long time.  

Again, dependent on the circumstances, such as estate planning goals, family structure, available estate assets, either or both types of trusts may be advantageous to use. A Cleveland estate planning attorney is in the best position to judge what is most appropriate for a given situation.