Tips on choosing a nursing home

While there is no way to guarantee that nothing will go wrong in a nursing home, some careful research and planning can help reassure you or your loved ones that you’ve made a good choice. Here are some things to consider when looking for a facility:

Location. No single factor is more important to the quality of care and quality of life of a nursing home resident than visits by family members. Care is often better if the facility knows someone is watching and cares. Moreover, visits can be the high point of the day or week for the nursing home resident. So make it as easy as possible for family members and friends to visit. [Read more…]

Should you save money with a three-year long-term care policy?

Long-term care insurance is expensive. One way that some people reduce the cost is to buy a policy that will cover care only for a limited period of time (such as three years), as opposed to a policy that covers care indefinitely.

Last year, almost a third of individual buyers purchased a three-year policy, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

But is that sufficient coverage? To answer that question, the Association recently published a report on the statistical likelihood that three years of coverage will be enough. [Read more…]

Moving? You might need to switch your Medicare plan

If you’re over age 65 and you’re preparing to move to another state – or even to another county – you’ll need to make sure your Medicare plan will still be in effect after you move.

Whether your policy will still be valid depends in part on whether you have original Medicare or Medicare Advantage. If you have original Medicare, moving shouldn’t affect your benefits. Your Medicare plan will still be valid when you move. However, if you have a Medigap policy as well, you’ll need to check with your insurer. While the insurance company will most likely continue to renew the policy as long as you continue to pay your premiums, it might be able to change the amount of the premiums based on your new area of residence. [Read more…]

Beware of using ‘off the shelf’ power of attorney forms

The power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents you can have. It allows you to appoint someone to act for you as your agent if you become incapacitated. Without such a document, your loved ones won’t be able to make decisions for you or manage your finances. They’ll have to ask a court to appoint a guardian or conservator – an expensive and time-consuming process that could result in someone making decisions for you that you wouldn’t agree with.

Although “do-it-yourself” power of attorney forms are readily available, it’s much better to have an attorney draft the document for you. There are many issues to consider, and this is a case where one size definitely does not fit all. For instance:

  •  What can your agent do? The power of attorney document sets out what an agent can and cannot do. Powers typically include buying and selling property, managing a business, paying debts, borrowing and investing money, engaging in legal proceedings, cashing checks, and collecting debts. They may also include the power to consent to medical treatment. [Read more…]

Americans spend too little time researching home loans

A home is usually the most expensive purchase people ever make. And as we’ve all learned recently, mortgage loans can be complex and a poorly chosen mortgage can cause many problems down the road. And yet, Americans spend very little time researching a mortgage.

The average homebuyer spends only five hours choosing a home loan and gets only three quotes, according to a recent online survey of nearly 3,000 purchasers by Zillow.com. More than 30% of purchasers spend two hours or less. [Read more…]

Can landlords, condos ban oxygen users from smoking?

People who use oxygen for medical reasons often smoke as well. (Frequently, smoking is the reason they have respiratory problems that require oxygen.) The problem is that smoking and oxygen are a dangerous combination. Oxygen accelerates fires and can turn a cigarette ember into a serious flame. Even after the oxygen is turned off, gas that has accumulated in a room or on a person’s clothing and hair can trigger a conflagration.

For this reason, many landlords and condominium associations would like to ban smoking in units where someone uses oxygen. But is this legal? The benefits of a ban are obvious: It reduces the likelihood of a fire causing property damage or physical injury to a resident or neighbor, along with possible resulting lawsuits. [Read more…]

FHA-insured condo loans may take longer to be approved

Mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration help many people to buy a home who couldn’t do so otherwise. That’s because lenders are often willing to loan to people with less of a down payment because the loan is insured by a federal agency. However, the FHA has just made it more difficult to obtain an insured condo loan.

Generally, the FHA can insure a loan only if the condo project has been approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. [Read more…]

Lead paint can be dangerous…to real estate investors

A recent case from Maryland’s highest court shows that even people who deal with real estate simply as investors can be held liable for lead paint problems. The case involved a Maryland company that bought tax liens. The company’s business model was to buy liens, foreclose on delinquent properties, then sell them “as is” at a profit. The company was organized as a limited liability company, or LLC.

In one case, the LLC foreclosed on a home in Baltimore. Sometime after the foreclosure it became aware that the former owner had rented the house to a family. The LLC demanded that the family leave, but the family members refused. So the LLC took the family to court and won its eviction case. The family then turned around and sued the manager of the LLC personally, claiming that the children in the house had developed lead poisoning. [Read more…]

New Fannie Mae rules hurt condo buyers, sellers, developers

New rules issued by Fannie Mae are making it harder for people to get mortgages for condominium units, particularly when the condo is new construction or a new condo conversion. The rules are designed to reduce the risk of foreclosures. However, they come at a bad time, because the real estate market is slow and many people have already been having more trouble getting mortgage loans.

Fannie Mae can’t tell lenders what to do, but Fannie repurchases a huge percentage of mortgages, and many lenders are unwilling to offer loans unless they can turn around and resell those loans to Fannie. So when Fannie tightens its eligibility for repurchases, it makes lenders less willing to offer loans. [Read more…]

Illegitimate child collects from trust

A Florida couple created a trust to benefit their grandchildren. The trust stated that it was to benefit only grandchildren who were related by blood. One of the couple’s sons got divorced in 1971. A girl, Catherine, had been born during the marriage. The son acknowledged the girl as his child and paid child support for her.

In 1999, however, when Catherine was 32 years old, a DNA test proved that she wasn’t really the son’s daughter.

In response, the other grandchildren went to court and argued that she shouldn’t be able to collect from the trust, since she wasn’t related by blood. [Read more…]

How is your real estate titled? It makes a big difference

When two or more people own real estate, the relationship between the owners is known as a “tenancy.” There are a number of different kinds of tenancy. Understanding the differences is important, because different kinds of tenancy can mean different rules for whether an interest in the property can be inherited outside of probate and whether creditors can claim the property.

Tenancy comes in three main forms: tenancy in common, joint tenancy, and tenancy by the entirety. Each form has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Tenancy in common. With a tenancy in common, each owner has a percentage interest in the property and can transfer that interest however he or she wants. For instance, one tenant might own 60% of the property, another might own 35%, and a third might own the remaining 5%. The owner of the 5% can sell that interest, or leave it to someone in a will. The person who buys or inherits the land will then become a tenant in common with the other owners. The main advantage of a tenancy in common is that it allows the owners the greatest flexibility to transfer the property as they wish. [Read more…]

Things to consider if you’re remarrying later in life

Not only are people living longer these days, but there’s a growing trend of widows and widowers remarrying in their 60s, 70s and 80s. A remarriage late in life can bring happiness, but it can also create complexities for estate planning.

For most elderly people who remarry, the chief issue is that they want to look out for their adult children and make sure those children have an inheritance. Lack of estate planning can result in a new spouse receiving the assets that could have gone to adult children and grandchildren. [Read more…]

Lack of estate tax may create problems for people with older wills

The federal estate tax expired at the end of 2009, and believe it or not, the lack of an estate tax is creating a serious problem for many people who have not revised their wills in a while.

The federal estate tax applied in 2009 to estates of more than $3.5 million. It is slated to come back in 2011, and apply to estates of more than $1 million. Most people expected that Congress would “fix” the estate tax before it expired, and there would be a new exemption amount, such as $3.5 million, for 2010 and beyond. [Read more…]

Summer 2010 Newsletters

  • Employment Law Newsletter (PDF)
  • Estate Planning Newsletter (PDF)
  • Real Estate Newsletter (PDF)
  • Restaurant’s tip-pooling arrangement was okay

    A restaurant’s tip pooling arrangement, which required tips to wait staff to be shared with non-waiters such as kitchen workers, didn’t violate federal labor laws, according to a decision by a federal appeals court.

    The Vita Café in Portland, Oregon paid its waiters and waitresses $2.10 more than the federal minimum wage. Under its tip pooling policy, the café redistributed tips to all restaurant employees, with the majority (between 55 and 70 percent) going to kitchen staff and the remainder to the servers in proportion to hours worked. A waitress sued the café, claiming this violated federal wage rules. But the court decided that there is no general rule that tips are the property of an employee, and that employees must be allowed to keep all of their tips only if the café has taken a “tip credit” toward its minimum wage obligations.

    More sex harassment suits are being brought by men

    Even though the overall number of sex harassment complaints has declined in recent years, the number of these complaints filed by men is on the increase. The number of harassment claims filed by men has doubled in the past 20 years. Last year, male employees claiming harassment hit an all-time high of 14 percent of the cases.

    Most of these claims involve male-on-male harassment. Although same-sex harassment cases had been filed for years beforehand, the U.S. Supreme Court definitively allowed these claims under the federal sex discrimination laws back in 1998.

    Employee can prove retaliation with less evidence

    An employee who claimed her employer fired her in retaliation for complaining about gender and age discrimination can prove her case with less evidence than if she had sued for age discrimination itself, a federal appeals court has ruled. After 22 years with Xerox and being named one of the company’s top eight employees in the country, the employee was fired. She claimed she was fired by a new supervisor who immediately began making negative decisions about her because of her age and gender. She sued Xerox under Title VII, a federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits an employer from retaliating against a worker who has filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    At trial, the jury was told that if her age and gender were “motivating factors” in firing her, then she proved retaliation, even if the employer had other motives for getting rid of her. The jury awarded her $67,000 in damages. Xerox appealed, arguing that the jury should have been told that in order to win, the employee had to prove that the employer would not have fired her but for her EEOC complaint. This would be the test in an age discrimination case under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, where employees must show that they wouldn’t have been discriminated against but for their age. But the court said that the test for retaliation under Title VII is easier than the test for age discrimination itself. Therefore, the employee won.

    Screening an employee’s credit may be illegal

    It may be illegal for an employer to conduct a credit check of a job applicant or an employee, according to a recent letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Even though credit checks don’t violate any federal employment laws, they could violate discrimination laws if they have a disproportionate impact on women, minorities or other protected groups, the EEOC says.

    However, an employer can still conduct credit checks if it can show that doing so is necessary for it to operate safely or efficiently. For instance, screening the credit of a job applicant or employee might be appropriate if the person is to handle large amounts of cash.Some states are moving toward banning credit checks altogether by introducing laws that prohibit the practice.

    Employee’s LinkedIn profile may be used against her

    In one of the first cases of its kind, a company is using an employee’s LinkedIn profile as evidence against her in a federal lawsuit. The company sued a former employee, claiming that she took company secrets and client lists with her to her new job. The employee was responsible for recruiting contract workers for a placement firm that specialized in IT work.

    In its lawsuit, the company said that judging from the employee’s LinkedIn profile, she had made connections with over 20 of the company’s workers. The company claims she violated her non-compete agreement by emailing the employees and asking if they were “still looking for opportunities” and inviting them to “visit my new office and hear about some of the stuff we are working on.” [Read more…]

    New health care law contains ‘surprise’ employment law changes

    Buried in the mammoth health care reform law are some changes in employment law that will affect companies and their employees. A few of these changes were added at the last minute, with the result that not many people are prepared for them or are even aware of them.

    Here’s a summary of the some of the major changes:

     • Mandatory break time for new mothers

    Employers will be required to provide nursing mothers with “reasonable break time” to express breast milk under an amendment to a federal law that covers labor standards.

    Companies will have to provide this time for up to one year afte [Read more…]