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Wednesday
Aug102011

Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony Breakup | A California Divorce Attorney’s Perspective

Encino Tarzana Divorce LawyerChild Custody and Support Attorney Los Angeles

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
818.907.3274

San Fernando Valley Custody Lawyer Los Angeles

 

When Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony announced their decision to divorce in mid-July, they made a joint statement in People Magazine, which later got distributed to media outlets around the world:

“This was a very difficult decision. We have come to an amicable conclusion on all matters.”

Even though the breakup will pose emotional hardships for the divorcing spouses, their children, other family members and friends, it’s still a good sign that the celebrity couple presented a united front to the world.

And on the surface, it seems they will not have a typically contentious, celebrity divorce.

This “amicable conclusion” as they call it, sets a good example for other couples dissolving marriages. Why? It’s the smartest move you can make emotionally and financially, especially in tough economic times.

Many of my firm’s clients choose an option similar to the Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez divorce route. They take our advice and help us “Bring Calm to Crisis,” as we say in our family law department. They choose to keep emotions under wraps, compromise, fully disclose their finances, and to mediate rather than litigate.

How can you follow their lead? Here are some tips, if you’re thinking about getting a divorce in California:

 

Child Custody Disputes

 

The ultimate goal in resolving child custody issues should be a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interest. Sometimes that goal gets lost in the heat of battle…and if that’s the case, I usually recommend the parents see a co-parenting counselor.

The hourly rates for a counselor will seem high, but they’re not as expensive as litigation. Since most parents will need to co-parent until the child is 18 years of age, learning to resolve conflicts is money well spent.

 

Spousal Disputes

 

It’s rare when couples can divorce with little or no emotion. Feelings are hurt, emotions rack clients with overwhelming anger, loss or guilt, and then there’s the stress of dividing property, debt and custody of children.

I recommend therapy in this situation too…if you can deal with your emotions positively, you’ll save thousands of dollars by not fighting over house plants and other minutiae.

A therapist can help you pick and choose which issues are truly important to you. (Remember, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony said they settled amicably on “all matters.”)

Attorney Relations

 

The rule of thumb here is: don’t waste your divorce attorney’s,  the court’s, or even your time. Here’s how you can avoid that:

▪ Save money on legal fees by staying organized. Provide all records and documents at once. Your divorce attorney won’t have to sift through information, wait for more data, and then rehash all of the information all over again. Being organized prevents mistakes, which will increase legal costs.

▪ Provide information as soon as possible: You can save money on fees if you don’t have to pay for expedited court filings.

▪ Work with the legal assistant or paralegal. Your divorce attorney’s staff is usually knowledgeable and efficient. Follow up with the legal assistant to see if the attorney needs additional information, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the staff can’t provide an answer they’ll get the attorney to respond.

I seriously doubt that Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony can’t afford a high-priced divorce attorney and expensive, drawn out litigation process, if that is the path they choose to travel. But for now, and hopefully throughout their entire dissolution process, they’ll take the higher and economically smarter road.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis is a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney and Shareholder in the Family Law Department. You can e-mail her at vnellis@lewitthackman.com.


Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Thursday
Aug042011

Amy Winehouse Will & Estate: If Amy Had Been a Californian…

 

California Estate PlanningAugust 4, 2011
by Kira S. Masteller


The death of Grammy winner Amy Winehouse on July 23 probably did not surprise the music community; those fans who have followed her career; or friends, family and others aware of her history of drug and alcohol abuse.

The British icon was a popular singer-songwriter known for her powerful deep contralto vocals and her eclectic mix of musical genres including R & B, soul and jazz – not to mention her rebellious lyrics in her hit, Rehab.

Rebel lyrics notwithstanding, whether or not the troubled singer was more responsible in other aspects of her life remain to be seen. And in light of the sudden, Amy Winehouse death, a colleague recently asked me:

“What would happen to the estate if Amy Winehouse died without a will or trust?”

The process for disposing of an estate in England when someone dies without a will or trust in place is in some ways similar to that of the U.S. system. It’s lengthy, complicated and expensive.

But here’s how the probate process would work in California, if the singer had lived here, and there is no Amy Winehouse will or trust in place:

     ▪ If the deceased celebrity was still married to her former husband Blake Fielder-Civil, her assets obtained prior to marriage would be split between Blake (50 percent) and her parents (50 percent equally between them).

     ▪ Amy Winehouse’s assets earned during marriage, if determined to be community property, would be distributed solely to her husband.

     ▪ If the singer’s divorce was final, then her entire estate would be distributed to her parents equally.

The Legal Costs of a Probate Process in California

 

As I said, dying without a will or trust means your family and friends will incur a lot of costs and the stress of sorting through a lot of bureaucracy. The financial penalties can sometimes be staggering.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the Amy Winehouse estate is worth US$25,000,000. Here’s how the probate process gets expensive:

 

     ▪ Administrator Fees (Court Appointed Administrator)
     ▪ Attorney Fees (Attorney Representing the Administrator)
     ▪ Court filing fees
     ▪ Surety Bond
     ▪ Publication Fees
     ▪ Appraisal Fees
     ▪ Accounting fees

The fees to the estate administrator and attorney will total at least four percent of the estate (two percent to the administrator and two percent to the administrator’s legal rep), or more than $1M of the $25M estate left to Amy Winehouse’s family. The total costs of probate in this hypothetical case would be north of $1,250,000.

I sometimes tease my clients:

“Don’t wait till you’re dying to come and see me.” Waiting that long is leaving things a bit late, sometimes too late, for the ones you love.

Kira S. Masteller is a Los Angeles Trust, Estate and Probate Attorney and Shareholder in our Tax and Estate Planning Practice Group. Ms. Masteller can be reached via e-mail: kmasteller@lewitthackman.com.






 
Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

Thursday
Jul282011

DWD | Using Your Cell Phone and Driving

Injury Attorney Los AngelesLos Angeles Injury Lawyer 

 

by David B. Bobrosky
(818) 907-3254

 

Driving while distracted, or DWD, is a problem not just for Generation TXT, but also for seniors, baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and anyone else not devoting 100 percent of their attention to their driving. This poses a serious threat to everyone on the road.

It’s become such a huge factor in automobile accidents – accounting for 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 – that the government has created a whole website of information to caution drivers. In fact, the DWD site breaks down distracted driving into three primary categories:

Cognitive – taking your mind off what you are doing

Manual – taking your hands off the wheel

Visual – taking your eyes off the road 

All three of these categories or dangers can factor into a potential accident when using your cell phone and driving, whether you’re using it to talk, text, navigate or change music. And in the age of smart phones, we’re especially susceptible to answering the sometimes deadly, siren call of texts and e-mails.

Is Distracted Driving a Disease?

The DWD phenomenon has become a plague to everyone on the road…so much so, that even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has commissioned an analysis of the problem, Distracted Driving in the United States and Europe:

▪ 25 percent of drivers overall say they use their cell phones
while driving.

▪ 40 percent of drivers age 18-29 say they talk on their phones regularly or “fairly often” while driving.

▪ About 9 percent of drivers overall are texting while driving on a regular basis; but over 25 percent of drivers aged 18-29 say they text while driving regularly, or “fairly often”.

The numbers for cell phone use while driving in Europe depend on the country studied.

DWD Rates Climbing

Unfortunately, there has been a rise in DWD fatalities, from 7 percent in 2005 to 11 percent in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And other government agencies are concerned as well.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is advising employers to be aware of the problem, and to enforce policies against using a cell phone and driving, since employers face enormous financial and legal issues when their workers text while driving company vehicles. I’ll address that issue and some potential solutions in my next blog.

David B. Bobrosky is a Los Angeles accident attorney at Lewitt Hackman in Encino, California.

 

 
Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Thursday
Jul212011

Casey Anthony Trial – Lessons in Courtroom Civility & Ethics

by Stephan Mihalovits


The Casey Anthony trial has drawn public interest on an international scale. A horrible tragedy resulted in a young life lost. The defendant mother is widely perceived as guilty. But despite global public interest and the seriousness of Caylee Anthony’s death, the trial and verdict in Florida provide more proof that attorneys oftentimes act unprofessionally to opposing counsel and against ethical guidelines, even when stakes are highest. 

As trial commenced, Florida Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. astutely ordered both sides to refrain from disparaging remarks throughout the contentious proceedings. But despite the order and public scrutiny, the lawyers abandoned their professional duty.

During the defense’s closing statements, attorney Jose Baez delivered his final remarks to the jury before they decided his client’s fate. As Baez spoke, prosecutor Jeff Ashton was seen smiling and laughing. Mr. Baez lashed back at “this laughing guy over here,” Mr. Ashton objected, and Judge Perry eventually reprimanded both sides.

It was just one more delay in the Casey Anthony trial happening just days after Judge Perry sentenced one spectator to jail time, fines and court costs for “flipping a bird” at an attorney.

Encouraging & Enforcing Legal Ethics & Civility 


The California State Bar set ethical standards in writing in 2007 with California Attorney Guidelines of Civility and Professionalism. Though guidelines are not laws and are non-binding, attorneys who act in violation of the guidelines may find themselves subject to liability:

Leko v. Cornerstone Bldg. Inspection Service (2001): Attorneys who fail to confer with opposing counsel to resolve discovery issues may be fined, as was one of the attorneys in this case.

When opposing counsel failed to calendar a deposition and then tried twice to reschedule, the fined attorney responded with an insulting letter and then moved to compel depositions. The court fined this attorney for disregarding an obligation to informally resolve the matter; though it cited the insulting letter as relevant to the Court’s decision.

In the Matter of an Anonymous Member of the South Carolina Bar (2011): The U.S. Supreme Court got involved here, though only with a letter of caution. The Hearing Panel decided an attorney could be disciplined for activities that “pollute the administration of justice” or “bring the legal profession into disrepute.”

Perhaps the lines in this e-mail from the respondent, sent to opposing counsel in a family law matter, triggered the decision:

“I have a client who is a drug dealer on . . . Street down town [sic]. He informed me that your daughter, [redacted] was detained for buying cocaine and heroine [sic]. She is, or was, a teenager, right? This happened at night in a known high crime/drug area, where alos [sic] many shootings take place. Lucky for her and the two other teens, they weren’t charged. Does this make you and [redacted] bad parents? This incident is far worse than the allegations your client is making. I just thought it was ironic….”

Respondent tried to explain, pointing to “daily obnoxious, condescending, and harassing e-mails, faxes and hand-delivered letters” from opposing counsel.

The Lessons From Uncivil Discourse


So what have we learned from the Casey Anthony trial, Leko, and Anonymous? Whether handling matters in public or in private, attorneys who fail to act professionally risk facing real consequences.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

Thursday
Jul142011

Carmageddon To Do List: Trust and Estate Planning

 

by Robert A. Hull

 

Of all the things your Carmageddon To Do list should include, trust and estate planning should be ranking right after:

#1. Avoid driving in Los Angeles unnecessarily this weekend like the city’s infested with bubonic plague (though, I vaguely remember that getting around town during the 1984 Olympics wasn’t so bad – here’s to hoping).

Plague or not, many businesses along the 405 corridor are encouraging visitors by offering discounts and other incentives to lure foolish drivers to their doors. Don’t take the bait. Instead, stay home, relax with your family, and plan for the future. When was the last time you did that?

I know, trust and estate planning is a chore, like dead-heading the geraniums or re-caulking the bathtub. But if you’re not going to plan for your future and that of your loved ones this weekend, when WILL you take the time for it?

That being said, here are some estate planning points to ponder while you’re doing other things around the house:

 

Is it better to have a will, a trust, or both?

 

Best to view a will and a trust as a unified whole. With a will, you can decide how to distribute all of your property upon your death and name an executor to do so. However, without a funded trust, your estate will be “probated” – i.e., subject to Court-supervised administration (which can be, to the uninitiated – like re-caulking geraniums and dead-heading bathtubs – all while paying for the privilege in time and money).

With a trust, you have even more flexibility to distribute your property. However, if enough of your assets are not transferred into your trust, you can end up, again, in probate.

A trust can be set up with your spouse or partner, and like a will, you get to name someone to administer the trust (the “Trustee”), who will very likely be your spouse or partner.

Again, you must fund your trust before your demise, so that your loved ones can avoid -- da, da, dum -- probate.

 

Make it Easy for Your Executor or Trustee

 

Don’t hide your assets unless you’re committing an act of revenge.

If you actually like your Executor or Trustee and want to make it easier for him or her, make a list of all of the assets you’re distributing and make sure s/he has a copy, along with your accountant or attorney (or at least one of the above).

Upon your death, your trustee or executor must maintain records regarding any transactions related to your estate, i.e. payments from the estate for your funeral expenses, interests and gains on your accounts, fund transfers between accounts and more. S/he has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of your estate to administer the assets according to the terms of the operative will/trust, and may be liable to beneficiaries for failing to do so.

The executors and/or trustees will have to give notice to your beneficiaries and heirs . . . in some cases, along with regular accounting statements. And courts may enforce notice and reporting, even for trusts outside of the court’s supervision, or not in probate.

 

Taxing Questions

 

Currently, California does not have an inheritance tax like some other states, and generally speaking, there is no federal estate tax due upon the death of the first spouse. Currently, there are no federal estate taxes for assets worth under $5 million dollars (and, a surviving spouse may use the deceased spouse’s unused portion of his or her $5 million exemption).

You may gift up to $5 million dollars, tax free. So, if you’re thinking about gifting property or funds to a particular someone…this may be the very time to do it because the law is set to reduce the estate/gift tax exemptions to $1 million dollars in 2013, absent further legislative action. Remember, though, that gifting now will reduce your estate tax exemption to the extent that you use your gift tax exemption…

 

Trust and Estate Planning Accountability

If you’d like more information, read my colleague’s, Michael Hackman’s blog, California Trust Attorney – Three Things You Should Know About a Trust.” 

Stay safe this Carmageddon weekend, steer-clear of driving and start a little estate planning for the family… 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120