Georgia Law Blog

Trustees must balance many interests when making decisions

Generally speaking, a revocable trust is one that its creator can modify or revoke at will. The revocable trust is popular because it generally prevents a person's estate from going through probate after he or she dies. Furthermore, the terms of the trust go into effect as soon as the document is created. Therefore, an individual may have assets transferred or other decisions made on his or her behalf if that person becomes incapacitated.

In most cases, the trustee is expected to balance the interests of the beneficiaries with the wishes of the person who created the trust. However, a court decision in Michigan found that a trustee may also have to regard the wishes of a contingent beneficiary as well. This could come into play if the settlor is deemed incapacitated, but there is some controversy as to when such a designation should be made.

Popular technologies may provide easy access to police

Video doorbell technologies are becoming more popular in Georgia and across the country. When people install a Ring doorbell, they can see who is at their door by checking the video feed provided by the accompanying mobile phone app. However, people may not fully realize that they are also providing this information to law enforcement agencies. Ring was purchased in 2018 by Amazon for $1 billion, indicating the popularity of the technology. Under Ring partnership agreements, police have access to a special portal that allows them to request video material from community members. Few might object to police asking for the information.

However, agreements also allow the police to go to Ring directly to request customers' video information if the homeowners decline. While police agencies say that there is nothing to fear for people with nothing to hide, many advocates are concerned that a simple doorbell technology is actually a conduit for a massive expansion of government surveillance. Law enforcement agencies do not need a warrant or probable cause to get this type of information. Instead, it is built into user agreements that few consumers may fully review before installing their new technology.

Using a pet trust in estate planning

While ensuring that their assets and loved ones are taken care of in the event of their death,Georgia residents might also want to make provisions for their pets. Without these arrangements, a pet could end up at a shelter or in another situation that is not ideal.

A durable power of attorney for pet care can allow someone to care for the pet on the owner's behalf. People can carry a wallet card that notifies people in the case of death or incapacity that there are pets at home that need to be cared for. The card could contain information about who should be contacted to take care of them so they do not go several days without food or water. Over the longer term, additional provisions need to be made. Naming who will care for pets in a will may not be sufficient since the pets need care before the probate process is complete. Furthermore, with a will, there is no oversight regarding pet care.

Protecting finances after a divorce

When people in Georgia decide to divorce, they may be concerned about how to protect their financial future when doing so. After all, the financial consequences can linger for a long time after the other emotional and practical issues have been sorted out. For most people, divorce can lead to major financial changes, especially when the couple involved has been married for a long time. However, there are ways that people can prepare to end their marriage and protect their finances as well.

Divorce can be a particularly hard hit for people who have been homemakers or who have stayed home to raise the children. Alimony can certainly be a factor in many cases, but it may be limited to a certain period of time, and people may have to re-enter the workforce despite earning a lower income than they may have otherwise. However, both parties will need to develop a new budget for their post-divorce lives. It is usually more expensive to run two households on the same incomes that previously supported one, so people should not hesitate to consider downsizing their luxuries. People should also keep other costs in mind, like deposits, transportation and insurance changes.

Concerns raised about excessive plea bargains

For many people in Georgia accused of a crime, a plea bargain may seem an almost inevitable way to resolve the charges. After all, a full 97% of federal criminal convictions are garnered through the use of agreed-upon guilty pleas, rather than a conviction in court. The same is true of 94% of state criminal convictions. In 2018 alone, federal prosecutors initiated 80,000 cases, and only 2% went to trial. These numbers may come as a surprise; after all, it would seem that many people have a better chance to argue their cases before a jury of their peers where prosecutors are forced to prove allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.

While some people may agree to plea bargains because they are clearly guilty, it is also clear that innocent people have pleaded guilty in response to prosecutor coercion and a stacked deck against them. There are a number of practices that are seemingly accepted as legal yet undermine confidence in an impartial justice system. People who do not agree to a plea bargain may face far harsher sentencing if convicted in court. In addition, prosecutors may threaten to impose even harsher charges against defendants refusing to take a plea. Other people may be pressured with pretrial detention, unaffordable bail, or threats to investigate friends and family.

Change in law for IRA distributions may change estate plans

Georgia residents who have an IRA or another retirement account, such as a 401(k), might want to review their estate plan if the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act passes the Senate as it is expected to do. The SECURE Act will change the rules around bequeathing IRAs and other retirement accounts to people who are not spouses.

Under the existing law, it was possible to pass IRAs to beneficiaries in a way that would allow them to stretch minimum distributions throughout their lives. Under the SECURE Act, the 10-year rule will only allow this in certain circumstances. Otherwise, distributions must be made within 10 years. If the beneficiary is a spouse, someone who is chronically ill or disabled, a beneficiary whose age is within 10 years of the owner's age or a minor child, the 10-year rule does not apply. The rule will kick in for minor children when they reach 18. It also applies to other types of accounts.

Guilty pleas may remain on background checks indefinitely

Individuals who take part in diversion programs in Georgia or any other state likely need to plead guilty in their cases. This is true in spite of the fact that a charge may be dismissed if an individual successfully completes the program. Although the case may be considered dropped at the state level, a guilty plea could still be considered a conviction at the federal level.

This was the conclusion reached by the Seventh Circuit in the case of Aldaco v. Rentgrow. Therefore, it could show up on a background check under the terms of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Per the FCRA, convictions are allowed to remain on a person's record indefinitely. If a person is merely taken into custody, it will stay on his or her record for seven years. In the Aldaco case, a woman was denied the ability to rent an apartment after a battery charge appeared on a background check that the landlord conducted.

A home doesn't have to be sold when a marriage ends

A couple that gets divorced in Georgia will likely need to decide what to do with the marital home. In some cases, it will be sold and the proceeds split in an equitable manner. However, an individual does have the right to pursue sole ownership of the property. This assumes that the other spouse is willing to be bought out and live somewhere else. There are several ways in which a person may obtain the funds to buyout a spouse.

For instance, it may be possible to use a home equity loan or line of credit to cash out equity in the home. A portion of that money would then be used to pay the departing spouse. However, it is important to note that using either type of loan means that a person will pay interest to a lender over many years or decades.

Celebrity deaths show the importance of estate planning

The have been many prominent celebrities who have died without a clear estate plan. For example, the estates of Prince and Aretha Franklin, who died in 2016 and 2018, respectively, are still tied up in legal battles. Georgia residents may want to take note and learn from the estate planning woes of these celebrities.

In the case of filmmaker John Singleton, there was a will, but it had not been updated since 1993. Singleton had one child at the time and subsequently had six more. Since the entire estate is left to his oldest daughter in the will, the other children are contesting it. Updating the will after the birth of each child could have prevented the court battle.

Be mindful of social media during divorce

When a Georgia couple has made the decision to end their marriage and initiate divorce proceedings, it is natural that they begin putting their old lives behind them and start planning for the future. For many, the split may have been a long time coming and the path arduous. Nonetheless, it is important to stay focused on the picture as the legal process of the divorce progresses through the courts. Without consciously intending to do so, it can be easy to create unnecessary problems and delays by careless comments or posts.

Social media has spawned an entirely new cultural landscape that can have a wide-ranging impact. Whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other numerous sites, more and more people are sharing their lives with others in forums that have the ability to reach multitudes instantaneously. Family relationship experts suggest a measured approach when it comes to discussing a pending divorce to any but the closest of friends and family. What may have been a fairly uncontentious divorce can turn nasty quite quickly with a few injudicious comments. In some cases, unsuspecting spouses who had no idea of the pending problems found out through social media friends about the coming separation and ultimate dissolution.

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