Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

March 2013 Archives

How to Avoid Probate of Your Estate

One question that many people ask when contemplating their estate plan is how to avoid probate.

Probate is an expensive and time-consuming process that could significantly reduce what you leave to your heirs. While there may be some benefits of probating your estate -- like having court supervision and having the unwinding of your estate be in a very public forum -- the reality is that most people do not need these protections.

So how can you keep your estate out of probate?

Do You Qualify for a Green Card?

Many immigrants come to the United States looking to build their own version of the American dream. But out of all of those immigrants, who qualifies for a green card?

Green card eligibility may come from different facets of a person's life.

Congress has given top priority to those who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. But that's not the only way to qualify for a green card. Here are some of the most common ways to become eligible for a green card:

5 Reasons You May Want to Quit Facebook

There are many different reasons to quit Facebook. To begin with, it's just not that "cool" anymore -- your parents and even your grandparents are likely on it.

But there are more practical reasons to stay off Facebook too, including some potential legal consequences.

Here are our Top 5 reasons you may want to log off Facebook for good:

Powerball Winner Owes $29K in Child Support

A New Jersey man who won the $338 million Powerball jackpot will now have enough money to pay his past-due child support.

It can't be all good news for lotto winner Pedro Quezada. After he made headlines for his big win, the Passaic County Sheriff's Office stated that the man owed $29,000 in child support, reports The Record.

The 44-year-old Quezada is the father of five children ranging in age from 5 to 23. It's likely that the $29,000 will be taken from his lottery winnings automatically; if so, Quezada likely will not see too big of a dent in the amount he receives.

Legal How-To: Reviewing, Disputing Legal Bills

You hired a lawyer and were promised one rate. But when you get your legal bill in the mail, it's much more than you expect.

That's what led to a recent case alleging overbilling by DLA Piper, the world's largest law firm. Internal emails disclosed in the case revealed lawyers joking about "churning," or running up, client bills.

While you may feel that it's easier just to pay the higher amount (after all, a lawyer charged you), you should know there are ways to dispute a legal bill -- everything from attorney's fees to miscellaneous costs like making photocopies.

With DOMA, Supreme Court Hears 2 Arguments

The Supreme Court is hearing about two hours of arguments today regarding the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, commonly referred to as DOMA.

The DOMA arguments are actually broken down into two parts. First, the Court is discussing whether it even has jurisdiction to hear the case. Second, the Court is considering the actual constitutional merits regarding one particular section of DOMA.

Here's a brief overview of the two arguments:

3 Ways to Get a Landlord to Make Repairs

Any renter knows it can be like pulling teeth to get a landlord to make repairs.

Landlords are reluctant to give their time and more reluctant to open their wallets to what they often perceive to be unnecessary and unwarranted repairs.

However, if you have a legitimate gripe, you can compel your landlord to make the repairs in certain circumstances. Here are three steps you can take to resolve your landlord repair issue:

N.D.'s 'Heartbeat' Abortion Ban Becomes Law

North Dakota's new "heartbeat" abortion ban, signed into law today by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, is the most restrictive in the nation. But it will likely be challenged in court.

The law prohibits all abortions as long as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, reports The Associated Press. This could potentially bar abortions anytime after the first six weeks of pregnancy, well within the first trimester.

In addition, Gov. Dalrymple also signed into law another measure that makes North Dakota the first state to prohibit abortions based on genetic defects like Down syndrome.

Here's what you need to know about these two laws:

Prop 8 Arguments: 3 Possible Outcomes

The fate of California's Proposition 8 lies in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, as oral arguments have just wrapped up. It's the first of two same-sex marriage cases on the Court's docket this week.

Proposition 8, approved by California voters in 2008, amended the state's constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. A federal district court, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, held Prop 8 was unconstitutional; supporters appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision may have a significant impact on same-sex marriage in California and perhaps nationwide. Here are three possible outcomes from the Supreme Court Prop 8 appeal:

How Permanent Residents Become U.S. Citizens

Naturalization is the process for a permanent resident to become a U.S. citizen.

Generally, every immigrant who enters the United States first entered the country on an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. After entering the country, many immigrants apply to become a lawful permanent resident for reasons like work or marriage.

While permanent residency allows someone to stay in the country permanently, it does not offer certain benefits like the right to vote or to hold public office. As a result, many permanent residents eventually apply to become U.S. citizens.

Skype, Xbox Snooping Requests Revealed

Is the government snooping on your Skype, Xbox, Hotmail, or other Microsoft accounts? If so, how often does it happen?

After receiving criticism for its lack of transparency, Microsoft has released information regarding government surveillance of its services, reports Slate. Microsoft follows other tech giants like Google and Twitter in making such information public.

By the Numbers

The report reveals that in 2012, Microsoft and Skype received a total of 75,378 law enforcement requests for user information. Of those, 4,713 requests specifically targeted Skype. The requests affected 137,424 users.

How to Become a U.S. Citizen by Marriage

There is a misconception that someone who marries a U.S. citizen automatically acquires U.S. citizenship by marriage. This is simply not true.

Marriage to a U.S. citizen can certainly expedite someone's path to citizenship, but the alien still needs to wait several months to actually receive a green card, and then several years after that to become eligible to apply for citizenship.

So how does someone become a U.S. citizen after marrying a U.S. citizen? Here are four general steps:

When Can Parental Rights Be Terminated?

It's a sad fact that some people don't know how to be parents and deserve to have a court terminate their parental rights.

It isn't a decision to be taken lightly, since it's often a permanent solution. But for parents who have shown repeated failure to care for the physical and emotional health of their child, it may be the only option.

An unfit parent can choose to voluntarily terminate parental rights. But if that doesn't happen, the other parent or guardian will have to go to court to deal with it.

Reselling Books Online? Read Kirtsaeng First

Reselling books online just got a lot easier for those with connections overseas, where some titles are much cheaper to purchase.

In a case called Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it's perfectly OK to buy books that are legally produced abroad and resell them at a profit in the United States. (You can read the ruling in its entirety at FindLaw's Courtside blog.)

If you're not familiar with how to sell books online, let's break it down a bit. There are quite a few places where you can do it, with eBay and Amazon among the more popular sites. And in general, a legal principle called the "first sale" doctrine allows it to happen.

Sell Girl Scout Cookies at Work, Get Fired?

Can you get fired for selling Girl Scout cookies at work? A single mom from Washington, D.C., has learned the answer the hard way.

Tracy Lewis worked for several food services companies on American University's campus for almost 30 years, and most recently worked as a retail service manager for an on-campus convenience store. She's been selling Girl Scout cookies at work for three years without any problems, she told Washington's WTTG-TV.

But last month, Lewis says her boss confronted her about her Girl Scout cookie sales -- an act that apparently caused her career to crumble.

Time Off for Jury Duty: It's the Law

It's safe to say no one looks forward to a jury duty summons, but at least you get time off for jury duty when you're called.

Yes that's right, you at least get to take a few vacation days in exchange for serving jury duty. The problem is your "vacation" will be spent in a courtroom. But at least you're doing your civic duty, right?

But how do you go about telling your boss about this unscheduled, yet mandatory vacation? It might help to start with the law.

Monster Now a 'Beverage,' Not Diet Supplement

The company behind Monster Energy Drinks is now selling its product as a "beverage," not as a "dietary supplement." The move has strategic legal consequences.

The drinks -- including the ingredients and the packaging -- remain relatively the same. But this change in designation will affect how Monster Energy Drinks are regulated, reports The New York Times.

One of the key results of this change is that Monster will no longer be required to notify federal regulators about reports that potentially link its products to deaths and injuries.

Why Do Lawyers Cost So Much?

If you've ever hired a lawyer, you may have been staggered by the costs involved. Why do lawyers cost so much?

A lawyer can easily demand $200 or $300 an hour to take your case. Or a lawyer may demand a 40% cut of any settlement you get. So if you are injured in an accident, your lawyer may get almost half of everything you are entitled to.

However, if you ask any lawyer, they may tell you that their costs are fair. In fact, they may lament that they are underpaid. Here's a look at some reasons lawyers charge what they do:

Senator Wants 'Cruise Ship Passenger Bill of Rights'

After several cruise ship disasters and dangerous incidents, New York Sen. Charles Schumer is calling for a "Cruise Ship Passenger Bill of Rights." It would be modeled partially after the airline passenger bill of rights already passed into law.

Schumer's idea, however, would not involve federal legislation. Instead, he is calling on the international cruise line industry to voluntarily adopt his "bill of rights." His announcement cites recent cruise mishaps, including a fire that wiped out power and left the Carnival Triumph stranded in the Gulf of Mexico last month. Another Carnival ship, the Dream, also encountered problems at sea last week; its passengers were flown back to Florida, Reuters reports.

Schumer's cruise ship passenger bill of rights would provide for the following guarantees:

Proof of Service Can Often Prove Tricky

How many proof of service tips have you gotten from court self-help centers? None? Never even heard of it? Well you're not alone; many graduating law students don't know about it either.

Courts are sticklers for proper procedure, and they are nitpicky about making sure everyone has the correct paperwork. Every party has to be properly served with court documents.

Service is the term for proper delivery, and there are certain rules to follow. A form or statement called a "Proof of Service" is the proof that you did things right. There are a number of rules to follow, so pay close attention to some common proof of service blunders. For example:

5 Potential Ways to Invalidate a Prenup

How easy is it to invalidate a prenup?

Just because a prenuptial agreement is in place doesn't necessarily mean that it can't be tossed out in court. It doesn't happen often, but it's possible.

Case in point: A Brooklyn judge in February decided to invalidate a prenuptial agreement between Elizabeth Petrakis and her millionaire husband. Why?

Watch Out: March Madness Can Get You Fired

Do you know the legal implications of March Madness? Especially when it comes to keeping your job and possibly getting fired?

March Madness begins this week, and pretty soon everyone in your office will be filling out brackets. While tournament time is a fun time, if you go too far in the workplace, you may be setting yourself up for termination. You may be violating the law as well.

Companies report that they lose millions of dollars in productivity each year as employees discuss, watch, and bet money on March Madness. And March Madness tends to be a bigger distraction than other sporting events like the Super Bowl as the basketball tournament stretches for several weeks, reports Fox Business.

To avoid getting fired, keep these March Madness-in-the-office tips in mind:

Paying Alimony: How Long Can It Continue?

If you’re ordered to pay alimony, how long can that order continue? The answer varies by state, with some still allowing courts to order lifetime alimony. But those orders are becoming less common, as alimony reform has brought down sweeping changes in alimony laws in the past few years.

For example, a Massachusetts law abolishing lifetime alimony in most cases took effect in 2012. Ex-spouses now only need to pay until their former spouse reaches retirement age or moves in with another partner. The duration of alimony payments is now also based on a formula that incorporates how long a marriage lasted.

Some states don’t necessarily have these alimony reform laws in place. So, how long might you expect to pay your ex? Here are some general guidelines:

Is Your U.S. Driver's License Good Abroad?

'Tis the season for Spring Break trips, and many Americans are heading abroad. But is your state-issued driver's license valid in the country (or countries) you're planning to visit?

The answer really depends on where you're going and how long you'll be staying there. Depending on your destination, you may need to get some additional paperwork processed in order to legally operate a vehicle.

5 Tax Filing Tips for Procrastinators

Tax procrastinators take note: The April 15 tax deadline is now just a month away, so now is the time to get cracking.

Even if you think you still have ample time to fill out your 1040, at least take a few minutes to gather all of your W-2s and other tax documents in one place. That way you'll be more prepared for when you're finally ready to sit down and tackle your tax return.

Not sure you'll make the tax deadline? Here are some tips on tax filing for procrastinators:

Where Is Unemployment Discrimination Illegal?

Unemployment discrimination is on the rise, and several cities and states have taken measures to make this type of discrimination illegal.

New York City lawmakers on Wednesday approved the nation's toughest law against jobless discrimination. The law, set to take effect in June, makes it illegal for employers to consider an applicant's employment status in hiring decisions, or to state in job advertisements that only currently employed persons need apply.

Most notably, NYC's law is the first to allow individuals to sue a prospective employer over unemployment discrimination, reports The Associated Press.

Breastfeeding at Work: What Are Your Rights?

So you've had a baby, and now you want to return to work. There's just one issue: You're a breastfeeding mom.

Doctors are all touting the merits of breastfeeding. Yet, you're worried that your employer won't fully support your choice.

How can you ask your employer for proper accommodations? Will your employer even accommodate you, or will you run the risk of irritating your boss and possibly lose your job?

Tips for Negotiating Your Work Contract

A work contract is just like any other contract, which means you can negotiate the terms that it contains.

There are many parts of an employment contract that may be up for negotiation and some that you should definitely try to adjust, especially if you have a senior position or a lot of experience. Not making the effort means you could be leaving money on the table.

But as any employment lawyer will tell you, negotiating your work contract can mean much more than a bigger paycheck.

Google Street View Violated Privacy: Settlement

Search engine giant Google has reached a settlement with 38 states and the District of Columbia to pay more than $7 million over privacy issues linked to the company's Google Street View cars.

The cars were equipped with antennas and software that collected private network identification information, data frames, and payload data from private businesses and residents as they drove by, reports The Wall Street Journal.

A company spokesman said that Google works hard "to get privacy right," but in this case the company did not, admitting to the privacy violations.

Legal to Burn Copies of DVDs That You Own?

You've seen those FBI warnings at the start of a movie when you pop in a DVD. The warnings tell you that unauthorized reproduction is illegal.

But what is "unauthorized reproduction," and when can it land you in hot water? Is it legal to burn a DVD that you own?

The answer to that lies in the eternal question: Is it illegal if you won't ever get caught?

10 Tips to Handle Debt Collector Harassment

A debt collector's job is to bother people until they pay a debt. No wonder they have a reputation for harassment.

It's certainly not pleasant to receive a call from a debt collector, but collectors aren't supposed to make the process worse. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is designed to ensure that collectors don't harass people in debt.

Of course, even a single call from a debt collector can feel like harassment, so the FDCPA lays out guidelines to specify what is permitted. Here are 10 tips to keep in mind:

NYC's Sugary Drink Ban Blocked; Appeal Likely

New York City's sugary drink ban has been blocked by a judge just one day before it was supposed to take effect. The city plans to appeal.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a major proponent of the law that sought to prohibit sugary drinks in restaurants, movie theaters, and other establishments, reports Reuters. Bloomberg had hoped the ban would help fight health problems like obesity and diabetes, much like cigarette regulations cut down on smoking more than a decade ago.

A judge, however, found NYC's sugary drink ban to be invalid.

Do You Need to Give 2 Weeks' Notice to Quit a Job?

It's common wisdom that when you leave a job, you need to give at least two weeks' notice to your boss. That's definitely a good general rule.

After all, if you leave without giving two weeks' notice, you run the risk of damaging the relationships you've built with people at your workplace. Even if you don't like your boss, giving less than two weeks' notice can place a huge burden on your co-workers.

Professionally, not giving your two weeks' notice before leaving a job can hurt you in the future. But legally, you don't necessarily need to do it.

Nursing Home Residents: 5 Legal Rights

What are a resident's rights at a nursing home? Many may be wondering after the death of a resident at a senior living facility in California late last month. A nurse at the facility refused to perform CPR on the 87-year-old woman, despite pleas from a 911 dispatcher.

The deceased woman's daughter, herself a nurse, didn't blame the staffer for apparently abiding by the facility's "no CPR" policy. It should be noted the facility was an "independent living facility," which is legally different from a nursing home.

Still, the incident raises questions about the legal rights of residents and patients at senior care facilities like nursing homes. Here are five rights that generally apply to all residents:

Who's Afraid of Domestic Drone Strikes?

With the help of Republican colleagues, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky staged a 13-hour filibuster over the potential use of domestic drone strikes to kill U.S. citizens.

The filibuster, which began Wednesday and ended early Thursday, delayed the Senate's vote to confirm White House adviser John Brennan to be director of the CIA, reports The Daily Caller.

Paul said he was opposed to President Obama's potential authority to order drone strikes on U.S. soil to kill non-combatant Americans without a trial. While that may sound terrifying, could it actually happen?

Daylight Saving Time: A Legal Timeline

Daylight Saving Time is about to begin -- that time of year when most people in the country lose an hour of sleep in exchange for more light in the evenings. It's more than just a custom; Daylight Saving is the law in places where it's observed.

The practice of "springing forward" in March and "falling back" in November is observed in most states. The two exceptions are Arizona and Hawaii, according to National Geographic News.

But it wasn't always like this. In fact, Daylight Saving Time is officially less than a century old. Let's turn back the clock and see how it became law:

5 Legal Tips for Your Spring Break

Spring break is just around the corner. But before you cast aside all your responsibilities, you should know some simple legal tips that will make your time more enjoyable (and safer).

Here are five tips that every spring-breaker should keep in mind:

Arkansas' 12-Week Abortion Ban Faces Legal Fight

Arkansas' newly passed ban on abortions after 12 weeks is the strictest in the nation, and it was passed shortly after an Idaho law banning abortions after 20 weeks was overturned.

Arkansas' measure was passed on Wednesday with enough support to override the governor's veto of the law. It prohibits abortions from the time a fetal heartbeat can be detected, at around 12 weeks. It's scheduled to take effect in August.

The law does provide exceptions for rape, incest, the health of the mother, and in the case of major fetal conditions. But it's still expected to receive legal challenges.

Nursing Home v. Independent Care: Legal Differences

Maybe you have aging parents or perhaps you are wondering for yourself what choices to make as you approach your twilight years. There's a lot to consider when choosing between a nursing home and an independent care facility.

One thing to think about is the legal differences. Independent care certainly sounds appealing. Who doesn't want to be independent well into old age?

But reports about an 87-year-old woman's death at an independent care facility where a nurse refused to perform CPR may make you wonder what that independence may cost you.

TSA to Allow Small Pocket Knives on Planes

Next month, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will allow small knives on planes.

For the first time since September 11, 2001, travelers will be able to bring small pocket knives aboard airplanes, reports Reuters. This rule change will take effect April 25 and will allow pocket knives with blades measuring 6 centimeters (2.36 inches) or less.

The rule change has outraged many flight attendants who fear the decision will endanger passengers and crew. Besides small knives, the TSA also will allow several other previously banned items aboard airplanes.

Do You Need a Legal Checkup?

You go for a yearly checkup at your doctor's office, right? It's not because you're sick or something is wrong. But a checkup offers you a chance to discuss things with your doctor, ask questions, and get professional input on your overall health.

So why don't you get a "legal checkup" every year too?

After all, there are benign changes to your legal health every year just like with your physical health. Every time you sign a legal document or encounter significant life changes, it could affect you legally.

So what types of situations may lend themselves to a "legal checkup"? Here are just a few:

Violence Against Women Act: 7 Things to Know

After months of political debate, the Violence Against Women Act has been renewed. President Obama is poised to sign the bill into law.

VAWA, first passed in 1994, provides funding and legal protections for women who are victims of abuse. But in 2011, the law expired and Congress was unable to pass a reauthorization. Much of the problem centered on new provisions that would expand some parts of VAWA.

Those provisions are now final, and some of the changes are significant. Here are seven things you need to know about the Violence Against Women Act's renewal:

Nurse's CPR Refusal Reflects Legal Concerns

A nurse in California refused to perform CPR on a patient in a 911 call that's gone viral. Was the nurse wrong?

Tough question.

An 87-year-old woman was dying at Glenwood Gardens, an independent living facility in Bakersfield. During a 911 call, a dispatcher is heard urging the nurse to give the dying woman CPR.

What Do State Laws Say About Sinkholes?

Certain areas of the country are prone to sinkholes, and disclosure laws aim to make people aware of that risk.

A sinkhole is a naturally occurring hole that forms when flowing water underground has dissolved rock below the surface. That leads to an underground void that eventually is unable to hold up the surface layer.

Thousands of sinkholes form every year, but some are more deadly than others, like the one that unexpectedly formed beneath a man's home in Florida.

What do state laws say about sinkholes?

Online Dating Profiles Often Cited in Divorce

If you're going through a divorce, you'll want to be careful when filling out your online dating profile, especially if you're signing up for Match.com.

According to a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), 64% of respondents say they've cited Match.com as a source of evidence in divorce proceedings.

That means many divorcing parties and their attorneys are looking to Match.com and other dating websites to uncover incriminating evidence to use against the other spouse in a divorce.

What kind of evidence would that be?

What Happens If You Default on Student Loans?

If you default on a student loan, what happens? Unfortunately, more Americans are finding out the answer first-hand.

Student loans now have the highest delinquency rate of any consumer loan, higher even than car loans or credit cards, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Many of those student loan delinquencies -- i.e., missed payments -- will lead to student loan defaults.

Default occurs when a borrower continues to miss payments on a loan. For federal student loans, for example, default is when no payment has been received for 270 days. At that point, a lender like the Department of Education may take steps to collect payment.

There are several ways this can happen. For example:

How a Home Inventory Can Pay Off, Legally

Quick, what are the most valuable things you have in your home right now, and how much are they worth? Are you sure?

Probably you're not, because who takes a home inventory of their stuff? Smart people, that's who, if they want some legal assistance when their stuff is stolen or destroyed. Without an inventory, how are you going to remember how much your couch was worth? Or your TV or other electronics, for that matter?

The likelihood that you'll get your items back isn't good (although anything's possible). But keeping a record can make a big difference.

Changing Your Will After a Divorce

Hopefully you have a written will, especially if you have children, but after a divorce you need to think about changing what your will says.

What does your will say exactly? Most include provisions for what to do with your assets and possessions and specifies a guardian for your children. A will might also include your wishes with respect to a funeral or your final medical care.

After a divorce there’s a lot of paperwork that needs to be done and changes that need to be made so each person can be legally independent. Your will might be forgotten, but that’s a mistake.