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

January 2014 Archives

5 Questions to Ask a Bankruptcy Lawyer

If you're considering filing for bankruptcy, you'll want to come up with a few questions to ask a bankruptcy attorney before you hire one.

Failing to ask the right questions -- especially regarding attorney's fees or the specifics of your case -- can end up costing you, both in terms of wasted time and money.

To help you get started, here are five questions to consider asking your (potential) bankruptcy lawyer:

Do You Need to Notarize a Will?

Do wills need to be notarized? Since notaries are often useful in giving legal effect to other official documents, people often assume the same is true with wills.

The truth, however, may be surprising: Although state laws on wills differ, you do not need to notarize a will for it to be valid.

So where does a notary fit in to making a will?

What Are Executive Orders? What Are Their Limits?

An executive order is one way a U.S. president can make changes to the nation's policies. But there are limits as to how far such orders can go.

As history has shown, executive orders can be used in many different ways. Here's a quick summary of what you need to know:

Legal How-To: Evicting a Tenant

Landlords faced with less-than-stellar tenants may be wondering how to legally evict troublesome tenants. It's a question that's often raised in our FindLaw Answers Landlord and Tenant forum.

There are several reasons why a landlord would want to evict a tenant: for example, non-payment of rent, significant property damage, and violating the terms of the lease. In those situations, landlords may be able to evict a tenant, but must follow certain steps before they can lawfully kick the renter out.

Here are three tips on how to lawfully evict a tenant:

Challenging Laws: 3 Levels of Scrutiny Explained

When the constitutionality of a law is challenged, both state and federal courts will commonly apply one of three levels of judicial scrutiny.

The level of scrutiny that's applied determines how a court will go about analyzing a law and its effects. It also determines which party -- the challenger or the government -- has the burden of proof.

Although these tests aren't exactly set in stone, here is the basic framework for the most common levels of scrutiny applied to challenged laws:

Is It Legal to Breastfeed in Public?

Is it legal to breastfeed in public, or in a privately owned store? The answer to that question will depend on a number of factors, including your state's breastfeeding, indecent exposure, and public accommodation laws.

Take, for example, an incident at a Victoria's Secret store in Texas earlier this month, when an employee refused to allow a customer to breastfeed in a fitting room, Austin's KTBC-TV reports.

The customer's ordeal highlights the ongoing national debate over public breastfeeding and confusion about the current legal status of breastfeeding in public. Here's how a variety of laws can come into play:

Wash. Teen Fired After Wearing Broncos Jersey

The story of a Seattle-area teenager who was fired after wearing a Denver Broncos jersey to work allows us to tackle a common employment law question: Is it legal for workers to be fired over their attire?

That's not exactly what happened to Nathaniel Wentz earlier this week, but the 17-year-old's story still made headlines nationwide.

What really got the teen fired, and were his employer's actions legal?

Va. Atty. Gen. Vows to Fight Gay Marriage Ban

Virginia's new attorney general has decided to do his part to fight the state's gay marriage ban, ironically by refusing to defend it in court.

Attorney General Mark Herring announced Thursday that the state's constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage was part of a long history of opposing civil rights progress, Reuters reports. Herring stressed he wanted Virginia to "be on the right side of history and the right side of the law."

Can a state's attorney general refuse to defend his state's laws?

5 Ways to Authenticate Handwriting in Court

January 23 is National Handwriting Day. So to mark this occasion, let's discuss how to authenticate handwriting in court.

In order to get handwritten evidence admitted into court, state and federal rules of evidence generally require that you first establish its authenticity -- in other words, you must prove to the court's satisfaction that the handwritten document was genuinely written by the person you've identified as the writer.

Here are five ways you may be able to authenticate handwriting in court:

What If a Beneficiary Dies Before the Will Maker?

After you write a will, what happens if one of your beneficiaries dies before you do? This question pops up from time to time in our FindLaw Answers Wills, Trusts, and Estates forum.

In most states, when a beneficiary dies before the will maker, the gift originally left for the beneficiary may go to the beneficiary's heirs, if the beneficiary is a relative of the will maker. But if the deceased beneficiary isn't related by blood to the will maker, then the gift could potentially lapse -- meaing that the beneficiary's heirs won't be able to receive it.

Fortunately, most states have anti-lapse statutes that allow a beneficiary's heirs to still receive the gift even if the beneficiary dies before the will maker.

Legal How-To: Establishing Paternity

Establishing paternity can often be a squeamish subject for a parent, but it may be necessary to obtain legal protection for a child.

Unmarried fathers seeking custody or visitation rights for their children often need to establish paternity in order to get the law on their side. For mothers hoping to extract child support from deadbeat dads, establishing legal paternity is key after locating the father.

Since paternity can be critical for a parent's legal rights, here is a general overview of how to establish paternity:

Out-of-State Child Support: How Does It Work?

If your child’s parent is out-of-state, it may seem like yet another hassle to get him or her to send you child support. Or maybe you’re the one who owes child support to an out-of-state spouse.

Either way, child support agreements are indeed enforced out-of-state. Here are some of the legal mechanisms at work:

For MLK Day, Free Legal Clinics Offered

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, some organizations are offering free legal clinics and consultations today.

While millions across the United States will be enjoying a day off and/or participating in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service by volunteering in their communities, many lawyers in places like Alaska, Indiana, and Pennsylvania will be offering free legal services on MLK Day.

Here's what you need to know to take advantage of these free MLK Day legal clinics:

Is It Illegal to Remove Mattress, Pillow Tags?

Every person notices the intimidating warnings on pillows and mattresses that say it's against the law to remove the tags. As a child, the prospect of being hauled off to jail for snipping off a tag tickled your fancy; perhaps some of the intrigue has lasted into adulthood.

But is it actually illegal to remove mattress and pillow tags?

3 Texting Crash Videos Every Driver Should Watch

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then videos of people texting while driving should give you millions of reasons to stay off your phone when you're behind the wheel.

From crashing into cows to slamming into manure trucks, texting while driving can lead to dangerous, costly, and sometimes smelly car crashes.

Here are three texting crash videos and legal lessons we can learn from them:

Pres. Obama's NSA Reform Plan: 5 Key Proposals

In a highly anticipated speech, President Barack Obama announced changes to the NSA's surveillance practices that include scaling back the agency's phone monitoring activities.

As President Obama said, the proposed NSA reforms aim to "give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe," Reuters reports.

Here are five of the president's proposed changes to the NSA program:

How Did MLK Day Become a Federal Holiday?

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But just how did MLK Day become a national holiday?

Since the federal holiday's beginning in 1986, Americans have set aside the third Monday in January to reflect on the life and accomplishments of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have turned 85 this year.

But the road to creating MLK Day was not so smooth. In honor of the revered civil rights leader's great accomplishments, here's a look back at how Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday:

5 Questions to Ask Your Estate Planning Lawyer

If you want to hire a lawyer to draft a will or trust, what questions should you ask an estate planning lawyer to make sure he or she is a good fit for you?

Having an estate plan in place helps to ensure that your final wishes are carried out after you've passed away. Beyond writing a will, estate planning attorneys can help you with tax, financial, and business planning.

So what questions do you need to ask before hiring an estate planning lawyer? Here are five questions you may want to consider:

Dad Pays Back Child Support, Gets 6 Mos. in Jail

You may have heard the infuriating story about a Texas dad who paid his child support in full but was still sentenced to six months in jail. What really happened in his case?

By the time Clifford Hall was haled into a Houston court, he had already paid off his child support obligations, including $3,000 in back pay that was not withheld from his paychecks, Hall and his attorney told Houston's KRIV-TV.

But there's likely more going on in this story than meets the eye.

Okla. Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down; Decision Stayed

An Oklahoma federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban Tuesday, stating it violated the U.S. Constitution. But the judge also stayed his own ruling, pending a possible appeal.

Judge Terence C. Kern of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma -- seated in Tulsa -- blasted the state's anti-gay marriage amendment as an "irrational exclusion" of LGBT Oklahomans from government benefits, reports The New York Times.

While the ban is still in effect for the moment, gay marriage advocates have something to celebrate.

Cursing Toddler Can Stay With Teen Mom: Judge

Dubbed the "cursing toddler," a 2-year-old in Nebraska was placed in child protective custody after a video of him swearing went viral last week.

However, an Omaha juvenile court judge ruled Monday that the boy and his 17-year-old mother would be placed with the same foster family.

With custody issues settled, the focus is now shifting to the Omaha police union's use of social media in this case.

Legal How-To: Challenging Radar Guns in Court

Fighting a speeding ticket when the officer uses a radar gun is difficult, but not impossible. As with other instruments like Breathalyzers, a radar gun is not without its potential flaws.

Here are three possible ways you may be able to challenge radar gun evidence in court:

Supreme Court Calendar: 10 Cases to Watch in Jan.

If you take a look at the U.S. Supreme Court's calendar for January, you may notice a few cases that are of particular interest to you.

From gun ownership rights to presidential powers, the Court is slated to hear a wide variety of legal issues over five days of oral arguments this month.

Here are 10 Supreme Court cases to watch, in chronological order:

Is It Legal to Eat and Drive?

Here’s a question that hungry commuters may want answered: Is it legal to eat and drive?

It may seem like a silly question, given the number of drive-thru food options available. But with distracted driving laws on the books nationwide, can eating while driving technically be considered unlawful?

So far, there’s no law that explicitly bans the act of “eating” behind the wheel. However, because of the way distracted driving laws are worded, local law enforcement could potentially determine that shoveling a muffin in your mouth while maneuvering through traffic is enough to warrant a ticket.

What Are the 7 Most Common Workplace Injuries?

From typing-related pain to an excruciating (and humiliating) slip-and-fall, workplace injuries are painfully common. They're so common, in fact, that one in five American adults say that they have suffered an injury while on the job, according to a recent FindLaw survey.

Here are the seven most common employment-related injuries, according to the survey:

Sex Trafficking a Secret Reality in U.S. Suburbs

We like to imagine that the issue of human trafficking is far from our own backyards, tucked away in some seedy alley or distant foreign country. But the truth is, it may be happening much closer to home.

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day -- a reminder that the scourge of human trafficking is far-reaching, spanning cities, rural areas, and even suburbs from coast to coast. It's also known to coincide with popular sporting events like the Super Bowl.

But what many people are still unaware of is the phenomenon of suburban sex trafficking.

Fed. Govt. to Recognize Utah Gay Marriages

The Justice Department announced Friday that it would legally recognize gay marriages performed in Utah, despite the state of Utah's refusal to do the same.

Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the "federal government would grant federal marriage benefits" to more than 1,300 gay and lesbian couples who rushed to be married in Utah following a landmark federal court decision that cleared the way for same-sex nuptials in the state, reports The New York Times.

While this may be cause to rejoice for same-sex newlyweds in Utah, it may have lasting implications for the national picture of marriage.

Is It Legal to Fly With Medical Marijuana?

Is it legal to fly with medical marijuana?

With marijuana possession now legal for adults 21 and over under Colorado's state laws, some marijuana advocates argue it's within their rights to board airplanes with weed if it was purchased legally, reports Denver's KCNC-TV. However, the Transportation Security Administration governs air travel regulations, and presents a roadblock for "legal" marijuana users, medical or otherwise.

So who wins the battle between state laws and the TSA?

Can Unmarried Couples Adopt Children?

Not everyone waits for marriage to start a family. Whether it's because of economic reasons, political constraints, or personal choice, an increasing number of unmarried couples desire to adopt and raise children together without having to say "I do."

But can unmarried couples legally adopt children?

5 Tips If You're Subpoenaed for a Deposition

Receiving a subpoena either in person or in the mail can be nerve-wracking, but being subpoenaed for a deposition doesn't have to be anxiety-inducing.

To ease your stress, here are five tips to consider if you receive a deposition subpoena:

Legal How-To: Changing Your Court Date

How do you change your court date? The answer can vary by jurisdiction and even by court. It can also depend on the type of case you're involved in -- for example, rules for criminal court, probate court, and small claims court are all different.

If you're represented by a lawyer, then changing your court date can potentially be as simple as asking your attorney to do it for you. Your attorney will likely need to confer with the court and with the opposing party in order to secure a new court date. A court hearing may even be required.

But if you're representing yourself, you're probably talking about small claims or traffic court. If so, here are some potential ways you may be able to change your court date:

Gay Ex-Marine Gets Dying Wish: Honorable Discharge

A dying ex-Marine who was ousted for being gay nearly 60 years ago finally got his wish on Friday, receiving paperwork that upgraded his discharge to "honorable."

Hal Faulkner, 79, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years prior, and his dying wish was to change the language of his discharge from the Marines, reports National Public Radio.

Faulkner's story shows how times have changed for military veterans discharged for being gay, and highlights the process for upgrading a less-than-honorable discharge.

Supreme Ct. Puts Utah Gay Marriages On Hold

More than two weeks after Utah's gay marriage ban was struck down in federal court, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted a stay on the decision, effectively stopping gay marriages in Utah for the time being.

Responding to an emergency petition by the state of Utah, the Supreme Court put on hold the lower court's decision to allow gay marriage until the issue is resolved on appeal by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Until then, same-sex couples hoping to tie the knot in Utah may be in a bit of a rough spot.

Jahi McMath Case: What Is Brain Death?

Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old California girl declared legally brain dead after complications from surgery last month, is now in her mother's custody, pursuant to a court order.

A judge in Alameda County allowed McMath to be moved from Children's Hospital in Oakland, where she underwent a tonsillectomy and other procedures December 9. McMath was taken by private ambulance to an unknown location Sunday night; according to Oakland's KTVU-TV, McMath's mother Nailah Winkfield "will be held accountable for developments that could include Jahi going into cardiac arrest."

Though doctors have agreed that McMath is brain dead, Winkfield still hopes that her daughter will make a full recovery. But what exactly is brain death, and what are the potential legal ramifications?

Does Your Gym's Liability Waiver Mean Squat?

With New Year's resolutioneers rushing to sign up for gym memberships, liability waivers will likely be included in every membership agreement.

These memberships are contracts, which are enforceable regardless of whether you read them. But the liability waiver isn't always airtight.

What does this liability waiver mean and how can it affect potential injuries at the gym?

Facebook Sued Over Alleged Message-Scanning

Facebook is being sued for allegedly scanning users' private messages to provide data to marketers -- without user consent.

The social media giant allegedly scanned plaintiffs' private messages that contained URLs in order to identify the website associated with the URL. This information was then sold to third parties, like advertisers and marketing companies, reports PCWorld.

The plaintiffs are now suing Facebook under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act for intentionally intercepting their private messages.

No Heat? What Are Your Legal Options?

With a major winter storm lashing parts of the Midwest and Northeast, those stuck with no heat in their homes may be wondering if they have any legal options to fight the cold.

The answer depends on many factors, like why you're without heat. For example, if a power outage is to blame, suing your local power company can be an uphill battle, as Reuters has explained.

But in other cases -- notably, landlord-tenant situations -- tenants may indeed have a few legal options if they're shivering in an unheated unit. Here are some potential steps you can take:

Snapchat Hacked: 4.6M Users' Data Published

The mobile photo-sharing app Snapchat was hacked Wednesday, with millions of users' personal information being posted publicly.

The sensitive information was hosted on a site called SnapchatDB.info and contained the usernames and phone numbers of at least 4.6 million Snapchat accounts, reports TechCrunch.

What is Snapchat doing to remedy the problem, and what can Snapchat users do?

5 Legal New Year's Resolutions That Can Pay Off

As part of your new year's resolutions, you may want to focus on a few legal issues -- especially those that can affect your pocketbook.

With many Americans resolving to successfully manage their personal finances in the new year, taking a step back and evaluating your current situation is a good first step. After that, you'll want to figure out which areas of personal finance should take priority.

Here are five legal new year's resolutions that you'll want to consider, to give you more bang for your buck:

Notable New Laws Taking Effect in 2014

New Year's Day 2014 brings new resolutions and renewed vows, but it also brings the enforcement of new laws.

Hundreds of state and national laws which were passed in 2013 (or before) will be taking effect in 2014. Here are some of the most notable ones: